Gu Miyoung is a young Korean woman who is half human and half gumiho (nine-tailed fox), called “wicked fox” because the legendary gumiho are immortal fox demon spirits who must consume life in order to live. She is trying to get through high school without killing the innocent (though she is willing to drain the life out of the guilty), while desperately trying to satisfy the demands of her mother, who is fully a fox demon.
Her life becomes very much more difficult when she saves a young man from an attack by a dokkaebi (goblin). Jihoon is an affable underachiever who has parent issues of his own. But he has been raised on folktales by his Halmeoni (grandmother) and is able to recognize the existence of magical beings when actually faced with them.
This book stands out from the enormous number of fantasies for young adults because Miyoung’s story does not require that she solve problems that are not her own. I have, perhaps, read too many YA epics starring girls who not only must deal with their own growing pains, but also overcome world-shattering systemic evil with their naivety and sheer stubbornness. This tale feels much more intimate and realistic; serious adolescent problems made more urgent and engaging because of a fantastic element.
While our heroes certainly have otherworldly powers, they are very much grounded in personal experiences within a modern world. The story takes place in a beautifully-described Seoul, Korea, a landscape which feels very different, yet vibrant and real. Both Miyoung and Jihoon change in the course of their tale, becoming stronger and a bit wiser. And, of course, they eventually fall in love. But will they be able to make friends and maybe get into a good college?
There is an epilog which suggests that their adventures are not yet over. A second book, Vicious Spirits, is scheduled for August. I’m looking forward to seeing what these two people do next.