Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats

It's 1293 and Cicely d'Edgeley, 16, has just been told that she must leave her home and her two best friends in Coventry, England and travel with her father to Caernarvon, a walled town in Northern Wales and she is not at all happy about this.  But her father is a younger son and can't inherit, so with the news that his older brother is returning home from the Crusade he was on and wants his castle back, he accepts a burgage from Edward I.

Wales has been under English rule for only 10 years when Cicely and her father arrive there and it is clear from the beginning that the Welsh aren't welcoming to them.  But the accommodations the Crown provides their newest Burgess and his daughter is suitable and there are even two servants with the house, Mrs. Tripley the housekeeper and Gwynhwyfar, or Gwinny as she is called, who works in the house but doesn't live there.  Gwinny lives outside the walls of Carnarvon with her brother and dying mother.  Her father had been hanged by the English for plotting against them.

The two girls tell their stories in alternating chapters, but we really hear more from Cecily than Gwinny.  And they are both very angry about losing the place they called home.  But Cicely is a girl with some power over Gwinny and all the Welsh and takes her anger out on them, by turns with utter cruelty, sadism and even a self-serving kindness.  And Cecily's anger blinds her to the unrest that surrounds her.  It is not just that the Welsh hate her for being English, but the English see her a inferior and can't be bothered with her.  For her part, Cicely also thinks herself to be superior to both groups, so when the end [of the novel] comes, she is caught completely off guard.

Gwinny, not surprisingly, refers to to Cicely as the brat (and she is) and resents having to wait on her in the house that had originally been meant for her had Wales not been conquered.  Gwinny was descended from Welsh royalty and reduced to a starving, struggling servant when the English arrived.  And although we hear her voice less than Cicely's, it is through her that we see what happening among the Welsh so when the end {of the novel} comes, we are not surprised.  Gwinny has by then filled us in with enough historical fact for anyone who doesn't know much about their period in history will understand what is going on.

But just in case you don't get enough from Gwinny's story, there is an excellent Historical Note at the end of the novel, which you actually may prefer to read before beginning the novel.  Anderson has clearly done her homework researching the history surrounding The Wicked and the Just in depth.  It did peak my curiosity about what Carnarvon was like in the 13th century, since Cecily and Gwinny mentioned the area so much.  When I looked it up, I found this picture of the town and castle on Google:

This map, done in 1610, shows Shire Hall and Shire Hall Street where Cecily and her father lived.

I thought The Wicked and the Just was an interesting historical fiction novel.  I didn't really expect to like it at first because it felt like just another novel about another spoiled brat, but set in the Medieval period.  And Cecily is indeed spoiled, but it was more than that and in the end, I found I had really enjoyed the story.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was obtained from the publisher


  1. Very nice review and an exciting cover. I love books which have a root in history.


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