Vicious Spirits is the highly anticipated sequel to the fantasy-romance novel Wicked Fox written by Kat Cho.
I wanted to explicitly start with this because I jumped straight into this book not knowing this very fact (yes, I know very foolish and impatient of me). Consequences of such an action were 1.) struggling to come up to speed with all the characters and twists and turns from Wicked Fox, and 2.) coming to terms with the fact that I had just spoiled myself for what could have been an amazing first book that would help sate my YA-hungry heart (I really hate spoilers, okay).
Needless to say, as an accidental non-first book reader, it was a little difficult to get into Vicious Spirits at first. The book picks up from where it left off in the previous one with characters all reeling from loss and the events of Wicked Fox. While it did take a while for me to fill in all the gaps, the extra effort was extremely worth it as I was led into a modern day tale of Korean myth and folklore swirling with romance, redemption, and immortality.
It’s a little hard to give a summary of the book without spoiling anything about the first novel, but here goes: Somin is your ordinary spunky, strong-willed, and independent girl living in Seoul with not-so-ordinary friends. First there’s Miyoung, who’s something of a gumiho-human hybrid and the protagonist of the previous book. Second is Jihoon, Miyoung’s boyfriend whose body once held a gumiho fox bead. And then there’s the dokkaebi Junu, who Somin isn’t very sure if she considers him an enemy, a friend, or something much more. Each of them had gained and lost something after the events of Wicked Fox, but as they grieve and struggle to pick up the pieces of their lives while dealing with unresolved tensions, the delicate balance between the world of the living and the dead begins tipping dangerously.
Folklore at the forefront
The book doesn’t shine in its rich descriptions or colorful prose, but captures readers with the folklore the story is built upon. While Vicious Spirits is set in modern day Seoul, the supernatural characters represent an ancient heritage that is unique and compelling. I personally loved how there were folktales wedged in between the different chapters. While not necessarily always about the main characters, these added so much more depth to the storyline and exposed us to the many myths that inform the main plot.
Push and pull
Another thing I loved about this book was the pacing of the entire story. As I was reading, I couldn’t understand what made it so long at first. Whenever it seemed as though they would be able to solve the problems plaguing their world, the story would swerve slightly in another direction. There was a delicate push and pull throughout the novel with quieter spaces for character introspection amidst the rushing action to save one another and the world of the living. It kept me guessing and kept me on edge, wondering what victories or defeats were in store for Somin and her friends in the last few pages.
While the cast is smattered with beings of different shapes, sizes, and convoluted histories, their depictions remain very human: flawed and instinctively relatable. Each person—supernatural or not—comes alive in their interactions with one another. Their grief and anger become tangible words used as weapons slicing into each other. Their hopes, dreams, and the pressure of the future weigh heavily on their shoulders as they grapple with loss. Their pasts come back to haunt them (both literally and figuratively) despite their efforts to look to the future. The love they have for one another, whether platonic or romantic (not a spoiler: there is an enemies-to-lovers trope here which I am a huge fan of), wraps around their lives, making them feel pain and comfort, and propel the story forward.
While the situation the characters face is unique, their emotions and inner turmoil are ones we are familiar with. It’s easy to get lost in the story, and to immerse yourself in the feelings of attraction and agony Somin experiences as well. Vicious Spirits will lead you through mountains, ghost-infested cities, and awkward homes. It will introduce you to characters that ache so much they bleed, and it will quietly ask you amidst all the mist and myth, “what’s a life worth living?”
(I would still recommend reading the first book before jumping into this one if you haven’t yet!)