If there’s any good juju left to look forward to in 2020, it’s Dokkaebi (Vicious Spirits), the companion novel to Kat Cho’s Gumiho (Wicked Fox). Gumiho ended on an electrifying, earth-shattering note, and if you’ve spent the last year wondering how the half-human, half-nine-tailed fox Gu Miyoung and her friends are going to pick up the pieces, you’re about to find out.
This is a sequel, so I assume I can jump right in. This is NOT a spoiler-free review for Gumiho, so if you need to get up to speed on the first book, read my review of Gumiho!
Spirits crossing over
Dokkaebi picks up the summer break after Gumiho. Ahn Jihoon and Gu Miyoung finished out the school year living together, but now they’re being evicted from their flat. Jihoon is moving in with his childhood best friend Lee Somin.
Miyoung has been offered a place to live with Junu, the dokkaebi (goblin) who used to do business with her mother, the gumiho (nine-tailed fox) Gu Yena - and who inadvertently played a part in her death. Clearly, she isn’t feeling too warm and fuzzy about her new roommate. And on top of everything, Miyoung has been seeing Yena in her dreams with alarming frequency.
The persistent bond between a powerful gumiho spirit in the afterlife and her daughter in the mortal realm is disrupting the fabric between the two worlds. And now, spirits in the afterlife have been moving to and fro through the rift, causing mayhem in the land of the living.
Junu receives an unambiguous instruction from a jeosung saja (a reaper of the dead and guardian of the veil between worlds) friend: break the bond between Miyoung and her mother and close the rift.
Otherwise, Miyoung may have to pay with her life.
Speed through the story
Dokkaebi is a page-turner, perhaps even more so because of its pacing. I said in my review of Gumiho that the book picked up slowly, though I still appreciated how the story and romance developed over the course of months. In contrast, the urgency of keeping Miyoung safe while repairing the rift between worlds means that Dokkaebi's plot is a ticking time bomb.
Kat Cho's unembellished, unpretentious prose again allows you to simply enjoy the show without getting caught up in flowery, flashy narration. I devoured this book in a day as the story unfolded on the page, each scene flowing seamlessly into the next. Compared to Gumiho, the twists were less shocking in Dokkaebi, and the plot felt safer and more predictable. I don’t mind terribly, though, because the world itself was novel enough to keep me entertained.
And of course, I was plenty invested in the characters.
Snark and ST abound!
The title probably spoils this, but Junu is far and away the star of the show. In Gumiho, we knew him as a shady dealer who specialised in getting Gu Yena and other supernatural beings means and ways to blend in with the human world. In this book, we take a closer look at Junu behind the counter.
Cho uses the interludes between chapters to delve into dokkaebi lore and Junu’s backstory, vicious exes and dysfunctional family and all. I was surprised to see how compelled I was to learn more about Junu as a real person, not just an immortal being with a pretty face. *wink*
If Gumiho banked on the slow burn, friends-to-lovers dynamic, Dokkaebi went full throttle on the enemies to lovers trope. Which I must admit, I am a complete sucker for! If you’ll recall the little glimpses of antagonism and teasing between Junu and Somin in the first book, they set the stage nicely for the barbed banter, steamy kisses, and vulnerable moments that fill the six-day timeline of Dokkaebi.
I always think immortal beings falling for humans is tricky because the question always seems to be why, but Lee Somin holds her own well. While she had mostly been on the fringes of the action in Gumiho, here in Dokkaebi she marches into the fray headfirst.
We see her strive to be a proactive participant in trying to keep Jihoon safe and understand more of Miyoung’s supernatural world. Beneath the quick fists and commanding presence is a girl who's simply too used to taking care of everyone else. And she doesn't just end up on Team Junu because he's cute and smooth-talking, but because she sees real emotion lurking beneath his unflappable mask.
Immortal beings falling for humans is tricky but I see how it can work: Somin accepts the morally questionable person Junu has been for the last few hundred years, but she doesn’t let that become an excuse for his BS. And Junu may tease and push Somin to the edge, but he never pushes her boundaries. What makes these two tick isn’t that their antagonism is sexy, but that their respect for each other is.
Stay home and binge it
If Gumiho’s emotional mess of an ending left you clamoring for more of Kat Cho’s fantasy world, Dokkaebi is just the thing to comfort you. It brightened that one day for me in quarantine with a combination of Korean folklore, feisty romance, fast cars, and characters that, refreshingly, look like me. Dokkaebi may make you long for the streets of Seoul or a hike up the mountains, but it’s just as effective at keeping you indoors for a day as you race through its pages.