The Wicked and the Justby J. Anderson Coats
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
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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 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.
J. Anderson Coats has master’s degrees in history and library science. She lives with her family
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
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.
"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."
What People are Saying About This
"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
Meet the Author
J. Anderson Coats has masters degrees in history and library science. She lives with her family in Washington State. Visit her at jandersoncoats.com.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Extremely well researched and a harrowing look at a time period I don't read much about. I liked the alternating POVs but this book was a harsh read. I really disliked Cecily. She was awful but I understood why because unfortunately I think she was reflective of many English women of her time. I'm not sure I enjoyed reading this but I learned a lot, the writing was excellent, and the story had me turning the pages. A more serious read for historical fiction fans.
4.5 but I rounded up! Great story, absolutely loved the Ms. Coats' voice in The Wicked and the Just. Cecily was great, and I laughed out loud many times at comments she made and her (incorrect) understanding of things. Of course, as she matured, she learned that things aren't always as adults tell you they are. This book made me feel a plethora of emotions, especially when things happened between her and Gwenhwyfar. Not to mention, reading about Wales in the 1200's was really interesting. Great, great find at the library--one I am definitely now going to buy in hardcover to read again and again LOAN loan out to as many readers as possible. Can't wait to read more work by Ms. Coats!
Poignant, brutal, heartbreaking and not sugar-coated at all, this was a really compelling read about two girls whose lives intersect when Cecily and her father move to Wales to pursue a new life. Gwenhwyfar, the Welsh girl with problems of her own becomes Cecily's servant, bringing the girls together. The story is told in the alternating viewpoints of the two girls as tensions mount outside the walls of Cecily's townhouse even while she is oblivious and selfishly focused on her own life within her home. Told in wonderful language and having a lot of wry humor, this book was a very gripping read right to the very last page. Highly recommended to those who enjoy historicals.
If you’re a fan of historical fiction novels, then you’ll absolutely love The Wicked and The Just. Set in 13th century Wales, this book is a well-researched, vivid account of daily life for the rich and the poor in Wales when it was occupied by England. What makes this book brilliant and unique is it’s historical correctness, and its main characters. This book is told from the alternating points of view of rich English girl Cecily and her servant, Welsch Gwen. Cecily is a stuck up brat. She’s not entirely terrible, because she doesn’t intend to hurt people’s feelings by treating everyone she comes across as her servant, but it’s close. I had the feeling that more often than not she was just too preoccupied to worry about other people’s feelings. But Cecily is also pretty hilarious, although she doesn’t try to be. She’s clumsy, downright idiotic at times, and her idea of right and wrong is so messed up I couldn’t help but laugh at her expense. She’s not a likeable character, but I applaud the author for choosing an unlikeable heroine. I didn’t grow to like her by the end, but that still didn’t take out how good this book was, or how much I enjoyed the story. It wouldn’t have been the same if the main character had been someone I could easily like. It’s brave when authors use unlikeable protagonists, but it’s astonishing when they succeed in writing an awesome book featuring said protagonist. The other main character, Gwen, is the polar opposite. Forced to work for every penny, focused on surviving life day by day, she is hardened by poverty, and has a grim and bitter look on life. But who can blame her? When she’s forced to work as a servant for the stuck up English girl, Cecily, Gwen’s life goes from bad to worse. When the girl’s life begins to interweave, my initial thoughts were they’d become friends. Although they learn to accept each other somewhat along the way, they never make it to friendship and I’m actually relieved. It would’ve been a bit too far-stretched. And not every book needs a happy ending where everyone’s besties and the bad guys have been defeated. What I enjoyed most about this book besides the story, which is surprising and interesting and has a large number of twists and turns that keep up the pace, is the writing style. It’s spot on. Never too descriptive, never too lyrical, but always spot on. Then why the four and not five stars? At times, I felt like the story dragged on a bit. I would’ve liked more action and drama. But overall, this is a great read, with awesome characters and a historical setting that’s not overused at all.
I loved this book! I liked having the privilege of seeing the point-of-view of both Cecily and Gwinny. It made it so much easier to understand why they acted and reacted the way they did. I never hated Cecily…just felt sorry for her. She seemed to always battle with her initial feelings and the way she was supposed to feel, according to the burgess standards. Although she was undoubtedly a brat, I sensed a glimmer of kindness at the moment she set aside the coffer of her most treasured possessions to make room for Salvo in the wagon on their way to Caernarvon. I admired Gwinny for her determination and bravery throughout the entire story. I’m glad her understanding of Cecily’s plight in the end overrode her hatred for the English…which is pretty phenomenal in my eyes. I hope there is a second book to follow.
Turnabout is fair play! Like Scorpio Races, great to see more books about the Gaels & their suppression & conflict with their British neighbors. This interesting historical novel hinges around meeting of two girls from the English & Welsh perspective in 1293-94, taking place under the last rising of the Welsh Wars... under Prince Madoc. The historical note is well worth the read about King Edward I (aka Longshanks) who learned from this 1294 rebellion, investigated local mismanagement by his peers & rectified the situation to a greater extent than happened elsewhere, e.g., Ireland, though in the interest of assuming the former Welsh lines major holding that became those of the British Prince of Wales! It's amazing to recall how far back suppression of the Gaels, whether in Scotland, Ireland, Wales or Cornwall went!
The Wicked and the Just is an amazing historical novel that I just absolutely adored. Anyone who's been following me for awhile will know that I love dual perspective. In this book we have alternating points of view between Cecily and Gwenhwyfar. Cecily definitely took awhile for me to warm up to. Cecily is English and therefore has a very pleasant life. Being so privileged she came off very bratty and she acted like everything should just be handed to her. However, Cecily loses a lot and faces a lot of hardship throughout the book. I eventually started to feel sympathy for her and by the end of the book I was actually really proud of the person she became. She learned some hard but important lessons, she became stronger, and most importantly she became a better person. Gwenhwyfar is someone I felt sympathy for right away. Gwenhwyfar is Welsh and her life is a lot harder than Cecily's. She works for Cecily and does a lot of hard work and struggles just to get by. While I liked Gwenhwyfar a lot at first I started liking her less and less as the story went on. Some of her actions really surprised me and she could be very cruel at times. On the other hand though I can understand why she acted the way she did. The relationship between Cecily and Gwenhwyfar is very rocky. They start out hating each other, then kind of becoming friends, then that friendship gets completely destroyed after certain events, then at the end of the book while I wouldn't say they're friends I definitely think they came to an understanding. Cecily and Gwenhwyfar are so different and while they are at each other's throats for most of the book I really liked their relationship at the very end of the book. I think after everything they went through they learned a lot from each other and became better people from having met each other. I love historical books with a passion so of course I adored this one as well. I haven't read many books that take place in the Middle Ages so I really found this one to be so unique and different. The descriptions of everything and the writing really sucked me in and I had such a hard time putting this one down. I won't say much about the plot as it seems very easy to spoil but I will say there were quite a few things that took me by surprise so I was very happy about that. I'm not sure if this is a stand alone book or the first in a series, it really seems like it could go either way. The ending was nice but there is probably room for another book. I grew to love Cecily and Gwenhwyfar so I'd love to read more about them. Final Verdict: I adored The Wicked and the Just and I definitely think it's a book that everyone needs to read, especially historical fans. *This review is also posted on my blog and my other social media profiles.
Oh Cecily, what a spoiled brat you are. I had a hard time getting past how rude Cecily was, even when she did something that was nice for someone else. Mostly everyone is horrible to someone else at some point in the story, so it makes sense about what happened towards the end of the book. The plot line that slowly develops is based on the takeover of the Welsh land – that was something that was easy to get lost in and understand how these people thought. I liked the idea of Cecily trying to find her way in this new land and that Gwenhwyfar is struggling with the changes in her home as well. I just wished that there would have been more good in the characters to grab onto. Instead I latched on to the bad attitudes and hoped for change to come and bring everyone together, but in my hope I was let down. The one character that I wish was expanded on more is Gwenhwyfar’s brother as he was the most interesting of the lot. Reviewed by Jessica for Book Sake.
The blurb on the front of THE WICKED AND THE JUST goes like this... "I am gobsmacked by this astonishing story. A remarkable achievement." --Karen Cushman I'm here to tell you that GOBSMACKED is the only word that adequately sums up this tale of both cruelty and generosity of spirit. I am always amazed at how truth can be so much harder to wrap your mind around than fiction. Combine that with the imagination of a very talented author, and you come up with a book that just blows me away. THE WICKED AND THE JUST did exactly that. I may have mentioned before that I don't tend to gravitate towards historical fiction, but when it finds me, it's usually for a reason. I am so happy that this book made it's way into my hands. I want to sit here and wax poetic about what life was like in Caernarvon in 1294 but I'd just be blathering on and on about the meaning of life and change, history and evolution, humanity and inhumanity. It would just be easier if you read the book and then we talked. And I hope we do. I love to discuss books that are this good. But I can't pass up the opportunity to talk about the characters in this story. I have NEVER loved and hated two characters as much as Cecily and Gwenhwyfar. I was so vested in the lives of these two girls that it was painful at moments. J. Anderson Coats has a gift for writing characters that leave a mark on you--that change who you are and how you see the world. She does this with out preaching or manipulation. It is her mastery of the nuances of people and their behavior that makes this story exquisite. I am proud of the company I keep in the Class of 2k12 and without a doubt, I will be reading this amazing book to my boys.