Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats

The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats
April 17, 2012; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Summary

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. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

Are you a die hard historical fiction fan? Do you like immersing yourself in a very foreign world, be it realistic fiction or fantasy? If so, you will enjoy The Wicked and the Just.

Set in 13th century England and Wales, The Wicked and the Just is heavy historical fiction. By that I mean that the setting and the time period are main characters of the novel. Most of the story is not plot heavy, until the end when things really start happening - in an eye-popping "wow" fashion. This can be frustrating to someone who does not like historical fiction. I love historical fiction. The experience of "traveling" to a different culture is just as interesting as the plot. The book pushes you right into the deep end. There is no prologue explaining religious or social beliefs of the time, no glossary for foreign terms. Part of me wishes there had been more explanation to make it easier to absorb, but mostly I respect the author for not dumbing down the novel. What you don't understand makes sense through context.

Another unique feature of this book is that it is told through alternating points of view of two unlikable characters. Cecily is a stuck up rich girl who expects everyone to bow down to her. She looks at her servants and even people of equal social class with the same disdain that people look at a pile of dog crap they've just stepped in. She stays this way throughout the entire novel. That's not to say she's an entirely bad person. She has a basic sense of justice - that the Welsh people shouldn't be treated as subhuman. At least she is equally mean to all people, Welsh or English. Cecily reminded me of Scarlett O'Hara.

Gwenhwyfar is Cecily's Welsh servant. She hates Cecily. She is understandably bitter and harsh given her horrific living conditions and abject cruelty to which she is daily subject. She is very proud and acts with such rudeness that any other household would have fired her long ago. It was not always enjoyable to read about two characters who generally thought and acted only in negative ways, but I admire the author for not going the typical sweetheart route. For various reasons, by the end of the story, I respected both Cecily and Gwenhwyfar.

The Wicked and the Just does not hesitate to describe the English settlers' cruelty toward the Welsh. Not being British, I knew nothing about Welsh history, although from what I do know about British history in general, I'm not surprised that it wasn't warm and fuzzy. Apart from the treatment of the native Welsh, I enjoyed reading about the daily lives of the British and Welsh residents. The Welsh lives were horrible, but Cecily's life was fascinating when she wasn't sulking. Trips to the market, the very strong influence of medieval Catholicism, embroidery, housekeeping, and husband hunting.

While I love the strong dose of history I received in this novel, part of me wishes that it had been less work to read with a faster moving plot, at least early on. Mostly because these factors will turn off many readers who are not heavily interested in historical fiction. It is not an easy book. I love feeling like I learned a great deal when I finish a book and The Wicked and the Just definitely fulfilled that wish. I also don't mind that the characters are unpleasant, but this will also be a turn-off for a lot of readers. My only other complaint is that I had trouble figuring out how old Cecily is. She seemed to be of early marriageable age, but she often behaved so immaturely that I figured her to be closer to 12 or 13. It made it more difficult to understand her character. The Wicked and the Just was a fascinating immersion into 13th century England, but it may not appeal to everyone.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

15 comments:

  1. Before I started reading YA I looved historical fictions and specially those set in England. This one indeed sounds super awesome and your review makes me want to pick up this genre again... However, I admit once I cannot like the characters I won't probably like the book so, maybe another one would be a better pick!

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  2. I'm 3/4th done with this book and I agree with many of your points. I, however, seem to like the characters a little bit more.

    I'm not really sure if this will be well received by YA readers, but I'm learning a lot about this time period.

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  3. I love historical fictions, even though I don't read them very often. I don't know why, actually, because they can be so good. I'm really looking forward to this one.

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  4. Wow. Gwenhwyfar is a mouthful. I'm not even sure how to say it so I'm just going to call her Gwen:) I'm really curious to see what I'll think about this one since the two protagonists are so largely unlikable, that's really kind of interesting:) Historical fiction is growing on me more and more, so I'll be giving this one a try!

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  5. LOL! I answered no to both of your opening questions. And lately, since my time has been limited, I'm been looking for easy reads, so all the work sounds tiring to me.

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  6. You know Alison, I love historicals, but for some reason I could not get into this book. After 80 pages in, I gave up. I think I just couldn't connect well with the characters. And the switching back and forth bothered me a bit. I think cause I was trying to get into the character and then switch! Thanks for sharing.

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  7. I really debated whether to pick this one up or not and finally decided no. I do love a good historical but the characters just didn't sound all that appealing to me. Still, it does sound intriguing! And Cecily might actually be about 12 or 13, since the book is set back so far in time. As soon as the girl hit puberty, she went on the market (eeewww!).

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  8. I really like the cover for this book! I don't know if I'd have the patience for the plot though! Great review x

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  9. I love the cover and since I love historical fiction and I love new worlds..so this may be something I would appreciate more. Excellent review!

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  10. I felt the same way in my reading of this book. I think it will appeal to some readers but not have mass appeal. And I love your comparison of Cecily to Scarlett O'Hara! That is spot on and PERFECT:)

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  11. I just finished reading Shades of Grey so I've been on the look out for more historical fiction, this sounds like a book I'll definitely check out. I love history but it's so hard for me to read history books, I pick up so much more from historical fiction.

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  12. Historical fiction is something I'm just starting to immerse myself into. I'm definitely loving it. I'm debating on whether or not to check this out. I often find unlikeable characters very likeable, but then again these could be very famous last words in this case. *shrugs* We'll see.

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  13. I love historical fiction and especially love reading books in new time periods. While I have read a lot of books that take place in the UK, I've never read anything specifically in Wales. This sounds like one I'd probably find very interesting.

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  14. Not sure if I'd be into this one. I tend to not be into heavy historical fiction unless I know the history already quite well (which is not often as I am no history buff). Still, I can't help but think I should put more effort into breaking outside of my comfort zone and try reading one because I feel like it's such a great and interesting way to learn about history (as long as it's accurate...).

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  15. I've been really unsure about the setting of this as I tend to prefer Regency or Victorian but I am a diehard historical fiction fan so I feel like I should give it a try and support it throughout the blogosphere.

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