Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Wicked and the Just

The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats

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.
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

The most striking thing about this book is Coats' decision to tell her story using two protagonists- one on each side of a hostile occupation. If you'd asked me which girl I sympathized with more, the downtrodden but fierce Welsh maid or the entitled, "bratty English girl," I would have had an easy answer for you. But that's really the point of the story- it's a difficult, if not impossible, task to chose between sides, and people can always surprise you.

I feel like I can't talk too much about the characters' developments without spoiling things, and in a book that is far more character than plot driven, that would be a shame. Suffice it to say, both girls will entertain, anger, and surprise you at different points in the story. I'm a little surprised at how boldly Coats wrote their tense and (understandably) difficult relationship. Three cheers for complexity!

I will also say that this is some pretty hefty historical fiction, and unless you already love the genre in general (and to a lesser extent, the period in particular), you might want to pick up a different book. I loooove historical fiction, especially English, and I also love Wales, and medieval things, and nitpicky domestic details like you'd find in Catherine, Called Birdy. Even with all of those things, though, there were a bunch of new terms for me to look up. It's certainly not a bad thing, but I would have appreciated a glossary at the back, and I could see how non-genre buffs might be put off. All in all, this was an in-depth and unflinching look at a really fascinating time/place in history, and features two complex and challenging female protagonists. Huzzah!


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