2:45 pm EDT, July 15, 2019

Legendary kitsune and guminho take the spotlight in YA fantasy

Kat Cho’s captivating debut Wicked Fox and Julie Kagawa’s Soul of the Sword bring Asian folktales and legends of the kitsune and guminho into the spotlight of YA fantasy. (minor spoilers ahead!)

Kat Cho’s mesmerizing debut, Wicked Fox, is a modern YA fantasy that takes place in Korea and follows a young girl with a secret that she cannot tell anyone, leaving her isolated amongst her peers at her new school. Reminiscent of a K-Drama, Wicked Fox brings mythology and high school drama together in an unforgettable story that is only just beginning.

Shadow of the Fox along with its sequel and new release Soul of the Sword by Julie Kagawa tells of an epic journey where a demon slayer, a demon, a shrine guardian, a rōnin (wanderer), and a palace noble end up working together to try to stop an ancient evil from being summoned.

Both of these stories have something in common, and that something is a mythical creature that can be found in many East Asian mythologies: the nine-tailed fox.

Folktales of the nine-tailed fox that has the power to transform into the shape of a human are derived from ancient Chinese myths and legends. The motif of a fox can be found throughout East Asian mythology, and make appearances in not only Chinese mythology, but in Japanese and Korean folktales as well.

In Japanese folktales the fox demon is called a kitsune, which is usually seen as a trickster. A kitsune is a type of yōkai, a Japanese spirit, demon, or supernatural creature from legend. In Japanese mythology, the older the kitsune, the more tails it has, which can be up to nine.

The Korean version of the nine-tailed fox is a guminho (or kuminho), whereas the Chinese name for it is huli jing. In all versions, the fox can transform into a human, usually a beautiful woman, along with possessing magical powers, including achieving immortality.

Wicked Fox’s main character is a guminho, a young girl named Miyoung whose mother has kept her isolated despite living among humans. Miyoung meets Jihoon, saving his life from a goblin, but her yeowu guseul, or fox bead which housed her soul, ends up outside of her body, vulnerable and easily lost.

In Wicked Fox guminho are immortal beings that survive by sucking the essence, or gi, out of someone. Reminiscent of European vampires, except instead of blood its life force. The Korean guminho is typically seen as the darkest of the fox demon myths, with the guminho usually killing unsuspecting men and beguiling them as a beautiful, irresistible woman.

Kat Cho brings a strong sense of familial obligation, high school pressures, and a mix of star crossed lovers into Wicked Fox that makes it a perfect YA fantasy that I can’t stop talking about to my friends. The relationship between Miyoung and Jihoon is wrought with tension and hesitation as Miyoung has to learn to trust not only a human, but herself as well.

Julie Kagawa’s Shadow of the Fox series features a kitsune named Yumeko, who grew up in a shrine where she was told to never use her trickster powers because they were bad. Along her journey, Yumeko comes into her own, realizing that she is more than her kitsune blood, and that not all tricks have to be done in a bad light.

Yumeko’s powers are foxfire, which is merely a trick, or fake fire that doesn’t actually burn, and minor illusion work that are common in kitsune lore. Another power that can be found throughout kitsune lore is that of the kitsunetuski, or fox possession, which plays a part in Soul of the Sword, which I absolutely loved.

Shadow of the Fox and Soul of the Sword reminds me of an anime, but in the best way possible. The group reminds me of the anime Inuyasha, along with the epic journey and different kinds of yōkai/demons throughout. It brings about a sense of nostalgia even though this book series is new. Curses, sentient swords, demons, and a sense of found family brings this book series to life.

Jihoon in Wicked Fox knows from his first meeting with Miyoung that she is a guminho, since she revealed herself as she saved his life. On the opposite side of the spectrum Kage Tatsumi in the Shadow of the Fox series has no idea that the girl he’s come to care about is his enemy. As a demonslayer, Tatsumi grew up killing those like Yumeko.

The differing character dynamics make both of these stories unique despite them both being based on the same legend. Each has their own distinct tone and version of the nine tailed-fox, so whether you’re looking for a contemporary fantasy or a more traditional Asian inspired fantasy, you won’t be disappointed in Wicked Fox and Soul of the Sword.

Be sure to check out these books, while not about kitsune and guminho, but are amazing East Asian inspired YA fantasy books that are written by #ownvoices authors that I couldn’t put down.

Stronger than a Bronze Dragon by Mary Fan
Descendant of the Crane by Joan He
Empress of all Seasons by Emiko Jean
Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

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