Author: J. Anderson Coats
Genre: Historical, Medieval, Young Adult
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: April 17th 2012
Hardcover: 352 pages
Cecily’s father has ruined her life. He’s moving them to occupied Wales, where the king needs good strong Englishmen to keep down the vicious Welshmen. At least Cecily will finally be the lady of the house.
Gwenhwyfar knows all about that house. Once she dreamed of being the lady there herself, until the English destroyed the lives of everyone she knows. Now she must wait hand and foot on this bratty English girl.
While Cecily struggles to find her place amongst the snobby English landowners, Gwenhwyfar struggles just to survive. And outside the city walls, tensions are rising ever higher—until finally they must reach the breaking point.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Review copy via NetGalley
Why did I read this book: Thea brought this one to my attention – it is a historical novel set in Medieval Wales and it just sounded exactly the type of thing I am into at the moment. I had to give it a go.
Wales, 13th century.
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.
1293 Assumption tide to Saint John’s Eve.
Tonight at supper, over capon and relish, my father ruined my life. He smiled big, scrubbed his lips with the end of his cloak, and said, “We’re moving house.”
“Thank the Blessed Virgin!” I sat up straighter and smoothed my kirtle. “I’m weary to thimbles of Coventry. Will we be back at Edgeley Hall in time for the Maypole?”
“No, sweeting. We’re not going back to Edgeley. We’re moving to Caernarvon.”
“What in God’s name is that?”
“It’s a town in Wales.”
I’m in my chamber now. I will never speak to him again. Unless he buys me a new pelisson for the journey. I’ll not go to Caer-whatsit, not while there’s breath in me. I’ll not eat. Not till my father gives up this foolish notion. At supper, I enter my uncle’s hall with my nose in the air and sit at my father’s right and sniff as the plates pass. Betimes I glance at my father to see if he notices, but he’s too busy loading his gob with sowce so grease-slick shiny it catches rushlight, and pies with crusts that dissolve at the touch. I eat in silence. But everything tastes as bitter as wormwood. So I refuse to speak to him. Not one sweet word from his beloved daughter, his only living child, the light of his otherwise meaningless life.
My father merely smiles and remarks to the saints, “My, how delightfully quiet it’s become.”
I’ve no wish to resort to manipulating him, but it’s rapidly becoming necessary to end this worrisome notion of moving with a slightly underhanded blow. So I confront him in the public of the hall with my most piteous Salvo eyes and wail, “How can you do this to me? I’ll die an old maid! There won’t be a suitable man for leagues out in the wilderness!”
“A pity you were not born a boy, sweeting,” my father replies. “What a King’s Bench lawyer you would have made.”
Rating: 7 – Very Good
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