Friday, June 22, 2012

Review: The Wicked and the Just - J. Anderson Coats

The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats
Genre: YA, historical fiction
Published on April 17, 2012
Published by Houghton Miffin Harcourt
Pages: 345
Read From: 6.2.12 - 6.3.12

Cecily longs to return to her beloved Edgeley Hall, where her father was lord of the manor. But now he has completely ruined her life. He is moving them to Caernarvon, in occupied Wales, where he can get a place for almost nothing, since the king needs good, strong Englishmen to keep down the vicious Welshmen. At least Cecily will get to be the lady of the house at last - if all goes well. 
Gwenhwyfar knows all about that house. Once she dreamed of being the lady there herself, until the English came and destroyed the lives of everyone she knows. Now Gwenhwyfar must wait hand and foot on this bratty English girl who has taken what should have been hers. 
While Cecily struggles to find her place among the snobby English landowners, Gwenhwyfar struggles just to survive. And meanwhile, the Welsh are not as conquered as they seem. Outside the city walls, tensions are rising ever higher - until finally they must reach the breaking point.


Cover Blurb: I like how the early morning light also looks like fire, and displays the girl’s silhouette. Except, I’ll admit, every time I glance at the cover, I always, always assume that she’s carrying a flashlight. The title font is beautiful; it is what originally caught my attention, if I’m to be honest.

What I Liked: Gwenhwyfar is a good protagonist. Some would say that she’s a jerk, but given the oppression she and her fellow Welshmen have suffered at the hands of the English, it is very hard to fault her for any of her behavior. She’s a good example of the proud Welsh spirit, and she’s a strong young woman who bows as little under the English yoke as she possibly can. The storyline itself is good; it’s hard not to praise a story taking place in such a fascinating era.

What I Disliked: Cecily is a four-star brat, and she remains thus throughout, right to the very end. She’s mean, selfish, cruel, spoiled, a liar, a horrible tease, and a jerk. There is not a single thing about Cecily to like; not at all. And I didn’t get the sense that she learned her lesson at the end of the book. It was hard to feel sorry for her even when really bad things happened, because she’s just so horrible, and I wanted to smack her when she was mean to Emmaline, who is a sweet girl. There also wasn’t enough interaction between Cecily and Gwenhwyfar, which is really what I wanted to read about.

Believability: The Author has definitely done research. Geographically, historical events, day-to-day living, social conduct, laws, et cetera. She’s looked it all up. Her portrayal of English-occupied Wales is accurately brutal, and she doesn’t shy away from describing the worst of it. She makes it easy to hate the English, and to sympathize with the Welsh. But she also doesn’t do a one-sided portrayal; the Author also talks about some of the horrible things the Welsh did to the English when they temporarily took back their lands.

Writing Style: Each chapter alternates between narrators: Cecily and Gwenhwyfar, and I liked this. The Reader gets to see both sides of life easier this way. Unfortunately, the Author writes in present-tense, but Cecily’s sections almost read like a journal. It isn’t written in the style of a journal, but it kind of has the same feel, so the present-tense was easy to ignore. Gwenhwyfar’s narrations, however, were difficult to follow at times, and in many ways read like stream-of-consciousness, which can be annoying.

Content: Gwenhwyfar is constantly being felt up by guards. It’s realistic; that sort of thing happened all the time, especially to the Welsh because no one would bother to protect a Welshwoman, and if she protected herself, she’d be arrested. But the Author really didn’t need to mention every bloody time it happened. There are 2 g--damns and 1 s-word, and Cecily is almost raped, but there are no details.

Conclusion: This isn’t a feel-good book. It’s a gritty, open-your-eyes, historical novel. And therefore, the ending isn’t a happy one. Cecily doesn’t seem to have learned any lessons, so it’s hard to be happy about her rescue from Caernarvon after the Welsh take it back. And anyone who knows anything about the history of Wales will know that the Welsh rebellion is put down and they don’t gain their freedom. I wasn’t disappointed with the end, though. I expected nothing less from the sobering conclusion that it has, and if it had ended all happy, I would have been terribly put out.

Recommended Audience: Fans of historical fiction that has been well-researched. This could be both a girl and guy read, and definitely geared towards an older teen audience, though adults would enjoy it, too.

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