Book Review: The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats

View from the window seat:
Cecily believes her life is ruined when her father moves them to English-occupied Wales. The only silver lining is she’ll be the lady of the house. Gwenhwyfar loathes Cecily, the brat she has to serve after the English destroyed her world. Cecily struggles to fit in while Gwenhwyfar struggles to feed her ailing mother and younger brother. Outside the town walls, tensions reach a breaking point for the oppressed Welsh.

This is not a plot-driven novel. In fact, no real action occurs until nearly the end. Don’t let this turn you away, though; The Wicked and the Just is an excellent novel due to the characterization of the two narrators, Cecily and Gwenhwyfar. Cecily starts off as incredibly unlikeable. Immature, snobby, and cruel, she is consumed by selfish pursuits. But the more you get to know her, the more endearing she becomes, because in between the snobbery and selfishness are moments of hilarious snarkiness and real humanity. Gwenhwyfar I found to be the same combination of unlikable and likable as Cecily. Gwenhwyfar is fiercely protective and loyal, but she can also be merciless (though who can blame her, after the horror the English inflicted on her life?). Neither one is lovable, and I think that’s brilliant. So rarely does one see a novel where the narrators are unlikeable.

Their relationship is obviously full of tension. Cecily treats Gwenhwyfar with little respect, and Gwenhwyfar scorns Cecily just as completely. Rare moments of camaraderie are overshadowed by Cecily’s senseless acts of cruelty. I loved the slow building of both of them seeing something more in the other. There will never be love between them, but there could be understanding.

The choice of setting is an interesting one and one I’ve never come across. I really enjoyed learning about this history of English and Welsh relations during the late thirteenth century, a time period and a subject I knew nothing about.

Overall impression:
The Wicked and the Just is an historical novel with emotion, one with bold, strong female narrators.


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