By Christina Farley
MEET JAE HWA. She is a Korean-American girl with a black belt in Taekwondo who moves to South Korea after her mother’s death and has to deal with her cranky harabojee and fitting in at a prestigious international school. However, a nasty sun demigod of legend named Haemosu eagerly awaits her return as well: in order to marry her and steal her soul.
Fantasy books featuring Korean mythology are few and far-between. Prophecy by Ellen Oh is another one to check out, geared more toward younger readers. Gilded is aimed at an older YA audience and makes a clean, refreshing read with a hard-hitting, well-intentioned heroine.
Jae Hwa has a lot of potential, and she’s quite entertaining to read about. At the beginning of the story, she is self-focused and short-sighted (as most sixteen-year-olds are apt to be), but by the end, amidst developing strong friendships and bonds of loyalty with her estranged family, her perspective shifts and she realizes how far she’s willing to go to protect them. Her grandfather is distant and cold for a reason, and her aunt is a kick-butt fighter with a lot to teach her. Her romantic interest is Marc, an American student at her international school. He’s super intelligent, has expert parents in the field of archaeology, the personality of sandpaper, and is perfect in every way—aka, boring. But whatever. This is only Book I, so a lot could change. And for just the first book, many fascinating Korean legends are introduced and the plot is cleanly wrapped up.
First off, let’s talk about how cool HAECHI is. He is a fire-eating lion-dog monster who guards Seoul, and in this interpretation, he appears to help Jae Hwa when Haemosu’s goonies are after her. Here’s hoping Haechi is actually a cute, shape-shifting Korean boy who shows up in Book II to partner up with Jae Hwa after Marc turns out to be an evil agent of the Korean god of darkness (that would make M more interesting)—but I’m getting ahead of myself. I liked Haemosu, too. He had interesting powers with sunlight, since usually baddies have “dark” or “shadow” powers and lurk around at night. So that was a nice flip. Haemosu is a formidable opponent and uber creepy; Jae Hwa falls for his tricks each time and gets closer to losing her soul completely. Although I would have liked more description of the day-to-day life in Seoul, since it such an exciting place full of old-style markets and cutting-edge technology, there are some neat sites highlighted. Jae Hwa visits King Mun Mu’s underwater tomb toward the tip of the peninsula, for example, which has some really interesting history behind it.
Jae Hwa makes some silly decisions (the plan to break into the museum, for example; ignoring her grandfather’s warnings; running around in the sunlight where Haemosu has power), but to be honest, many of them felt forced for the sake of moving the plot along. After all, the easiest way to thwart her evil suitor would be to leave Korea, but then there wouldn’t be much of a story. So I was willing to overlook a lot of her mistakes because I wanted more fighting, but at the same time, it did make the plot feel forced and disjointed at places.
Also, there is so much interesting Korean mythology, I thought too much of it was crammed into one book. Nine-tailed foxes and samjoko, the all-powerful three-legged crow, easily deserve a lot of attention by themselves, and they were just sort of thrown in. However, the focus on Korean gods was unique and sorely needed in the YA AND the mainstream fantasy genre, so I think this story is an excellent place to start for readers of all ages. My attention rarely flagged, I enjoyed the incorporation of Korean words, and the mythology is well-researched. The dialogue is a bit awkward and clichéd at times, particularly with Jae Hwa’s one-liners when it comes to boys (or Marc creatively calling her “Fighter Girl” :/), but I am confident Farley is only going to grow stronger as a writer in the next installment, Silvern. And hey, this gives me all the more inspiration to research and get moving on Citlalli and Raina’s next adventure in Seoul for Changeling Sisters III: Year of the Dragon!
Recommended for fans of: Susan Ee, Colleen Houck, Amanda Sun
Upcoming Book Review: The Fire Wish by Amber Lough