The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats
Reviewed by Noelle: March 27, 2012
Published April 17, 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
(Noelle received an ARC of this book via the publishers on Netgalley)
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When I saw that Netgalley described this book as a combination between Catherine, Called Birdy and Braveheart, I promptly elbowed everyone out of the way to get to a computer and press "request". I'm so glad I did.
It's true, I have a soft spot for medieval smartasses and Cecily, one of the protagonists, indeed reminds me of Birdy with her acerbic wit and sometimes spiteful sense of humor. Over-dramatic and spoiled, Cecily is sure her life is over once her father moves the family to Wales---either she'll die of boredom or be murdered by the "savage" Welshmen.
Gwenhwyfar (Gwinny), Cecily's new Welsh servant, once aspired to be the lady of the very house Cecily is moving into but has now been relegated to second class citizen status under English rule. Underfed and overtaxed, Gwinny and her family are impoverished and struggling to survive.
This beautifully well-researched novel takes place during a volatile time. Tensions between the native population and the occupying forces are building to a dangerous intensity and the two protagonists are smack dab in the middle of it.
This also struck me as a story about different kinds of rage--Cecily and Gwinny are both driven by it. Cecily has the anger of entitlement. To her, social slights and indignities are akin to actual persecution. Meanwhile Gwinny has the rage of loss and suffering and feels the injustice of the oppressed. She is starving and under constant threat of violence to her and her loved ones.
Both girls are keen on justice. But they are working on entirely different measurement scales.
The story is told from both girls' point of views and both voices are extremely charismatic. The first three quarters of the book heavily focus on Cecily's voice and I thought the point of view emphasis was genius, especially when it flipped at the end. It was an extremely clever choice by the author in that it drew the reader to empathize with Cecily when it wasn't always so easy. By spending more time with her, Cecily's daily trials and tribulations and bratty yet hilarious behavior drew you into her character and made you eager for her to grow past her ignorant cruelty. When she made any headway toward understanding, the reader leapt at the chance that this could all work out! She's going to learn her lesson! Kumbaya will be sung by all!
When Cecily and the reader realize that her small steps toward enlightenment are merely drops in the ocean of the gulf between the two protagonists' worlds, the shock is viciously effective. Lessons are learned, but in ways I never expected and the last quarter of the book is a whirlwind of consequences.
"Justice for those who deserve it." The titular wicked and just aren't mutually exclusive and the result is a story captivating from beginning to end. I highly recommend it.
Rating: 4.5/5 stars