This powerful historical fiction debut, set in medieval Wales, follows Cecily whose family is lured by cheap land and the duty of all Englishman to help keep down the “vicious” Welshmen, and Gwenhwyfar, a Welsh girl who must wait hand and foot on her new English mistress. As issues of prejudice, heritage, and occupation come to a head, both girls have to find a way to survive.
J. Anderson Coats has received two Junior Library Guild awards, two Washington State Book Awards, and earned starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, the Horn Book Review, and Shelf Awareness. Her newest books are The Night Ride, a middle grade action-adventure about a girl determined to protect horses in danger, and Spindle and Dagger, a historical YA set in medieval Wales that deals with power dynamics and complicated relationships. She is also the author of The Green Children of Woolpit, R is for Rebel, The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming, and The Wicked and the Just. Her next middle grade historical, A Season Most Unfair is forthcoming in 2023.
How much do you know about Wales? 13th century Wales? Invasion of Wales by England?
Nothing? Do not fret, neither did I before reading The Wicked and the Just. I can claim to know a little tiny bit about the history of tension between Scotland and England, thanks to Diana Gabaldon and the tidbits of historical information she puts in between hunky Jamie Fraser's kilted adventures in Outlander books. But about Wales I knew absolutely nothing. Now I can thank J. Anderson Coats for educating me on this subject and simultaneously entertaining me.
The Wicked and the Just is set during a very pivotal period in Welsh history - the country has been occupied by England for a few years and the intensity of oppression is so high that the discontent within Welsh population is reaching a boiling point.
Enter Cecily, an English girl brought by her father to the wilderness of Wales to live in a walled town of Caernarvon. Surrounded by snobbish fellow Englishmen and "barbarous" Welshmen, Cecily spends her time being bratty, cunning, strong-headed, and lamenting lack of suitable beaus and dresses. With all her spoiled girl attitude, Cecily is actually quite funny. (Although I have to say, while I enjoyed her humor, I thought it had a very modern pattern to it.)
Cecily's Welsh servant girl Gwenhwyfar (we will call her Gwinny, because I have no clue whatsoever how to pronounce her full name) has a completely different set of challenges, e.g., how not to get raped by rough Englishmen or not to die of hunger. Her voice is bitter, vengeance-hungry and defiant. The conflict between Wales and England is portrayed wonderfully through these two perspectives.
Objectively, the main weakness of The Wicked and the Just is that its plot is virtually non-existent. If you do not mind me being technical, what I mean is that rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement all happen during the last 50 pages of the novel. Exposition, on the other hand, takes up the rest 80% of the book.
Now, if the narrators of The Wicked and the Just were less charismatic, such a narrative structure could have been detrimental to the story. But both Cecily and Gwinny are two very interesting girls and the slice-of-life/everyday minutiae approach works effectively here. I was not bored by the lengthy exposition at all, too busy laughing at and wanting to strangle Cecily and being horrified by the details of Gwinny's life.
If I have not made it clear yet, I enjoyed The Wicked and the Just and I am also thankful that quality historical fiction is, while rare, is still being written by thoughtful and caring of historical accuracy authors.
I'm so sorry that this review has taken me forever and a day to write, I truly hate it when real life swoops in and drops a bunch of university essays on my head and also a dash of relationship drama... but, alas, it happens. It took me about two weeks to read this book and that doesn't in any way reflect on the quality of it - it's just that spare time and I haven't seen much of each other recently. I actually enjoyed The Wicked and the Just immensely.
On the surface this seemed an awful lot like Code Name Verity, they are both historical fiction, both have two very different female protagonists that learn to assist each other when hard times come along. But I liked the style and the characters of this one much better. Plus the time it was set in fascinated me - what on earth do I know about 13th century Wales? Nothing. Forgive me, but the second world war is a more overdone topic. We got to see the nastiness, the bitchiness that extended across classes and the opposing cultures of the English and Welsh in this book. But the author is careful not to take sides with either protagonist or with the Welsh or English. I liked this a lot, she appreciated almost everyone's viewpoint and, because of this, so did I.
Cecily is a spoilt English brat who is snarky, bitchy, snotty and hilarious. I couldn't help but like her and stay on her side despite the stupid and immature things she constantly does. Make no mistake, she's not a particularly nice person, but nice novels rarely hold my attention anyway. I was interested in this selfish girl in a world she couldn't and wouldn't understand, I wanted to see how she developed as the story progressed.
Gwenhwyfar is nothing like Cecily, each day is a struggle to survive and on top of that she has to deal with that brat who fancies herself as lady of the manor. Both girls live very different lives but they begin to interweave and come together and sometimes they even find that they both share common interests - like getting rid of the local molester.
The writing style of this book was just spot on for my tastes. For a book that is mostly not plot-driven, it managed to keep me entertained with both girls' vibrant personalities, the unfortunate realities of living in such a time, and the way it showed how two girls of similar age who came into contact with one another every day could find themselves in very different positions in life. I have no idea how historically accurate this book was, whether the descriptions of Welsh towns and their workings was completely fictional or not, but I do know I really enjoyed most things about it. I think I would have awarded five stars had it been just a bit more action-packed, dramatic, grittier earlier on as well as towards the end. It is still a great read.
“I see it in your face, Gwenhwyfar. And believe me, I’m sorely tempted to let you, but by God, we are not animals, no matter how many times they say as much.”
Wow, this book was not what I expecting. For a start, I seemed to have got it into my head that this was set in the Victorian times (don’t ask why, I have no idea!) and secondly, I thought it was a murder mystery (again, I have no idea). I’ve told you before that I have a strange habit of reading synopses for books, ignoring them and just completely making up a new one, and then I’m surprised when the book isn’t what I was expecting. But if I had known that this book was set in the Middle Ages and was about burgesses, markets, servants, the difficult relations between the Welsh and the English, I would have left it where it was and never looked back, because it would not be my thing at all. But I read it and I’m so glad. If you’ve ever read any of my reviews or know anything about me, you may be aware that I have a few connections in North Wales. I spent three years at Bangor University, about 50% of my friends are from Gwynedd and a great chunk of my family are from t'area too. So when I saw that this book was set in Caernarfon, wait… Caernarvon, I was so excited. This book is told via dual narratives. Cecily is the daughter of a Lord who decides to uproot them to Wales to “live among savages”. Needless to say, Cecily is not best pleased. She’s dramatic, she’s impossible, she’s entitled and she’s, well, spirited to say the least. Gwenhwyfar (pronounced Gwen-who-euw-var… ish. My Welsh friend tried to text it to me phonetically and that’s the best I can do) , or Gwinny, works as a maid in Cecily’s house but she lives outside the city walls with her sick mother and her brother, Gruffydd (This one I could handle on my own: Griffith). And, as you’ve probably guessed, they don’t get on. Cecily resents Gwinny for daring to meet Cecily’s eyes and Gwinny hates Cecily for being entitled, a “brat” and another reason, but… spoilery. I loved these two narrators and the girl’s characters, feelings and actions complimented each other perfectly. Both Cecily and Gwinny had such fiery, distinct personalities that it was difficult not to love them, even if they did things that I didn’t always agree with. These girls were wicked and they were….wait for it...wait for it... just. It’s a really apt title. I liked how Ms Coats didn’t make one girl be the “bad one” and the other the “good one”. She didn’t manipulate the reader into taking sides and I think that’s incredibly important in a book like this. Both sides were given a voice and it was left up to the reader to make the decision. As much as it was a historical novel, I feel that this book was also an exploration of the relationship between two people living on different sides of conflict. What happens with the delicate power balance is shifted and the tables are turned? Are wicked deeds justified if they’ve been done to you first?
It was also fantastic to read a book about an era which I knew nothing about. It’s relatable to people who, like me, may not be familiar with the era but I felt that it wouldn’t be dumbed down for people who are. It is obvious that Ms Coats knows the Middle Ages inside and out and absolutely no detail was spared. Which wasn’t always a good thing when it came to the descriptions of the stench hovering around the market crowds as the sweat and grime of the English and Welsh mingleD together... Yum.
This book was filled with excellent characters, tons of actions, heaps of emotion and kept me up until way past my bed time.
I’m really looking forward to see what Ms Coats writes next.
Exciting Extras. Seeing as I love any excuse to attach pictures of Welsh castles to my reviews, here is a picture of Caernarfon Castle on bizarrely warm day a few summers ago. I assure you, the sky in Wales looks like that approximately one day.... a decade.
I received an advanced copy of this book from the publishers via Netgalley.
You can read this review and lots of other exciting things on my blog here.
4.5 stars When I saw that Netgalley described this book as a combination between Catherine, Called Birdy and Braveheart, I promptly elbowed everyone out of the way to get to a computer and press "request". I'm so glad I did.
It's true, I have a soft spot for medieval smartasses and Cecily, one of the protagonists, indeed reminds me of Birdy with her acerbic wit and sometimes spiteful sense of humor. Over-dramatic and spoiled, Cecily is sure her life is over once her father moves the family to Wales---either she'll die of boredom or be murdered by the "savage" Welshmen.
Gwenhwyfar (Gwinny), Cecily's new Welsh servant, once aspired to be the lady of the very house Cecily is moving into but has now been relegated to second class citizen status under English rule. Underfed and overtaxed, Gwinny and her family are impoverished and struggling to survive.
This beautifully well-researched novel takes place during a volatile time. Tensions between the native population and the occupying forces are building to a dangerous intensity and the two protagonists are smack dab in the middle of it.
This also struck me as a story about different kinds of rage--Cecily and Gwinny are both driven by it. Cecily has the anger of entitlement. To her, social slights and indignities are akin to actual persecution. Meanwhile Gwinny has the rage of loss and suffering and feels the injustice of the oppressed. She is starving and under constant threat of violence to her and her loved ones.
Both girls are keen on justice. But they are working on entirely different measurement scales.
The story is told from both girls' point of views and both voices are extremely charismatic. The first three quarters of the book heavily focus on Cecily's voice and I thought the point of view emphasis was genius, especially when it flipped at the end. It was an extremely clever choice by the author in that it drew the reader to empathize with Cecily when it wasn't always so easy. By spending more time with her, Cecily's daily trials and tribulations and bratty yet hilarious behavior drew you into her character and made you eager for her to grow past her ignorant cruelty. When she made any headway toward understanding, the reader leapt at the chance that this could all work out! She's going to learn her lesson! Kumbaya will be sung by all!
When Cecily and the reader realize that her small steps toward enlightenment are merely drops in the ocean of the gulf between the two protagonists' worlds, the shock is viciously effective. Lessons are learned, but in ways I never expected and the last quarter of the book is a whirlwind of consequences.
"Justice for those who deserve it." The titular wicked and just aren't mutually exclusive and the result is a story captivating from beginning to end. I highly recommend it.
Review originally appeared at Young Adult Anonymous I received an ARC of this book via the publishers on Netgalley.
Surprisingly enough, quality YA historical fiction is hard to find. Unsurprisingly, when one does finally show up, it does not go unnoticed. The Wicked and the Just is a splendid debut, thoroughly researched and gorgeously written. Despite the overwhelming grimness, there is just enough hope shining through to make it bearable. If stories were people, I’d say this one is a lionheart.
Caernarvorn in 1294 was a great place to live – as long as you were English.*
The Wicked and the Just takes place in 13th century Wales. King Edward I of England conquered Wales between 1277 and 1283. The book takes place a decade later. In the center of it are two girls, a spoiled English brat Cecily and her angry Welsh servant Gwenhwyfar.
Forced to abandon his lordly manor in favor of his brother, Cecily’s father accepts an estate in newly conquered Wales. Motherless Cecily dreams of being the lady of the house, but the life she finds in Caernavorn is not quite up to her standards. On the other side, Gwenhwyfar works as a servant in a house that was meant to be hers. In Cecily, she sees the life she was supposed to have, if only the English never came. They took everything from her, her dignity included, and when they were done taking, they burned what was left to the ground. Gwennie has a dying mother, an overworked brother and more taxes than she can pay. On top of that, she has to put up with a spoiled English brat, the insufferable little girl clueless about the world that surrounds her.
Despite their adversarial positions, a slow tolerance develops between the girls. Their feelings for each other range from outright hatred, over grudging respect to tentative camaraderie and Coats explored each of these stages thoroughly and convincingly. Consequently, when tables turn on the English, the girls’ relationship and actions make perfect sense. Contrary to the title, there are no wicked and there are no just in this story, especially between the two girls. The wickedness and the justness are circumstantial, not absolute.
In the background, Coats strings a series of ugly episodes in which the Welsh are treated as no more than dirt on elegant English shoes. They are easy targets for everything from molesting to unlawful executions. They are starving in tiny houses after days of working for almost no wage, only to give what little they’ve earned back to the English for their ever-growing taxes. But does that give them enough moral high ground to behave just as despicably when the tables finally turn?
J. Anderson Coats used just enough archaic language to give the story a historical feel, but never went far enough to make it impossible to understand. Other non-native speakers like me should have no trouble following the story since even the completely unfamiliar words become understandable in context.
Oppression is hardly a pleasant subject and I tend to shy away from such things, but if you’re anything like me, keep in mind that The Wicked and the Just is simply too good to miss.
What an interesting book. Seriously! I don't know if it was the alternating POV between Gwinny and Cecily, the violence and poverty, or the setting that kept me reading but I'm sure glad I did.
The Characters ARE the Story
You have two young women, living two different lives, but in the same place. It's a very simple story but it is surrounded by prejudices, violence, poverty, abuse, privilege and power.
Cecily is a spoiled and a brat. She wants, wants, wants and has very little compassion. It's not that she is a bitch, she's never had a reason to feel anything for anyone because everything has been handed to her. She's been taught to turn a blind eye to the poor and suffering. If it doesn't directly affect her, she wants nothing to do with it. However, you do see some hope. For every 3 or 4 selfish acts that Cecily commits, she surprises the reader with a caring act. It was almost like Cecily was on the verge of finding her own compassion.
Gwinny is a spitfire. She is a no nonsense take-no-prisoners type of girl willing to fight until her last breath for the people she loves, and the beliefs she holds. She is poor, struggles for every coin she obtains, and has to take care of not only her mother but her brother as well.
Gwinny hates Cecily not only for the way Cecily treats her people (the Welsh) but also because Cecily's people stole what was rightfully Gwinny's, when the English occupied her families land. Because of the English, Gwinny is is this predicament.
However, Cecily does the impossible. She performs one caring selfless act that causes Gwinny to do the impossible with Cecily. You'll just have to read the story to find out what that is!
The plot is nowhere to be found in this book until close to the end. Now, I know you are wondering how I can rate a book so highly when there is really no plot but you have to look above to my header "The characters are the story" and remember that. It's like a peak in time to a horrible period of history. It's literally heartbreaking to see what happens to the people behind the major events in history. I thought it was fascinating, and I hope you do as well!
Going in blind on this one really did pay off. The sometimes self-deceiving, spoiled brat of a daughter that was Cecily could be in turns exasperating, annoying then fascinating. Because really how could she even claim to have had played no part in what was going on (specifically, in what her Gwinny had suffered)? She was exasperating and annoying in how stuck she was in feeling entitled to so many things. Yet, fascinating too because when the moment called for it, she did open her eyes. And such moments were normally prompted with the pushing of Gwen.
And its Gwen’s voice that stuck to me; that’s sticking to me til' this moment. Her voice felt angry. But the anger made sense to me, and made her feel more real, plausible, because what else was there to feel? But what’s more to her story is, just like Cecily, her eyes were opened as well.
I probably wouldn’t have loved this as much as I do now had either of their voices been missing. Because with the story told from both their perspectives, the story, the place, the history of the place read more complete. They complimented each other, with each telling their side quite clearly. Take it this way, one thing experienced by another was felt so differently by the other. With both their experiences being true, THE WICKED AND THE JUST was quite compelling. Yes, there were moments that were simply not fair, not just, wicked… and I could picture it all.
Normally I enjoy writing reviews, but it's bittersweet this time, because I'm not ready to close THE WICKED AND THE JUST, not eager to intone its requiem.
Beautiful from beginning to end, the tale grows in seasons, winning the reader with new tenor at each turn--jocose, playful, biting, disquieting, unexpected, tearful. Coats writes with a style and diction that will lose some, I'm sure, but only to more greatly win over others who cherish TH White, Defoe, and the like. There is an aesthetic quality to her building materials that renders the final structure not just inviting to enter into but inspiring to look upon.
I am terribly eager to read whatever comes next from this author, but I fear I will be in waiting for quite some time. THE WICKED AND THE JUST is not the sort of novel one churns out in haste. Nor does it deserve to be read in such a manner, I feel. If you're the sort of reader who prides yourself in blazing through books at break-neck speed, there are plenty of pop alternatives. If, however, you want to indulge in something truly rich, Coats has set the table quite nicely indeed.
*Note* I'm returning to this review months later to say that I still think of this story and kind of miss it. Definitely will have to reread it sometime soon.
Cecily’s world has just ended. Edgeley Hall, the beloved manor that was once to become hers, is now property of her Uncle Robert. Now, Cecily must move to Caernarvon, a beautiful castle in occupied Wales where Cecily will become the lady of the house. Little does Cecily know that the home she is to occupy would have once been the house of a different lady, if only the circumstances were not what they were. Gwen should rightly be the lady of Caernarvon, but instead she is only a lowly servant. Forced into labor due to English oppression, she and her brother struggle to make ends meet and provide for their sickly mother. Cecily and Gwen’s lives could not be more different, but when it comes to revenge, justice must be served…
The Wicked and the Just is like my own little slice of heaven. I love history and the rich, historical setting of this novel is no different. What makes this book so remarkable is that virtually no one knows anything about the turbulent history between Wales and England. Of course we’ve all heard about it, but how many of us truly thought to research it further, delve into the intricacies of it, and understand the emotions of both the English and the Welsh? Not many. Hence, The Wicked and the Just is probably one of the most original and unique novels I have read in a really long time.
The Wicked and the Just is an entirely character driven story. Told in alternating points of view, shifting between Cecily and Gwen, it tells the tale of occupied Wales. Cecily originally appears to be nothing but a sullen brat, but as you read on, you realize that Cecily has an immense amount of strength within her and that her actions stem from a piercing grief. Gwen on the other hand, is the more likeable character at first, since she is, obviously, the under-dog. We see and witness all of Gwen’s sufferings first-hand, but there is so much more to her personality as well. What I loved most about this book was that I didn’t like either of the girls. Both Cecily and Gwen were hard, cruel, and unforgiving, making them less than perfect by far. Yet, I love this realistic, human quality about them and admire Coats for not dressing up their personalities. I love both girls like my sisters, yet I cannot like them in particular for their actions. In a time of oppression and rebellion, their feelings are only understandable, not condone-able. Still, they were vibrantly real, tangible, and palpable beings.
I have virtually no faults with this book. It was beautifully written, historic, and driven by two strong heroines. However, I do wish that the pacing was a little better. The Wicked and the Just is a slow book and only the last hundred pages or so are truly action-packed. Yet, the information that occurs before the end is vital and important for their character growth and the understanding of the story. So, I urge you to read this novel, despite its slow beginning. I can only hope that other readers glean as much information, history, and knowledge from it as I did. History, as they say, needs to be learned not only so that it is not repeated, but to understand the important morals and messages from it. That, beyond anything else, is what Coats has done best: made us understand.
A gripping story of a 1293 Wales with two strong-willed, but deeply flawed main characters -- displaced Cecily, who longs for her genteel English home but has accompanied her burgess father to the walled castle town of Caernarvan, and her angry, wounded servant Gwenhwyfar, whose own father was hanged and left to rot on the castle wall for fighting against the English king. J. Anderson Coats conveys the history very vividly. More remarkably, she made me care for two adversarial characters who were not terribly likeable but grew to a tenuous understanding and maturity through the course of the tale.
It's refreshing to see serious historical fiction published for young adults without a strong romance or fantasy element. I was not familiar with the Welsh uprising in the story, but I've read adult historical fiction of subjugation and revolution, and this is a tense, violent, frank story that ranks highly within the genre. Because straight historical fiction is more common in middle grade, this may be shelved with MG, but it doesn't belong there. I'd say it's suited for ages 14 to adult.
The final fifty pages of this book had me contradictorily unwilling to finish and anxious for resolution to several characters I was invested in. The Wicked and the Just is a very character-driven novel, but thankfully, both Cecily and Gwenhwyfar are both more than capable of bearing the weight of this 350 page novel. Though this is in the mid-300's, this reads both easily and quickly due to the complimentary and contrasting natures of both main character's narratives. Full review to follow but a rewarding read.
FNL Character rating: The contentious relationship between Tyra Collette and Lyla Garrity.
“To the Victor Belong the Spoils” and “Winner Takes All” are common sayings. It makes sense on some levels. Someone wins, someone loses. Winner takes, loser gives. In the context of Monopoly, it’s all fun and games. But what about when it comes to occupying someone’s land in real life? Or taking over their culture? Stripping them or their home? And what about their livelihood? Or their mere survival?
Author J. Anderson Coats thoughtfully navigates these thorny questions in her well-researched historical novel,The Wicked and the Just, which is told from the eyes of two girls on opposites ends of the English occupation of Wales during the late 13th century.
Cecily, an English girl, has long fantasized about the day when she would become the Lady of Edgely Manor. But when a court rules in favor of her uncle Robert, she and her father are left landless. Facing the choice of being steward of the manor of which he was formerly the master and becoming a burgess in Wales, with none of the financial and military obligations of a manor lord, Cecily’s father chooses the latter. He packs up their belongings in Coventry, where he and Cecily have been living while awaiting the verdict on Edgely manor, and they begin their life in Caernarvon, the heart of occupied Wales.
Cecily’s uncle, the courtroom victor, has taken the spoils of her life, which consists of Edgely Manor and her family and friends in Coventry. She must now live in fear of the Welsh, whom she believes are rustic savages (not unlike how pioneers viewed Native Americans). Not to mention that (gasp!) she no longer has a dowry with which to attract a husband.
Cecily believes herself to be a victim.
Ironically, Cecily is so wrapped up in the perceived injustice of her life that she fails realize that she is occupying what used to be someone else’s home, a Welsh person’s home, lost due to the English occupation. At no point does does she realize that some other girl may have dreamed of becoming the lady of her Welsh home, just as she dreamed of becoming the Lady of Edgely Manor.
That girl is Gwynhwefar.
Now relegated to being a servant in what is now Cecily’s household, Gwynhwefar (Gwinny) and her brother Gruffyd (Griffith) have lost the spoils of their life to the English. They live outside the city walls in a barely habitable shack with their very ill mother. They barely have enough to eat. They don’t have enough money to pay the taxes that the English king has imposed. Griffith is lucky if he can find day labor, much less the steady work that requires huge bribes that he cannot afford.
Gwinny is an actual victim.
Up to this point, The Wicked and the Just sounds like the perfect setup for a basic good (the oppressed Welsh) vs. evil (the occupying English) tale that would be full of flat, one dimensional characters and a happy ending. The Welsh rise up and throw off the yolk of the English forever and ever! Tormented Gwinny becomes the lady of Caernarvon castle while haughty Cecily receives her comeuppance and has to walk back to England with nothing! Yayyyyyyyyy! *throws confetti*
But...we know from history that Wales, while it had its share of rebellions, is peacefully part of the United Kingdom today. (Thanks, Wikipedia!) Which means that at some point, the Welsh and English must have reached some sort of understanding that allowed them to live and work together. Via the dual narratives of Cecily and Gwinny, (minor spoiler alert) we are privy to the first inklings of that understanding.
So instead of a predictable, feel-good Hollywood story, J. Anderson Coats refreshingly gives us Characters that we can Actually Care About (CACA). I mentioned to Noelle awhile back that Cecily struck me as having an abolitionist mentality (They’re not property! But they’re still not our equals!), which simultaneously makes her (in Noelle’s words) endearing AND infuriating. I found myself inspired by Cecily’s awareness of the inhumane and unjust treatment of the Welsh at the hands of the English, yet incredibly flabbergasted and frustrated by her belief that the Welsh were not worthy to meet her eyes. And then we have Gwinny, struggling to survive, rightfully full of anger over her horrible circumstances, but seething to the point that she is blind to anything but her need for revenge.
The somehow parallel yet juxtaposed journeys of Cecily and Gwinny make for a fascinating read, even if history’s not necessarily your thing. And while The Wicked and the Just takes place in 1293-1294, what I found the most fascinating was how their situation is still completely relevant in our world today. There are occupied countries with people of different cultures squeezed into the same small space. There is still racism, discrimination, and ethnocentrism. This connection of past events to the present, for me, is what makes history a favorite subject despite being removed from the classroom for a decade.
Hurray to J. Anderson Coats for reviving my inner history dork!
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. No “goodies” or compensation were received in exchange for this honest review.
This one was a difficult one for me. I rarely get through books with unlikable characters or unfair situations. They're my two weaknesses in reading. I almost always end up gnashing my teeth and throwing the book aside in frustration. With a protagonist like Cecily and a subject like the English subjugation of the Welsh, I would have thrown this book so hard J. Anderson Coats would have felt it. Not so.
The Wicked and the Just is exceedingly well-written. It's unflinching and brutal but it was also honest and a gift. I kept reading not only because I love history and couldn't wait for the Welsh to rise up and give their English oppressors hell, but also because I needed to see a change in Cecily. And I believed it when it came because Coats gave both Cecily and Gwenhwyfar depth. They had flaws and merits. They have values, though they don't always live up to them. Especially Cecily. She could be downright heinous. I was glad to see her downfall at first but all pleasure vanished when I saw Gwenhwyfar going to that same dark place when the power was in her hands. Just when I was pleading, "Enough already!" the two girls felt the same. There's no happy ending with vows of friendship. Just two young women who want nothing more to do with pain and suffering, either on the giving or receiving end.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
The real brilliance behind this book is the way the author takes a completely repellant main character and makes me care for her. But she doesn't stop there. She takes a tragic character, and makes her just a tad repellant. But neither girl can be summed up so simply. Both Cecily and Gwenhwyfar are complicated and difficult and even though at times I hated them both, I found reasons to justify their nastiness, to forgive them, and to continue reading about them. Based on the Welsh uprising at Caernarvon in 1294, this historical fiction proves that our world is made of a million different shades of grey. And that it's easier to judge history in hindsight where there's a much better view. And thank goodness I don't live in the middle ages.
If you are crazy for the past, The Wicked And The Just by J. Anderson Coats will set your history senses tingling. Taking place in medieval Wales, The Wicked And The Just is a magnificent read about two girls – one a stranger in a strange land, the other is a refugee in her own country after her family loses everything after the English take over Wales.
I will say that this was very well written and interesting. A story of justice and vengeance. Cecily is a strong young woman filled with sassiness and wit who sees the injustice and tries in her own way to right some of the wrongs of her community.
Something that I think will be very important to take into account with this book is that it will not be for everyone: neither character is particularly likeable; there’s not very much action and everything is very slow-burning; sometimes the narrative is on the jumpy side as it passes from one scene to another with no warning; etc.
It was perfect for me.
One of my favourite books is Warrior Daughter by Janet Paisley. It chronicles the life of a Celtic warrior queen as she and the rest of Alba (now Scotland) face the threat of the encroaching Roman Empire. The Wicked and the Just tackles things from a different angle. Set over a millennium later, this story chronicles the tensions that ensued as Wales became annexed to England and the English who have moved to the various English settlements there treat the Welsh badly.
You can practically feel the tension oozing from the book in places. A lot of it is what the reader can deduce from the observations of the locals by the English girl, Cecily, who has been brought to Wales by her father. Or rather, the English as a group have managed to blind themselves to just what they’re doing to the Welsh and Cecily does not take the initiative to open her eyes. It doesn’t surprise me that they turned a blind eye to the suffering of the locals – it felt as though they’d got a taste of freedom where they could do what they liked without the king watching over their shoulders and they’d got to the point where they didn’t think twice about abusing the privilege.
The two narrators are Cecily – whose father took her to Wales after her uncle returned from the Crusades in the Holy land and reclaimed his lands from his younger brother, thus pushing him to accept a position in Wales; and Gwenhwyfar – a young Welsh woman who appears to have been the daughter of a local chieftain until the English came and hung him from their new walls when he refused to submit to their rule.
Cecily is, to put it bluntly, a spoilt brat. She likes to throw her weight around whenever she possibly can. She’s conceited and rude and places far too much belief in her own importance. To make up for this her narrative voice often takes on the sarcastic tone of one long-suffering with gems such as: “It’s raining. Again. Little wonder naught grows here. We ought to sow the fields with fish.”
Gwenhwyfar’s voice is very different. There’s a lot of cloaked anger in her as she witnesses the degrading of her people as that English brat waltzes around with the other English like they own the place, as they take everything from the Welsh while she and her people have to worry about starvation, as crimes against the Welsh go unpunished by the English councils.
What I found really interesting is that when the tensions finally mount to breaking point and Cecily and Gwenhwyfar’s roles are reversed their narrative voices were also reversed. This was a very interesting technique to use and I feel that it came across really well.
This is in no way the sort of story where everything is strung together by a sequence of action scenes. It’s more a look at how life was in this area during this era and while this may not appeal to everyone, it does appeal to me. I’m fascinated by history and as a Brit I was of course aware of how Wales became annexed to England as well was the fact that there was an uprising some years later against the English rule. I was not, however, aware of the subtleties or the treatment of the local population by those English who chose to cross the border, though I suppose that I could have hazarded a good guess. This is not to say that I would have been able to guess the details, mind, and as such I feel as though I have learnt a lot from reading this book!
In fact, there’s almost no action at all until the very end of the book. Despite this, both characters do manage to grow and when it’s required of them both will break from their respective moulds in order to step up to the mark. Gwenhwyfar is limited in what action she can take but she does teach Cecily a few very important lessons about life. Cecily, with more freedom afforded to her, can occasionally stick her neck out for what is right rather than what is the norm.
The novel covers a couple of years of life in this English community in Wales, broken down into periods of time. Occasionally the narrative will be following a certain event for a while and then all at once the new paragraph break leads to a new, completely different and unrelated event. These could at times be a bit sudden and jarring but I had no major issues with them as it was fairly easy to wrap your head around the subject change each time.
The author has a wonderful, lyrical style that really drew me in and managed to give the feeling of a historic setting. She does go down that road of using very modern vocabulary (“upside the head”) or more recent American vocabulary (“stoop”) a couple of times, which was frustrating for me as I felt that it ruined the effect she strove so hard to create in the first place.
At the end of the day, this was a novel that didn’t catch my attention upon first glance, but it’s one that took me on a real ride and educated me as well as entertained me. It won’t appeal to all readers, but it was just my cup of tea. I loved it.
Cover Blurb: I like how the early morning light also looks like fire, and displays the girl’s silhouette. Except, I’ll admit, every time I glance at the cover, I always, always assume that she’s carrying a flashlight. The title font is beautiful; it is what originally caught my attention, if I’m to be honest.
What I Liked: Gwenhwyfar is a good protagonist. Some would say that she’s a jerk, but given the oppression she and her fellow Welshmen have suffered at the hands of the English, it is very hard to fault her for any of her behavior. She’s a good example of the proud Welsh spirit, and she’s a strong young woman who bows as little under the English yoke as she possibly can. The storyline itself is good; it’s hard not to praise a story taking place in such a fascinating era.
What I Disliked: Cecily is a four-star brat, and she remains thus throughout, right to the very end. She’s mean, selfish, cruel, spoiled, a liar, a horrible tease, and a jerk. There is not a single thing about Cecily to like; not at all. And I didn’t get the sense that she learned her lesson at the end of the book. It was hard to feel sorry for her even when really bad things happened, because she’s just so horrible, and I wanted to smack her when she was mean to Emmaline, who is a sweet girl. There also wasn’t enough interaction between Cecily and Gwenhwyfar, which is really what I wanted to read about.
Believability: The Author has definitely done research. Geographically, historical events, day-to-day living, social conduct, laws, et cetera. She’s looked it all up. Her portrayal of English-occupied Wales is accurately brutal, and she doesn’t shy away from describing the worst of it. She makes it easy to hate the English, and to sympathize with the Welsh. But she also doesn’t do a one-sided portrayal; the Author also talks about some of the horrible things the Welsh did to the English when they temporarily took back their lands.
Writing Style: Each chapter alternates between narrators: Cecily and Gwenhwyfar, and I liked this. The Reader gets to see both sides of life easier this way. Unfortunately, the Author writes in present-tense, but Cecily’s sections almost read like a journal. It isn’t written in the style of a journal, but it kind of has the same feel, so the present-tense was easy to ignore. Gwenhwyfar’s narrations, however, were difficult to follow at times, and in many ways read like stream-of-consciousness, which can be annoying.
Content: Gwenhwyfar is constantly being felt up by guards. It’s realistic; that sort of thing happened all the time, especially to the Welsh because no one would bother to protect a Welshwoman, and if she protected herself, she’d be arrested. But the Author really didn’t need to mention every bloody time it happened. There are 2 g--damns and 1 s-word, and Cecily is almost raped, but there are no details.
Conclusion: This isn’t a feel-good book. It’s a gritty, open-your-eyes, historical novel. And therefore, the ending isn’t a happy one. Cecily doesn’t seem to have learned any lessons, so it’s hard to be happy about her rescue from Caernarvon after the Welsh take it back. And anyone who knows anything about the history of Wales will know that the Welsh rebellion is put down and they don’t gain their freedom. I wasn’t disappointed with the end, though. I expected nothing less from the sobering conclusion that it has, and if it had ended all happy, I would have been terribly put out.
Recommended Audience: Fans of historical fiction that has been well-researched. This could be both a girl and guy read, and definitely geared towards an older teen audience, though adults would enjoy it, too.
The Wicked and the Just is a brilliant and fascinating account of the tumultuous time when the English sought to rule Wales, told from the POVs of two teenage girls, Cecily (English) and Gwenhwyfar (Welsh). Beyond the staggering amount of historical research that is seamlessly and vividly woven into this book, J. Anderson Coats provides us with a world so real you'll feel your stomach growl with hunger, and two fascinating main characters who are alternately humorous, heartbreaking, endearing, hateful, wicked and just. A must for fans of historical fiction, but I also found The Wicked and the Just to be an incredibly well drawn-out psychological look into the gray area of right and wrong and how people will react when pushed to the end of their rope.
Note that I read an advanced reading copy of The Wicked and the Just ... it will not be published until April 17, 2012.The Wicked and the Just
Tightly written, impeccably researched tale of the conflict between the dispossessed Welsh and the conquering English in and around the walled city of Caernarvon during the reign of Edward I. I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of the two young women - the English girl whose father takes advantage of financial and social incentives to occupy the restless city, and Gwenhwyfar, whose family has lost almost everything as a result of that occupation. The disparate voices of the two first-person POVs works well; the historical detail is top-notch, and the plot is both grim and somewhat redemptive.
I just kept hoping that there would be one character who would display some signs of love, kindness, real friendship. There were moments where different characters would exhibit basic human decency, but it was all too rare. I mean, maybe that's how vicious it really was, in which case, Wales in the 1200s was a really, really awful time and place to live.
The beginning of this book is so slow. Not much happens, and I'm very impatient. It's all written with a bunch of old-timey words thrown in and while this definitely did help establish the historical backdrop, sometimes I had absolutely no clue what was being said.
The book opens with Cecily's first person POV, and she is a complete brat. She's always thinking something awful about the people around her, she pouts, throws fits, and seriously needs someone to shove her off her high horse. She isn't even nice to her father (though, to be fair, he isn't all that great himself).
Then, without warning, the narrative switched in the next chapter to Gwinny's POV. And she's worse than Cecily! Her sentences are fragmented and weird. I imagine this is to reflect her lack of fluency in English? (She's Welsh). Or maybe not? I'm not sure, but it turned me off because it made her sound dumb. Her barely contained RAGE made it very uncomfortable being in her head.
So why didn't I DNF?
Despite all that, I found myself sucked into the book. I hesitate to say "story," because this isn't the kind of book where there is a neat plot-problem-resolution. Usually I prefer clearly structured books over the looser "slice of life" approach of The Wicked and the Just, but J. Anderson Coats' writing was so vivid that I was completely absorbed in even the mundane day-to-day events.
Little things like how parents related to their children, the social structures, clothing, chores, laws, and on and on were all described in great detail. There was a flood of information, but it never once felt like a lesson. There weren't long lectures about any of this stuff. Instead, J. Anderson Coats really throws the reader into the middle of life back then and expects you to sink or swim.
I imagine non-historical fiction fans might be bored stiff, but I was entranced. The Wicked and the Just is everything I hope for when reading historical fiction. This really is a gem of a book for fans of Historical fiction with a capital H.
I learned a ton of things about the late 1200s and the relations between the recently conquered Welsh and the conquering English. Events are seen from both sides through the contrasting narrators, and in the end I can sympathize equally with the Welsh and the English.
Also, those characters I didn't like at first?
They grew on me. I can't say that I like them in that "I want to be friends" kind of way (though Cecily is definitely sitting at my lunch table so we can have a wicked gossip session), but I respect, sympathize, and care very much about them. They truly came alive off the page and I cheered along with their triumphs while their sorrows stabbed me in the gut.
Gwinny's narrative did smooth out as the book went on, and though it was never entirely "normal," I didn't have any trouble connecting with her. I liked seeing her dance around a maybe-friendship-maybe-not with Cecily and the love she had for her brother was achingly bittersweet.
Cecily's chapters remained my favorites. I loved being in her awful little head and she made me laugh out loud a number of times at the brilliantly hilarious thoughts she related. She may not be nice, but she is brutally honest and I always find that refreshing in a character. She also has a strict sense of justice that I appreciated immensely.
What about the body count?
One of the big things that grabbed my attention was the promise of a body count. Is it just me, or does the prospect of a body count instantly make things more interesting? I interpreted that to mean there would be a killer on the loose and there would be some sort of mystery to solve. I'm not really sure where I got that idea from, and really it couldn't be further from the truth.
There IS a body count, and it is gruesomely high, but it has nothing to do with any serial killings or mysteries. Even though I was disappointed I didn't get a murder mystery, that disappointment was soon forgotten because what did happen made my jaw drop to the ground in shock. Which is definitely a good thing.
But you're going to have to wait until after page 300 for the explosions of death to start. (Not literal explosions.) Oh, and a warning to animal lovers: .
A note on that title
Aside from taking a look at an event in history, I wondered what the point of this book really was. If you want to get really analytical, then there's a ton of fodder here in the form of explorations of relationships, social class, war, subjugation, and so on.
But at its root, I think the title really sums it up perfectly: this book is about justice and the wickedness in life that warrants it.
I really liked how this theme was integrated throughout the book. It gave the whole story a spine of steel and made me give out major respect points to various characters. It also helped highlight how harsh the times were and how horrible people can be to one another.
I can't wait to read another book by J. Anderson Coats! The Wicked and the Just is a standalone (though there could easily be a sequel, and I would so read that!), but I'm crossing my fingers she writes another book soon, preferably another historical fiction. This is a book worth noting.
Cecily’s life used to be perfect with her father as the lord of Edgeley Hall and she, the future lady of the house with great marriage prospects. But then her uncle – the rightful owner of Edgeley Hall – returns from the Crusades and Cecily and her father must make their life elsewhere. Attracted by the prospect of tax breaks and a free life as a burgess, her father decides to move them to the walled town of Caernarvon, in the recently English-occupied Wales. Cecily is completely devastated by having to move to a land occupied by savages and heathens, away from everything she knows, away from her friends and family. But at least, she will be the lady of the house.
Gwenhwyfar is Cecily’s Welsh housemaid, who once dreamed of being the lady of the house herself. But with the English invasion, all her dreams have been destroyed and her life is now a constant struggle for bare survival. Her dad was hanged when he dared to stand up to the English invaders; her mother has been gravely ill ever since; Gwenhwyfar and her younger brother have been trying to make ends meet with odd jobs here and there. Gwenhwyfar hates Cecily on sight.
In the meantime, English rules, laws and taxation on the Welsh are far too unfair and unreasonable and tension is brewing in the horizon.
The Wicked and the Just is a vividly detailed Historical novel about the lives of these two girls in the tense early period of English occupation of Wales and the narrative alternates between their perspectives.
I had a hard time with the beginning of the novel as Cecily’s narrative sounded far too modern (moaning about how her father ruined her life!) and I nearly put the book down then. I am so glad I didn’t as The Wicked and the Just proved to be a great book and I ended up loving it.
There is very little in the way of an actual plot (it’s not until the very last pages, when the Welsh revolt, that something happens) and the novel focus on the relationship between the two girls and on their narrative. These encompass and mirror perfectly in a microcosms, the fraught relationship between Welsh and English at large. Sometimes that relationship is tense and full of distrust and resentment. Sometimes there is an almost truce that borders on friendship. Theirs is a relationship in constant motion, shifting accordingly to what’s happening in the world around them.
As a member of the privileged ruling class, Cecily is entitled, haughty, clueless. At least to start with, she is – and behaves like – a spoiled brat who doesn’t really consider the consequences of her actions and those actions are often tremendously cruel. Even though Cecily’s life is not exactly perfect as her father doesn’t have a lot of money, they can’t afford a lot of clothes or food, her marriage prospects are now basically non-existent, theirs are still very much a life of privilege and entitlement when compared to those of the Welsh people.
Gwenhwyfar on the other hand, experiences everything that the Welsh are going through. Her life is hard, she is constantly hungry, starved even and scared: scared of being caught trying to buy more food than she is supposed to have, scared of being cornered and raped by English men, scared that the tax men will come and take away their meager earnings, scared her little brother will be mistreated or called to fight for the Welsh cause.
I loved the dual narrative and how different their voices and personalities were. Gwenhwyfar’s voice was so full of justified hatred and resentment and I loved her character for it – as much as I loathed Cecily (although she was a great character, she could be just so cruel). Although I believe the narrative is supposed to entice a sense of balance and sympathy for both sides, I couldn’t help but to be really moved by one side of the coin and ended up rooting for, sympathising with and LOVING, the Welsh side of the story.
There was huge inequality and injustice between Welsh and English at the time and this book is great at exploring the ways those happen in society. When the tables are turned in the end, it was very interesting to see the altered dynamics between the two girls, between the two peoples and the examination of the difference between justice and revenge – not to mention the excellent thoughtful examination of what the Welsh revolt could ever hope to accomplish.
The Wicked and the Just really surprised be in a good way and I highly recommend it for lovers of historical fiction.
Are you a die hard historical fiction fan? Do you like immersing yourself in a very foreign world, be it realistic fiction or fantasy? If so, you will enjoy The Wicked and the Just.
Set in 13th century England and Wales, The Wicked and the Just is heavy historical fiction. By that I mean that the setting and the time period are main characters of the novel. Most of the story is not plot heavy, until the end when things really start happening. This can be frustrating to someone who does not like historical fiction. I love historical fiction. The experience of "traveling" to a different culture is just as interesting as the plot. The book pushes you right into the deep end. There is no prologue explaining religious or social beliefs of the time, no glossary for foreign terms. Part of me wishes there had been more explanation to make it easier to absorb, but mostly I respect the author for not dumbing down the novel. What you don't understand makes sense through context.
Another unique feature of this book is that it is told through alternating points of view of two unlikable characters. Cecily is a stuck up rich girl who expects everyone to bow down to her. She looks at her servants and even people of equal social class with the same disdain that people look at a pile of dog crap they've just stepped in. She stays this way throughout the entire novel. That's not to say she's an entirely bad person. She has a basic sense of justice - that the Welsh people shouldn't be treated as subhuman. At least she is equally mean to all people, Welsh or English. Cecily reminded me of Scarlett O'Hara.
Gwenhwyfar is Cecily's Welsh servant. She hates Cecily. She is understandably bitter and harsh given her horrific living conditions and abject cruelty to which she is daily subject. She is very proud and acts with such rudeness that any other household would have fired her long ago. It was not always enjoyable to read about two characters who generally thought and acted only in negative ways, but I admire the author for not going the typical sweetheart route. For various reasons, by the end of the story, I respected both Cecily and Gwenhwyfar.
The Wicked and the Just does not hesitate to describe the English settlers' cruelty toward the Welsh. Not being British, I knew nothing about Welsh history, although from what I know about British history in general, I'm not surprised that it wasn't warm and fuzzy. Apart from the treatment of the native Welsh, I enjoyed reading about the daily lives of the British and Welsh residents. The Welsh lives were horrible, but Cecily's life was fascinating when she wasn't sulking. Trips to the market, the very strong influence of medieval Catholicism, embroidery, housekeeping, and husband hunting.
While I love the strong dose of history I received in this novel, part of me wishes that it had been less work to read with a faster moving plot, at least early on. Mostly because these factors will turn off many readers who are not heavily interested in historical fiction. It is not an easy book. I love feeling like I learned a great deal when I finish a book and The Wicked and the Just definitely fulfilled that wish. I also don't mind that the characters are unpleasant, but this will also be a turn-off for a lot of readers. The Wicked and the Just was a fascinating immersion into 13th century England, but it may not appeal to everyone.
From LJ write-up. I am really running out of steam. Not reading steam, but sitting at the computer and saying anything about the reading steam. Though this wasn't an easy read, either. Somehow or other I'd got the impression that this was historical fantasy, and once I got over that, I still had the idea it was more -- lighthearted. Not fluff, but not quite the tragic, bloody, slice of history I should have known it would be. Caernarfon, Wales, 1293, that setting.
The book is told in alternating POVs, with the vast majority of the narrative going to Cecily, especially at the beginning of the book. There's a quote on the front cover from Karen Cushman, and in the beginning Cecily's voice sounded *very* like Birdy, which is always a good thing, although that set it up for being a less tragic story. (Also, Coats doesn't have the sure touch with maintaining "period language" that Cushman has. It's not usually too bad, but there are definite missteps.) But it soon becomes clear just how different from Birdy Cecily is. She's presented as a spoiled brat, and in fact the other POV character, Gwenhwyfar, calls her "the Brat", but in ways she's worse than that, and so willing to cause others to suffer that it makes for chilling reading. Of course she's not going to have been taught that injustice matters even when it's not just to you or yours, because her father doesn't think that way. And in all honesty, it's probably a very small number of English people at the time who would have been likely to think outside the "the King conquered Wales - it's ours now" mindset when told Welsh holdings were theirs for the asking. (Pretty much.) I didn't get just why the father thought he SHOULD have had the estate he ran for his crusading brother - he was the younger, and would there even have been the ability to bring a suit to try to get it for himself? I'd have thought it extremely unlikely, but then my 13th century English legal knowledge isn't that solid.
Gwenhwyfar's narrative is also difficult, as her reasons for burning resentment and hatred against the English has so much to feed it. Her father was killed in an earlier uprising, leaving her and her younger brother to take care of their mother and themselves, in a town that the English are running in a deeply corrupt manner. She has reason to hate Cecily from the start, as Cecily tries to have her thrown out of her position on the first day, but just as she starts to believe Cecily might be learning a bit (which she is), Cecily behaves even more unforgivably. (It's bad, too, for all Cecily isn't quite aware just how horrifically it could end. I mean, she *should* have been aware of it, even though she chose not to see.)
Those of you whose history is less pathetic than mine will have known that there was an uprising coming, and it's then that the book takes a turn I didn't expect. It's not as simplistic as showing the Welsh to be capable of brutality in the killing of people in the town when they rebel - though it shows this, also. But it's how Gwenhwyfar and her brother react when Cecily is utterly at their mercy that is surprising, and works towards an unexpected and satisfying ending, though one that leaves nothing sure. There was a fine author's note at the end that told about what happened after the uprising - and it was what she'd put into some of the characters' mouths. I do like a good author's note after a good historical novel!
Have you ever read a character you positively despised from the get go? Well, Cecily was that character when I first started reading this book. She was self-absorbed, pretentious, vindictive, cruel, manipulative, whiny, and downright mean at times. The perfect definition of a snotty brat. There were many times when I wanted to strangle her or scream at her for being so ridiculous and obnoxious, petty, and just so unreasonable! Ugh.
But let’s not just pile on her. The other half of the equation is Gwinny (I cannot spell her real name for shizz). She makes up the other voice of perspective in this novel and let me tell you, she’s not that pleasant either. She’s spiteful, vindictive, ruthless, and quite vicious. She has her own set of morals and will do anything and everything to protect her family. There is no regret from her over actions that she made over things she has caused and feels fully justified in taking them.
These are two unpleasant characters but they all have parallel character arcs where they grow and learn about the other. Cecily begins to understand her position and place in Caernavon and the struggles that the people around her go through. She doesn’t develop a moral compass of superiority but rather a practical and pragmatic stance to issues that are deep and complicated. Gwinny, who is rough both in manner and speech, learns to appreciate and understand some of the things that Cecily does.
I enjoyed watched these girls come to a grudging tolerance of each other, even though they still despise each other full heartedly. With the unfolding background and history of both characters you begin to understand why each of them react and do things the way they do. It’s quite interesting that the more Gwinny interacts with the English, the better her speech becomes (rough and stumbling in the building to more adept and controlled, someone who has better confidence and command in their acquired language).
I know nothing about this portion of history so it was fun to learn along with Cecily as well. It gives me a greater appreciation for the struggles and hardships people had to grow through during difficult periods of history, and for the dual perspective from both sides of the equation. I’m not entirely sure if everything is accurate but it felt that way to me. Cecily, maybe, has a more modern flair to her speech that may not be congruent with the times but it worked for the story.
For some readers, this type of novel may not be for them. The Wicked and the Just is an entirely character driven novel in the sense that there is no clear, driving plot force behind the narrative, nor are there great momentous gains in scenes that show where things are headed. Rather, this is a more smaller look at a portion of history and these characters who are in it. So for many portions of the book the pacing may seem slow, or almost dawdling at times but the payoff is worth it by the end I think.
I say this is a great novel with an excellent craft of characters, history, and all that is contained within. A departure from the more prevalent and popular genres in young adult but a necessary one to bring about more variety and selection I’ll say.
I know what you're all thinking - 'Seriously, this book isn't out until APRIL?!' Seriously. BUT I believe that this book is good enough that you need to pre-order it NOW. You'll thank me in April.
The story is told from the point of view of two very different girls. There's Cecily who's English and Gwenhwyfar (Gwinny) who's Welsh. It's set during the time that the English tried to rule Wales, so about 1293 (I believe).
Cecily's father was once the lord of Edgely Manor. But that has come to an end and now his brother has taken his rightful place and his wife has died, so he needs to make his fortune elsewhere. So he moves himself and Cecily to Caernarvon, Wales; where just by moving there to keep down the horrid Welsh, he can have a house and be a respected member of the community...within the walls anyway. Cecily hates it and wants to go home...and if she can't go home, she wants to be the lady of the house. But neither is happening.
The house is run by a Welsh woman who understands the society they're living in, within and without the walls of the city. She also oversees Gwinny who is the maid. Gwinny was to be the lady of the house. The same house that Cecily now lives in. Gwinny's forced to wait on Cecily, who she refers to as 'The Brat'.
The English believe that the Welsh are like animals and speak a nonsense language, just because they don't understand their customs or language. Sound familiar? The Welsh aren't taking being trampled very well. Few Welsh are allowed inside the city walls, mostly only for work. They aren't paid well and are chosen more frequently and quickly if they have enough money to bribe the officials. Gwinny's beloved and her brother are both always looking for work. At one point Gwinny's brother begins working for Cecily's father. Unfortunately, Cecily feels he has been inappropriately looking at her and begins to give him trouble. Inside and outside the city walls, tensions are rising and plans are afoot.
Cecily and Gwinny are, by turns, almost friends and bitter enemies. There are times when Gwinny thinks that The Brat might turn out alright, but then Cecily will do something high-handed and end that thought.
Then one day the Welsh revolt. The two girls and their families clash and the tables are suddenly turned. The only thing that saves Cecily is a kindness she did for Gwinny's brother, Griffith, that no one but him knows about.
I do love historical fiction and this is a series of events that I knew nothing about, so it was wonderful to read about. Ms. Coates doesn't sugarcoat the nastiness that the English and Welsh do to one another or how nasty the girls can be...which is often as bad as the men of the time. I think that Ms. Coates has a winner on her hands and I can't wait for all of you to read it! In the meantime, go check out the author at www.jandersoncoates.com/blog