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

16 Apr

Book cover for The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson CoatsTitle: The Wicked and the Just

Author: J. Anderson Coats

Genre: Historical Fiction YA

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Release date: April 17, 2012

Challenge: YA Historical Fiction Challenge

Source: DAC ARC Tour

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.

THE WICKED AND THE JUST–the debut from J. Anderson Coats–is some good historical fiction, guys. It’s good partly because it details a historical time and place that I have no knowledge of, so reading the little historical notes at the end was SUPER satisfying. THE WICKED AND THE JUST is also good because it has characters who, even when they grate, which unfortunately they did sometimes, experience some humbling, devastating tragedies and indignities. Those always make for good stories and good drama, and J. Anderson Coats has given her book all of those things. There were some things about this book that weren’t my favorite things, though, and so while I definitely enjoyed THE WICKED AND THE JUST, a couple of things got stuck in my craw. Overall, though, this was good stuff. Woot!

So first: the awesome stuff. That would be the history. Yes. THE FACTS. Wales at the end of the 13th century was like a boiling pot of water that was about to spill over. Cecily d’Edgeley, a privileged English girl, is moving with her father to Caernarvon, Wales, in the hopes that the English king will let them–well, him–live in prosperity at almost no cost to them. Of course, what’s free for the English moving to Wales comes at a great cost to the native Welsh, like Gwenhyfar, who are suddenly being forced to give up their own land and holdings to the incoming, entitled English. To say that the two groups, and the two girls, don’t get along is a pretty major understatement. 

The way that J. Anderson Coats depicts the reality of living in Wales in 1293, and the unstable, dangerous environment there is really great. There’s never any question of the enmity between the Welsh and the English, nor is there any doubt of the fact that the Welsh aren’t going to let the bastards keep them down, you know? Rebellion is in the air, and if Cecily and her ambitious father and his cronies in the new local government hadn’t been so arrogant, they might have been able to save their own asses. Alas. This  aspect of THE WICKED AND THE JUST was really well done. 

I liked, too, the way the chapters alternated between Cecily and Gwenhyfar, the de facto lady of the house and one of her servants, respectively. But my enjoyment of both of these girls’ voices and experiences were marred just a little bit by a thing or two. I will say that, overall, I wish that Gwenhyfar’s chapters had been a little longer because I empathized with her more than Cecily, who I didn’t really feel too sorry for at all until the end. 

To me, Gwenyhfar’s chapters did a weird thing that unsettled my reading a little bit, and this is totally to do with the way her voice was written. As a character, Gwenhyfar is fiercely loyal, strong, and proud. She’s also angry, pissed, and really mad, although she has no choice but to suppress her anger, which only makes it all worse. Those parts of her personality were AWESOME. But when we’re in her head in her chapters, she doesn’t use any articles. For instance, her thoughts go something like this: “Keep walking. Already know what he’ll want for a miserable half-sack.” Or, “Let out a long breath, then dredge up a smirk.” She NEVER uses “I” until her last few chapters. I know that maybe this seems like an unimportant thing, but it happens every time she thinks in the first person and I never really got used to it. I couldn’t understand the reason for it, either. Little bummer. 

While Gwenhyfar is a repressed local who lives with the grief of her father’s death and her bitterness over the presence of the English in her town, Cecily is a vocal, snobbish, entitled, dramatic English girl who, while also living with grief, is mostly a horrible person. It’s totally legit that she would be presumptuous and demanding, so I appreciate the accuracy. Honestly though, she’s a little beyotch who really never seems to change too much until the very end. She’s not likable, and she does possibly my least favorite thing ever: SHE WHINES. Cecily is always bitching about how bad things are for her and saying horrible things about people; she’s incredibly ambitious for herself and cares very little for others. I mean, I guess she has her empathetic moments, but mostly she’s kind of awful. It’s a big risk to make a main character so unlikable and, for me, I disliked it more often than not. 

But what I found pretty satisfying about THE WICKED AND THE JUST by J. Anderson Coats is that, in the end, I found both of the girls unlikable in their own ways, and determining just exactly who is the wicked and who is the just was maybe not so easy. As the story winds down, and the shit hits the fan, both girls have done pretty terrible things to each other. There’s no friendship in this book. Cecily and Gwenhyfar don’t overcome their differences and wind up BFFs. Good Lord! That would maybe only happen on OPPOSITE DAY or as an April Fool’s joke. This part of their interaction is definitely historically accurate and I liked the gray area as well. 

This was a solid debut, guys, and I very much liked the historical depiction of Wales and the majorly uneasy coexistence between the English and the Welsh. The characters were good but not great, and I liked  Gwenhyfar better than Cecily, but neither were perfect. But even though the characters mistreated one another, one of the things I took from the story is the ambiguous nature of who’s good and who’s bad. Both girls and both groups do bad things. And I can appreciate that kind of drama. I’m definitely looking forward to some more things from J. Anderson Coats. I can’t wait to see what you all think of THE WICKED AND THE JUST!


6 Responses to “Book Review: The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats”

  1. Lisa! (@heylisarenee) April 16, 2012 at 8:08 pm #

    This sounds pretty rad, although the Gwyn chapters sound disjointed. Good to know!

    Obviously, I will never ever be able to resist the potential for drama in this. Both sides are bad = lots of drama.

  2. a. knight April 17, 2012 at 5:35 am #

    “That would maybe only happen on OPPOSITE DAY or as an April Fool’s joke.” ROFL.

    I had no interest reading this book, but people seem to really like it, and the historical bit definitely does intrigue me, so maybe I’ll give this one a whirl soon.


  3. megtao April 19, 2012 at 9:01 am #

    I do like gray area characters, but I think I would have to be in the right mood to read this book.

  4. QNPoohBear October 13, 2012 at 10:28 pm #

    I read this one too and had a lot of the same criticisms.


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