The Wicked and the Just

The Wicked and the Just

4.5 8
by J. Anderson Coats
     
 

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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

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Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Cecily is furious when her father uproots her to begin a new life in Caernarvon (occupied Wales), where he will be a burgess, keeping order on behalf of the English king. The year is 1293, and tensions between the English and the Welsh are high. When Cecily arrives in Caernarvon, she behaves haughtily, attempting to act as the lady of the house in place of her late mother. Welsh housemaid “Gwinny” hates her immediately, and the girls’ battles and mutual resentment mirror the larger problems between their respective countries. Coats’s debut shifts gracefully between the two girls’ perspectives, finding empathy for both—no small feat when it comes to Cecily, who is naïve and sometimes downright cruel. She begins to recognize the injustices around her (including several of her own doing), while Gwinny struggles to keep her gravely ill mother and younger brother alive. Addressing the difference between vengeance and justice, the novel is steeped in the details and dialect of the Middle Ages, depicting barbaric events and dramatic inequalities. Ages 12–up. Agent: Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
A Kirkus Best Teen Book of 2012
 
"I am gobsmacked by this astonishing story. This is a remarkable achievement, full of truth and compassion."—Karen Cushman, Newbery Medal-winning author of The Midwife's Apprentice
 
* "Brilliant: a vision of history before the victors wrote it."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
 
* "[An] unusually honest portrait of the effects of power...[Coats] offers us a potent historical novel."—Horn Book, starred review
 
* "This debut novel reverberates with detail, drama, and compassion."—SLJ, starred review
 
"Coats's debut shifts gracefully between the two girls' perspectives, finding empathy for both."—Publishers Weekly
 
"A rich historical novel that challenges readers to think about universal ideas, such as true justice."—VOYA
 
"[An] intriguing first novel...Coats' considerable research provides details of everyday life that ground this dark and sometimes brutal historical novel."—Booklist
VOYA - Heidi Uphoff
Coats explores the nature of justice in impossible situations through the eyes of two very different teenage girls. When Cecily's uncle returns unharmed from the Crusades to claim her beloved Edgeley Hall, her father decides to move to Wales, where the king of England is practically giving away estates to Englishmen willing to lord over the rebellious Welsh. Convinced that her father has ruined her life, Cecily sulks until her father promises that she will be the lady of the household at Caernarvon. Cecily takes her new position to heart, giving orders and putting on airs, all the while oblivious to social proprieties and the growing tensions between the Welsh and their English overlords. The other perspective to this tale comes from Gwenhwyfar, Cecily's Welsh maid, who went from being future lady of the household at Caernarvon to struggling to survive. Cecily's narration of the self-centered world she lives in is often humorous and relates to the teenage girl in every era. Gwenhwyfar is tough as nails as she tries to reconcile herself with her new position waiting hand-and-foot for "the brat." Their relationship as rivals, national enemies, and occasional friends is both genuine and poignant. Coats creates a detailed and accurate historical background. The Wicked and the Just is a rich historical novel that challenges readers to think about universal ideas, such as true justice. Reviewer: Heidi Uphoff
Children's Literature - Shirley Nelson
Cecily d'Edgeley is devastated when she and her father must leave their manor in England to move to Caenarvon, Wales. Her uncle has returned from the Crusades and has claimed his inheritance; the home Cecily's mother had promised would be hers someday. Cecily misses her friends and dislikes everything about Wales. She refuses to adjust and comes across as a spoiled brat, yet the reader cannot help but be sympathetic to her first person accounts of her new life in a place where she is afraid of the rough-seeming Welsh. Alternating chapters present the first person narrative of their young maid Gwenhwyfar, who illustrates the resentment the Welsh hold for the English. Escalating political turmoil makes life increasingly dangerous. Both Cecily and Gwinny begin to change their views a bit. More importantly, Cecily matures and is no longer "the Brat" Gwinny despises. A guarded respect develops between the two teenage girls caught in the turmoil of 13th century Wales. Reviewer: Shirley Nelson
School Library Journal
Gr 6–9—Set in 13th-century North Wales 10 years after the English takeover, this is an instantly gripping story of injustice spawned by subjugation. Cecily, an English girl, tells readers from the outset that her life has been ruined now that she has been uprooted to live among "savages," as she calls the Welsh. Gwenhwyfar is a servant to Cecily, who assumes that she is to be the lady of the house and demands to be treated accordingly. Gwinny resents Cecily, referring to her throughout her narrative as "the Brat." Fleshed-out, multidimensional characters breathe life into this little-known period. Coats's cinematic prose immerses readers in medieval life as she vividly depicts the animosity between the Welsh and the English. Though both young teens are strong and opinionated, they feel victimized, and their determination and will to survive are clearly voiced. While Cecily is cruel to Gwinny at times, she also expresses occasional compassion for her and intercedes anonymously to help her and her family. Even in her haughtiness, Cecily disdains her father's fawning to impress those in power and is disapproving when he reduces promised wages to Welshmen by half. Gwinny also shows some compassion for Cecily when she saves her from a potentially bad match with a scoundrel. This debut novel reverberates with detail, drama, and compassion. The appended historical note is helpful; it's unfortunate that there is no glossary of unusual terms. Fans of Karen Cushman's The Midwife's Apprentice (1995) and Catherine, Called Birdy (1994, both Clarion) will surely be drawn to this unique story.—Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
Two girls of very different degree are brought together unwillingly by the English conquest of Wales. Cecily is in a pet at having to leave the home of her youth--where her mother is buried--and relocate to the Welsh frontier, but her father is a younger son. He will take a burgage in Caernarvon, recently conquered by Edward I. In exchange for a home, he will help to keep the King's peace. Cecily hates Caernarvon. She hates its weather, its primitive appointments and its natives, especially Gwinny, the servant girl who doesn't obey, and the young man who stares at her. It would be easy to dismiss this book as a Karen Cushman knockoff; Cecily's voice certainly has a pertness that recalls Catherine, Called Birdy. But there's more of an edge, conveyed both in the appalling ease with which Cecily dismisses the Welsh as subhuman and in Gwinny's fierce parallel narrative. "I could kill the brat a hundred different ways." Never opting for the easy characterization, debut author Coats compellingly re-creates this occupation from both sides. It all leads to an ending so brutal and unexpected it will take readers' breath away even as it makes them think hard about the title. Brilliant: a vision of history before the victors wrote it. (historical note) (Historical fiction. 12 & up)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780544022218
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
09/17/2013
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
207,774
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.06(h) x 0.92(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

1293 Assumptiontide to Saint John’s Eve

Tonight at supper, over capon and relish, my father ruined my life.

He smiled big, scrubbed his lips with the end of his cloak, and said, "We’re moving house."

"Thank the Blessed Virgin!" I sat up straighter and smoothed my kirtle. "I’m weary to thimbles of Coventry. Will we be back at Edgeley Hall in time for the Maypole?"

"No, sweeting. We’re not going back to Edgeley. We’re moving to Caernarvon."

"What in God’s name is that?"

"It’s a town in Wales."

I’m in my chamber now. I will never speak to him again.

Unless he buys me a new pelisson for the journey.

I’ll not go to Caer-whatsit, not while there’s breath in me.

I’ll not eat. Not till my father gives up this foolish notion. At supper, I enter my uncle’s hall with my nose in the air and sit at my father’s right and sniff as the plates pass.

Betimes I glance at my father to see if he notices, but he’s too busy loading his gob with sowce so grease-slick shiny it catches rushlight, and pies with crusts that dissolve at the touch.

I eat in silence. But everything tastes as bitter as wormwood.

So I refuse to speak to him. Not one sweet word from his beloved daughter, his only living child, the light of his otherwise meaningless life.

My father merely smiles and remarks to the saints, "My, how delightfully quiet it’s become."

I’ve no wish to resort to manipulating him, but it’s rapidly becoming necessary to end this worrisome notion of moving with a slightly underhanded blow.

So I confront him in the public of the hall with my most piteous Salvo eyes and wail, "How can you do this to me? I’ll die an old maid! There won’t be a suitable man for leagues out in the wilderness!"

"A pity you were not born a boy, sweeting," my father replies. "What a King’s Bench lawyer you would have made."

And then he arranges for our household goods to be brought to Caer-whatsit by pack train.

An unwelcome feeling is coming over me. This might really be happening. And there might be naught to do for it.

Alice and Agnes pull me into the hearth corner, their eyes as big as trenchers. They want to know if it’s true, if we’re really leaving. I cannot speak, not even to Alice, who gave me her only ribbon to cheer me when Salvo went lame, nor to Agnes, who has held her tongue about how I kissed Wat the groom on May Eve.

Coventry was bad enough when we came here last Easter. Filthy and crowded, not a patch of green anywhere. Only for a while, my father promised, since already we were straining my uncle’s hospitality. Only till we got Edgeley sorted.

Now this. Giving up his birthright to live among savages. Dragging me away from my two dearest friends and any chance at all of making a decent marriage. All with good cheer, no less! I’d think ruining a family would weigh heavier on a father’s conscience.

My father may be going mad. Apparently I’m the only one who sees it.

Says my uncle William: "No service owed for your holding? Neither here nor overseas? Only twelvepence a year and that’s all? Blast it, what fortune you have!"

Say my cousins: "Hey, Cesspool, how will you keep your precious undershifts clean now?" "Poor Cesspile, you’ll have to give them up for want of lye!" "Cesspit, you’ll tell us how the Welsh lads kiss, won’t you?" "That’s if you make it back alive, eh, Cesspile?"

Charming. You’d think that one being a squire and the other a journeyman goldsmith would make them too grown-up to mock my name. You’d be wrong.

My aunt Eleanor is the only one with something sensible to say: "Oh, Robert, how can you take a young lady into that den of vipers? Leave poor Cecily here with me."

I seize my father’s sleeve and beg, "Please, Papa, couldn’t I stay?"

But my father only laughs, big like church bells. "I would miss you far too much, sweeting. Besides, it’s perfectly safe. I wouldn’t put you in danger for all of Christendom."

One morning in April just after Easter, my father rents a cart and hires a man who smells of cabbage to drive it. Most of our belongings will follow us by pack train, but my father would bring the valuables with him. The pewter and a strongbox are hidden among some of our simplest goods, and those will keep us till the pack train arrives.

The cart fills up fast. Our things are stacked two and three bundles high. I direct two of the townsmen to load my coffer into the wagon. The coffer contains my most treasured possessions, so I know my father would want it with the valuables.

Salvo limps out of my uncle’s townhouse. He stumbles over the doorframe and heaves his way to the cart, where he collapses against the wheel. I kneel and pet him, and he lifts his tail high enough for a single friendly whap.

Then I peer into the wagon crammed back to front.

Salvo whines quietly, nose on paws.

This won’t do, so I climb into the cart and shift the bundles and crates, but the stacks I make grow so high that the goods will end up in the mud at the first deep rut.

Salvo closes his eyes. His sides are still fl uttering.

My father is arguing with the carter. As usual, it’s up to me to make things right.

I catch one of the townsmen by the sleeve and tell him that my coffer should be removed from the wagon to the pile of goods being brought later. The space it leaves is just big enough for Salvo, and I bring his sackcloth bed from my uncle’s hearth with my own hands.

My relations turn out to say farewell. My uncle William clasps wrists with my father and tugs cheerfully on my veil.

My aunt Eleanor kisses us again and again, sobbing into her handkerchief. She leaves wet smears on my cheeks.

Alice and Agnes cling to my elbows and weep. My two friends are all that has kept my exile in Coventry bearable.

I embrace them both and whisper, "I’m coming back. I’ll not be in that dreadful place forever."

They weep harder. They don’t believe me.

The wagon is loaded. All is ready. My father embraces my aunt and uncle once more while I hold on to Alice and Agnes as though Hell’s great maw has opened beneath us.

Alice and Agnes and I lean together in a tight knot and pledge to be friends forever, no matter how far apart we are. Their shoulders are warm and wisps of their hair tickle my cheek and I’m choking out my promise because I’m going to wake up tomorrow and Alice’s elbow won’t be jammed in my ribs and Agnes won’t be there to lend me a length of thread when mine goes missing in the dim.

As I climb into the wagon, Alice catches my sleeve. She presses a soft folded packet into my hands and whispers, "We want you to keep it. To remember us."

I weep as Coventry rolls out of view. I am like the saints who were sent into the desert to be killed by infidels.

I run out of tears and rub my stinging eyes. The wagon jounces along a rutted track, hitting rocks and chuckholes. I have a blurry view of the carter’s faded hood and the oxen’s rumps, and Salvo is heavy on my feet.

There’s something in my hands. The packet Alice gave me. I unwrap it and my throat closes up tight.

It took us a year, all three of us perched like dolls shoulder to shoulder, bent over one long frame. My fingers throb just looking at the two dozen saints lined up before the throne of God.

Alice was keeping this altar cloth we made to present to Saint Mary’s in Coventry at Whitsuntide.

Instead she gave it to me.

To remember them.

As if I need an altar cloth for that.

When dusk is falling, we stop at an inn. Supper is a meat pasty with stale crust and some small beer in a wooden vessel. I’m so hungry that I eat the pasty in three bites without thinking too hard on what might be within.

Then I find a hair in my teeth.

I must share a pallet with two alewives. They both snore like pigs. The fleas devour me toe to crown.

Once we’re stuck in Caer-whatsit, I will go to Mass as faithfully as an abbess and confess my sins every quarter-day. If Hell is anything like this journey, I want to be certain of my soul.

I’m restless all night, and I rise even ere dawn and watch the whey-pale daughter of the house blearily stir the fire to life. After she drags herself away, I wrap up tight in my cloak by the struggling fire and stare hard into the flames.

Right now it’s lambing season at Edgeley, and I should be on the uplands watching the little darlings frisk and stagger. I should be admiring the clean cuts of the moldboard as the plowmen follow the oxen up and down the strips. I should be sowing my garden behind Edgeley’s kitchen with rue and madder.

"How are you holding up, sweeting?" My father glides out of the darkness and nudges my foot cheerfully.

"Fine."

"That well, eh?"

His good humor makes Edgeley seem even farther away.

"Oh Papa, why do we have to go to Wales?"

My father kneels at my elbow and squints into the fire. "I’m trying to decide what answer to give you. The one I’d give a child who needs to hear everything is well, or the one I’d give a grown girl who can cope with a bit of the world’s ill."

"I’m not a child, Papa."

"Very well." He sighs like a bellows. "I lost the suit."

"Oh, Papa, no! They found against your claim to Edgeley? How could they, when you ran it so well for so long?"

He shrugs sadly. "Simple. Roger is my elder brother. The manor goes to him. I must wish him well of it."

"I wish he’d never come back." I fold my arms. "I wish the infidels had eaten him."

My father stiffens. " Watch your tongue, Cecily. Your uncle Roger is a Crusader who followed his Grace the king to liberate the Holy Land."

"And when he comes back, he liberates your land," I mutter.

"Sweeting, come here." My father holds out his arms and I’m so tired and heartsore that I shift into his embrace as if I’m six again and scared of the bull. "I’m not happy about it, but such is the way of the world. In Caernarvon, I can get a burgage for twelvepence a year without any military service due, not foreign or domestic. It’s all I can get if I’ll not have the humiliation of being a steward on a manor I was once lord of."

"What about me? Thimbles, Papa, Edgeley was to be mine! Now I don’t even have a dowry!"

My father hugs me tighter. "You let me worry about that, sweeting. In the meantime, you’ll be lady of the house once we have our burgage."

Lady of the house. Keys at my belt. Servants doing as I bid them. Like my mother once, at Edgeley.

"Besides, Roger has no heirs, and he still gets those spells from so many years beneath the Crusader sun." My father looks pensive. "If we live quietly in Wales for a few years, who knows? I might find myself in possession of Edgeley after all, as will you and your husband when I’m gone."

That year in Coventry was bad enough, chewing my fingers to pulp and waiting for assize judges and King’s Bench lawyers. That year within walls was merciless without Plow Monday or Rogation, without Alred’s Well and Harcey’s Corner and my mother’s grave in the churchyard, where the yew trees grow in thick.

I’m ever so weary of endless green fields and priory floors and travel bread. I want to go home. To Edgeley.

But every turn of the cart’s wheels takes us a little farther away, so I ask the carter if he knows anything about the Welsh.

"Oh, aye, demoiselle." His breath smells like onions. "A tricky lot, those. Say one thing and do another. Can’t trust ’em farther than you can throw ’em."

Charming. We’re going to be murdered in our beds.

"Are they . . . Christian?" I whisper.

The carter smacks his lips. "After a fashion, I suppose."

Even better. We’re going to be murdered in our beds by infidels.

My father must not be aware of this. He can wield a falchion and knows a goshawk from a sparrowhawk, but he can be rather dim betimes.

"Oh, demoiselle, beg pardon. It was a poor joke." The carter smiles like a dog that’s used the hall floor as a privy. "Aye, the Welsh are Christian and hold Our Lord and His Holy Mother as sacred as we do."

I pull my hood over my head. At Edgeley I heard Mass every day surrounded by Edgeley people who tilled the fields and drove the beasts and never once looked me in the eye.

"And don’t you worry, demoiselle," the carter rushes on. "The Welsh are harmless. It’s been ten years since his Grace the king subdued the land of Wales, and there are over a dozen good Englishmen in Caernarvon’s garrison. Walls like Jerusalem. Caernarvon’s the last place there’d be trouble, mark me."

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"I am gobsmacked by this astonishing story. This is a remarkable achievement, full of truth and compassion."—Karen Cushman, Newbery Medal-winning author of The Midwife's Apprentice   "Brilliant: a vision of history before the victors wrote it."—Kirkus, starred review   "[An] unusually honest portrait of the effects of power...[Coats] offers us a potent historical novel."—Horn Book, starred review "This debut novel reverberates with detail, drama, and compassion."—School Library Journal, starred review

"Coats's debut shifts gracefully between the two girls' perspectives, finding empathy for both."—Publishers Weekly   "A rich historical novel that challenges readers to think about universal ideas, such as true justice."—VOYA "[An] intriguing first novel...Coats' considerable research provides details of everyday life that ground this dark and sometimes brutal historical novel."—Booklist

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