Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Book review: The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats

The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats (Published by Harcourt, April 17, 2012)

The Wicked and the Just is set in late thirteenth century Wales and is told from the alternating perspectives of two teenage girls, Cecily and Gwenhwyfar. Cecily is English, and grew up back in England on the family estate, Edgeley, until her uncle returned from the Crusades. Because her father was the younger son, they had to leave after that, and her father decided to move to Wales, which was recently conquered by the English, because it is easy to become a landowner there. To say Cecily was angry at this would be an understatement - she thought her father had completely ruined her life and her chances for a decent marriage. Cecily is a character I both liked and hated at the same time. Her narration and observations were hilarious at times, and I did feel sympathy for her being completely uprooted, but she also acted like a completely spoiled, entitled brat a lot of the time.

The other main character is Gwenhwyfar, who I will refer to by Gwinny, Cecily's nickname for her, because her full name is quite difficult to type and read. Gwinny is Welsh and her life is awful because of the English occupation. Her father was killed, and her family lost their home and now must live in a tiny, dirty cottage. Her mother is slowly dying, and Gwinny and her brother must care for her and keep themselves from starving. As a result of the English occupation, the Welsh must now pay unfair taxes and many laws restrict what they can do. So naturally, Gwinny hates all English people, including Cecily, but she must work as a maid at Cecily's home so her family doesn't starve. As with Cecily, my thoughts about Gwinny are complicated. I felt more sympathy for her, because what her life had become was just awful, but she was so angry and bitter. These feelings were completely justified, but hard to read about sometimes.

The Wicked and the Just is a very character-driven story - you may notice that unlike most of my reviews, I haven't written very much about the plot. That is because the characters (and their struggles) basically are the plot. There's a backdrop of growing unease in their city, Caernarvon, which culminates in a violent rebellion near the end of the book. This definitely isn't the book for everyone - if you don't love historical fiction with complicated characters that are neither good nor evil, you probably won't get very much out of this book. But if you love history and books with complex characters and situations that really make you think, I definitely recommend trying The Wicked and the Just.

Disclosure: Review copy provided by publisher.

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