Friday, August 2, 2013

Review: The Wicked and the Just


The Wicked and the JustAuthor: J. Anderson Coats
Release date: April 17th 2012
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Hardcover, 354 pages
Buy: The Book Depository

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.

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.

*from the Historical Note




28 comments:

  1. I'm glad you liked it! I ordered the book just last week, so now I'm looking forward to reading it! :)

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  2. Oh I haven't heard of this one but how could I miss it. It sounds so good and I'd love to read YA novel set in time I had to study about. I'm glad you enjoyed it and great review Maja :)

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  3. I was all ready to say I'd never heard of this but as soon as I read the names Cecily and Gwenhwyfar I knew I'd read some reviews of this in the past.

    I want to be reading more historical fic so I'm going to bump this up my list and get a copy, stat!

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  4. I have been very intrigued by this book for a while and now that it's coming out in paperback I'm so gonna be getting it and bumping it in the TBR list!

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  5. I'm not going to lie, this book hasn't really appealed to me since it came out. I'm just a little intimidated by historical reads but you make it sound like it's something I could like. Wonderful review, Maja.

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  6. I don't know much about the Welsh (other than their language has many, many consonants and I want to visit Wales) so I can see how this might be intriguing. I might get bogged down in the language, though.

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  7. This actually sounds like the type of book that I would just *love* to read. It sounds dramatic, uncouth at times, not the happiest and, well, exactly like my cup of tea! Plus, I love the fact that the author broached the dialect. That intrigues me immensely. Lovely review, Maja! :)

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  8. I read this last year and loved it! It was so well researched, the characters so engaging, and the era simply felt so vivid and real. I'm hoping this author comes up with another historical fiction title soon! Lovely review, Maja!

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  9. You know how much I love YA historical fiction, Maja. I've had my eyes on this one for some time now, but I was never sure if it would be the book for me. Your review got me convinced that I should give this a try. I'm happy to hear that the author has really researched her topic. It's one of those things that really irks me when it's not well-done. And I love the sound of the two girls with different personalities. I'm going to have to try this one out. I must check if my library has a copy.
    Great review, Maja! :)

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  10. I remember seeing this one around when it was first released and thinking I needed to read it and then I completely forgot about it! I am so glad you really enjoyed this one. You are right, a good historical is really hard to come by in the YA genre.
    Great review and I hope you have a fabulous weekend!!

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  11. This sounds like a book I would love. I think the author might be pretty local to me too, which is incentive to read it since I co-run a PNW blog too.
    I really love historical fiction in this time period so this sounds fascinating!

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  12. I don't specifically look for historical fiction YA, so I don't think about how there isn't a lot out there. I have ran into a few I like so again, it just didn't occur to me until now. Oh yea, you know I'm going to add this one to my wishlist. Yes, I can see me getting ticked off in this book, but I think that is a good thing here. :) Brilly review!

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  13. I really like historical fiction, but I agree, when it comes to YA in this genre there aren't that many books. I'm very happy that you've reviewed this book, because I completely forgot about it. I hope to read it soon, it sounds great! :)

    Mel@thedailyprophecy.

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  14. I totally concur good historical YA is hard to find, and to be honest I stopped looking, but I am so glad you reviewed this because I am intrigued by both the tale and your assessment of it. Thanks Maja!

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  15. Gosh, you make me want to pick this up immediately. This has been sitting on my shelf for EVER but you're right.. good historical fiction YA is incredibly hard to find it seems. It always comes off too immature for my liking. Great review though my dear. :)

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  16. I'm glad you really enjoyed this one! YA historical fiction is really hard to find, and even more so if it's good, but I'm glad that the language was perfectly done, because it's always so hard to capture that perfectly :) I'll have to check out The Wicked and the Just soon, it sounds really intriguing :)

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  17. WOAH what is with all these gorgeous title fonts?! I love the YA historical fiction genre so I'm glad you found this one a pleasing read. I have this under my radar now!

    Fab review as always, Maja! <33

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  18. I tend to shy away from such subjects too, particularly during the summer, but this sounds utterly fantastic. I bought a copy a couple of months ago actually, but haven't had a chance to read it. I like that it's set in 13th century Wales! That's definitely new for me, but I can't wait to experience it. Brilliant review, Maja. I'm glad that you were impressed with this one. :)

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  19. I love historical fiction and completely agree that "good" historical fiction is hard to find. I am very very intrigued by this one, after your review. I love that it was well-researched and written wonderfully, especially in terms of the understandable past language used. I can't wait to meet both girls, and really explore their relationship. Not to mention, the detail that Coats puts into this scorn/war between the English and the Welsh. I'm really glad you enjoyed this one, Maja! Wonderful review! :D

    ~ Maida
    Literary Love Affair 

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  20. I really enjoy historic YAs and wish they came around more often. Glad to hear this one is good. Clearly I need to read it now.

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  21. Sounds really good! I love historical YAs but finding good ones is very hard like you said. I will have to try to make time to read it :)

    DAydreamerN
    DaydreamerN.blogspot.com

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  22. I haven't read much YA historical fiction, to be honest. I mostly turn to adult fiction. A great part of the reason for that is that I don't know much about YA historical fiction; it doesn't seem like a huge genre, at least not from my perspective. And that's sad, because I do love historical fiction. I remember reading the synopsis of The Wicked and the Just a few months ago and being very intrigued. I like the fact that this isn't simply another rehash of a well-known time period. And the fact the author does use some older, more antiquated language is awesome. I'll definitely have to check it out now that it bears your stamp of approval, Maja! Lovely review.

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  23. Sounds wonderful. I've never heard of this one. I do want to read more historical fiction, especially concerning time periods or events I don't know much about.

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  24. I love using historical fiction as a means of learning more about a historical event or time period (it's just more interesting to me that way, rather than flat out learning the facts), but I don't get to read a lot of it probably for the reason you point out - it's hard to find quality YA stuff, and I'm not a big Adult reader. Now this one would totally qualify as a histfic book I would be into because it's in relation to an event and time I am not familiar with and it sounds like a suitably excellent read. So thanks for the heads up, Maja! Adding this to my tbr now. Really well done review!!

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  25. I totally forgot about this one, Maja, so thanks for putting it back on my radar. The reviews for this one were very favourable when it came out.

    I love historical fiction, especially when I learn about the time period without realizing it, which seems to be the case with this one. And it's nice that rather than making the issue black and white, Coats gives the reader a lot to think about.

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  26. I have this on my e-reader because I read such good reviews when the book came out. Sadly it got shoved aside, but your lovely review is a reminder to pull it out and give it a go! I love historical fiction, and it sounds like this was really well done. Beautiful review!

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  27. I don't read much historical YA and this is the first time I'm hearing of this book, but it sounds very deep and emotional. I guess it's one of those books that makes you think. I might give it a try. Thanks for bringing this on my radar, Maja! Wonderful review :)

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  28. I found this is an informative and interesting post so i think so it is very useful and knowledgeable.
    The wicked

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