Author: J. Anderson Coats
Publication Date: 4/17/12
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books
Blurb (GR): 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.
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.
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.
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.
P.S. If you want to learn a little more of all things Welsh, check out Jo's Welsh Week post. All kinds of useful info there, from pictures of reading (!) muscly Welsh rugby players to how to pronounce something that is spelled like this: Ysgytlaeth. Plus, a guest post by J. Anderson Coats herself.