Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Book Review: The Wicked and the Just, by J. Anderson Coats (Harcourt, 2012)

Recommended for ages 12 and up.

This debut novel by J. Anderson Coats brings to life an unusual setting:  13th century Wales, ten years after the English have conquered the area.  The novel intertwines the story of two teenaged girls, the English girl Cecily, and the Welsh Gwenhwyfar (for help in how to pronounce Welsh names, see J. Anderson Coats' website!)   The story is told from both girls' point of view.

To quote from the publisher's summary, "Cecily would give anything to leave Caernarvon and go home. Gwenhwyfar would give anything to see all the English leave. Neither one is going to get her wish."  Cecily's father has been sent to Wales by the English king to occupy the Welsh territory and subjugate the natives.  Gwenhwyfar dreamed of being the lady of the manor at Cecily's new house, but now her family circumstances have changed and she must work as a servant for this very spoiled and bratty English girl.  

Can Cecily fit in with the English community in the little town?  Will Gwenhwyfar will able to survive, taking care of her ill mother and her younger siblings?  And when it turns out the Welsh are not as conquered as the English thought, and revolt erupts in the countryside, the two young women's relationship will change dramatically.  

Author J. Anderson Coats is a historian and a librarian, and in her first novel she does a great job bringing to life an era and a place most of the readers will know nothing about, through the lens of these two young women.  Although neither character seems very likable at the beginning, their characters grow on the reader as they cope with the changing political situation around them.  The author does not shy away from depicting the violence that was endemic at the time.

A historical note is included that provides some historical context on the English occupation of Wales and the background for the troubles that ensue and are depicted in the novel.  

Recommended for fans of historical fiction.  


PragmaticMom said...

I like historical fiction that really breathes life into past events that seem moldy and uninteresting to us today. This book sounds great and I love the two different points of view.

Ali B said...

I have been wanting to read a really well-written historical novel with interesting fictional characters. I'll put this on the list.

Allison said...

This was such a great read. I loved how unlikable the two main characters were, actually! They were likable despite themselves-- the author did a great job with that.