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Wicked Fox
Credit: Penguin Young Readers

Fans of K-dramas may want to pay special attention to this one.

This summer, Penguin Young Readers will publish Wicked Fox, the vibrant debut novel from author Kat Cho which employs the Korean genre’s conventions for an utterly original take on the young-adult fantasy.

Set in modern-day Seoul, the book centers on 18-year-old Miyoung, who is secretly a Gumiho: a nine-tailed fox who must eat the souls of men to survive. She feeds every full moon — eating the souls of men who have committed crimes and evaded justice. Her life is upended when she kills a dokkaebi, a murderous goblin, in the forest just to save the life of a boy. But after Miyoung saves Jihoon’s life, the two develop a tenuous friendship that blooms into romance, forcing Miyoung to choose between her immortal life and Jihoon’s.

Bringing something new to the ever-expanding YA space, Cho has shared an exclusive preview of her anticipated debut with EW. Above, you can check out the official cover, and read on for the juicy first excerpt below. Wicked Fox publishes June 25 and is available for pre-order.

Excerpt from Wicked Fox, by Kat Cho

Misty clouds hung heavy in the sky. He didn’t like the idea of going into the woods when even the light of the moon was absent. A shiver ran down his spine and goosebumps rose on his skin.

Jihoon clicked on his phone light, squared his shoulders, and entered the woods.

“Dubu, come on, girl,” he yelled loud enough for his voice to echo back.

At night, the shadows became a menacing gray of shapes reaching for him. Ghosts and monsters shifted in his peripheral vision.

It didn’t matter that he’d stopped believing in those things long ago.

Night and darkness made a believer of everyone.

Something pulled his sleeve and he spun around with a shout an octave higher than he would like to admit. Jihoon half expected to see a leering dokkaebi with rotting teeth and malicious intent, story monsters used to make kids obey their parents.

It was a branch.

He laughed to release his jitters.

A shape darted past and his laugh became another yelp.

“Dubu!” Jihoon took off after her. He was going to wring that dog’s neck. He’d go to the pet store and buy an exact replica of Dubu. His halmoni would never know the difference.

Jihoon tried not to twitch at every noise or rustle of leaves. He kept his eyes straight ahead, refusing to glance into the shadows surrounding him.

He finally caught up with Dubu and scooped her into his arms. She wriggled, clutching something in her teeth. Jihoon hoped to the heavens it wasn’t a rat. She dropped it, and he jumped back in case it was still alive.

With a fair bit of embarrassment, Jihoon realized it wasn’t a rodent but a shoe. More specifically, a girl’s sneaker.

“Oh, good. This is exactly what I needed. I’m so glad we went into a dark, terrifying forest to find this.”

Wandering back through the woods with a wriggling Dubu in his arms soon revealed that Jihoon was good and lost. He couldn’t even find a hiking path to give him some semblance of direction.

In his arms Dubu’s body vibrated with a low growl. Nervously, Jihoon glanced around, expecting to see some wild beast approaching. But there were only shadows and trees.

It seemed Dubu was reacting to nothing, or perhaps a wayward squirrel had scurried past. Then Jihoon saw one of the shadows by an old oak shift until he made out the shape of a lurking creature. The beast growled, an echo of Dubu’s. Jihoon clamped his hand around the dog’s muzzle to quiet her. At first he thought the animal was warning them away, until he realized it faced the opposite direction.

As he stepped back, his ear adjusted to the sounds. They weren’t growls. They were words.

“Wait . . . Fox . . .”

Before Jihoon absorbed this new fact, Dubu shook her snout free of his grip and let out a tirade of barks.

When the hunched figure turned, the light of the moon slanted over its face.

Jihoon gasped.

Its features were distinctly human, with ruddy, rounded cheeks and a hooked nose. Still, Jihoon knew this was no ordinary man. It stood, revealing a stocky build with biceps as wide as Jihoon’s thighs.

“S-sorry.” Jihoon couldn’t stop his voice from shaking. Something about this creature pulled him back to a time when he was a little boy cowering under his sheets.

“A human. Wrong,” it said. The rumbling voice sounded like gravel scratching under metal.

Dubu launched herself out of Jihoon’s arms. She tumbled against the dirt-packed ground, then surged forward. The beast swatted the dog away like a fly. With a yelp of pain, her small body slammed into a tree before crumpling into a limp pile.

Jihoon hurried toward Dubu but found his path blocked by the creature.

Stay calm, he thought. It’s what they always said to do when you’re faced with a predatory animal. And Jihoon had no doubt that this creature, despite its human features, was a wild thing.

“Look, I don’t want any trouble.” Jihoon kept his voice low. “I’m just going to take my dog and leave and not talk about this to anyone.”

In the blink of an eye the creature attacked, and a beefy arm hooked around Jihoon’s neck. It smelled like overripe fruit and body odor—not a good combination.

Bristling whiskers pressed into Jihoon’s forehead as the beast sniffed him. Jihoon tried to strain away, but the grip around his neck was too strong. The harder he struggled, the tighter the stranglehold became.

Jihoon imagined dying alone in the middle of the forest. How his halmoni would worry. How his body would be found days later, bloated and unidentifiable.

“Ya!” A voice shouted behind them.

The beast whirled so quickly, Jihoon’s head spun.

When the world settled, he blinked in surprise. Jihoon couldn’t decide if he was imagining things because of lack of oxygen or if a girl really stood there. If she was real, she couldn’t have been older than Jihoon’s eighteen years. Her eyes were sharp and her lips peeled back from her teeth. It made her look as wild as the creature choking him. She was slim and tall, perhaps a head shorter than Jihoon. Her feet moved into a fighter’s stance, pulling his gaze down her long legs. She was missing a shoe.

“Let him go, dokkaebi saekki-ya.” She spat in the dirt.

Puzzle pieces clicked into place, like finally remembering a word that had hung just out of reach. The beast holding Jihoon looked like the stocky, hunched goblins in his halmoni’s stories. Except dokkaebi didn’t exist.

The dokkaebi let out a bellowing laugh. “Take him from me, yeowu.”

The girl’s eyes flared.

Jihoon knew this was an uneven match, but he didn’t have the courage to tell the girl to leave.

She grabbed the dokkaebi’s thick thumb and with a quick jerk twisted it off.

The beast wailed in pain. His arms loosened, dropping Jihoon.

Fear made his muscles weak as Jihoon fell to his hands and knees, wheezing to pull in precious air.

There’s no blood, Jihoon thought, as he dry-heaved. Why is there no blood?

In fact, the thumb cracked off like a piece of porcelain snapped from a vase.

The creature hunched, cradling his injured fist. His face was now so red, it clearly reminded Jihoon of the crimson-skinned dokkaebi in his old children’s books.

As Jihoon stood on shaky legs, the girl now between him and the dokkaebi, the thumb still in her hand. She squeezed her fist closed until her knuckles cracked. White powder flew from her palm. The dust wove in and out of the moonlight as if the girl had cast a spell. Then Jihoon realized the clouds covering the moon had parted. It lit the scene with a silver pallor. Everything that had once seemed ominous now softened to the haze of a dream. The shadows shifted. A glow of shapes coalesced around the girl in a wide fan.

No, not a fan.

Tails, as bright and pale as the moon.

She looked like a warrior queen, fierce and unforgiving. And as untouchable as the ghostly tails dancing behind her.

Memories flooded Jihoon of Halmeoni reading him fables from the yellowed pages of her books. Stories where foxes lived forever. Where they became beautiful women to entice unsuspecting men. Where those men never survived.

Now he understood why the dokkaebi had called her yeowu—fox.

“Gumiho,” Jihoon whispered.

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