I jumped at the chance to review Gumiho: Wicked Fox – as a huge fan of mythological creatures and K-drama, it sounded right up my street!
Book: Gumiho: Wicked Fox by Kat Cho
Read before: No
Ownership: Proof copy sent by the publisher free of charge. All opinions my own.
I enjoyed this so much! Miyoung, our main character, is the gumiho of the title – a magical nine-tailed fox-woman who must feed off men’s energy to survive. Despite the fact that she could easily be a monster, she’s actually a very likable, complex, and believable teenage girl. When we meet her, she’s on the hunt for someone she won’t feel bad about killing. She and her shaman friend, Nara, seek out men who are dangerous – sexual predators, mostly – so that Miyoung can at least do some good with her need to feed. This opening scene does a great job of setting up Miyoung as a character who is easy to root for. She’s smart as well as strong, and she thinks outside of the box. She has a sense of her place in the world, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to accept it – ie, she’s a teenage girl! I really liked her, and I thought she was very realistically written.
I also really liked our other main character, Jihoon. He’s another example of a very complex teen, which is awesome, as so often love interests in YA just smell of cedar and cookies rather than having any personality. Jihoon’s story is as twisty and involved as Miyoung’s, and they complement each other so well. They have completely different issue with their families, and yet they are able to give each other so much insight into how they approach the concept of family, and how that has affected them. I was worried that the romance parts of this might feel too contemporary for me (not a fan of teenage insta-love, or general high-school bitching), but there’s a really lovely balance between the intensity of first love, and the importance of everything else that is happening around them. While it’s obvious that Miyong and Jihoon are great for each other, they don’t ever become so obsessed with each other that they close the reader out, and that’s really impressive to read.
The book is interspersed with sections that retell elements of gumiho legend, which are really nicely pitched to add to the story without ever distracting from it, or shouting ‘here’s a tidbit of info you’ll need in the next chapter’. They add depth without being gimmicky, and I was always pleased when one turned up. The myth and magic in the main sections, too, is really well woven into the world – I love love love stories of magical beings lurking in the shadows of cities. Seeing how creatures that have existed long before modern life adapt to city living is one of my favourite aspects of urban fantasy, and there’s plenty of it here! I don’t know very much about Seoul, but the descriptions were vivid and made it easy to visualise the settings. If you’re worried that not being familiar with Korean culture will affect your reading, don’t be – I’m sure there are nuances I missed, but the book provides what you need to understand, and it feels vivid and real.
There’s loads of action – goblin fights! soul stealing! blood! – but also plenty of quiet moments of reflection, which allow our characters to deal with their preconceptions being shattered and their lives changing. Family is a strong theme, as is the kind of pressure you put on yourself to live up to an arbitrary ideal. It’s a novel about finding yourself and being comfortable with your thoughts – but also about breaking free of parental expectations and trying not to lose your soul. It’s really good fun, and rollicks along, but is also surprisingly deep and insightful. I really, really enjoyed it. It’s pretty melodramatic, and would make an amazing film or TV show! I’ve mostly seen romantic contemporary K-drama, rather than supernatural ones, but this definitely has that dramatic, intense feel. It’s gripping, and exciting, and makes you want to read faster and faster to find out what’s going on!
One small note on the negative side is that I felt this wrapped up really well as a standalone, and I wasn’t keen on the epilogue, which opens things back up again for a sequel. I’m just not sure it needs it! But it’s only a very minor niggle – two pages against 400-odd where I was totally enthralled.
Overall, this is a book that surprised me with its cleverness, and won me over with its brilliantly fun plot. I highly recommend it to those of you bored with cookie-cutter YA romances, and looking for something with a great setting, complex characters, and a crazy amount of dramatic moments. It’s so good! Five out of five cats!