Book 6: THE WICKED AND THE JUST, J. Anderson Coats - So Many Books...
Jun. 10th, 2012
03:42 pm - Book 6: THE WICKED AND THE JUST, J. Anderson Coats
I am really running out of steam. Not reading steam, but sitting at the computer and saying anything about the reading steam. Though this wasn't an easy read, either. Somehow or other I'd got the impression that this was historical fantasy, and once I got over that, I still had the idea it was more -- lighthearted. Not fluff, but not quite the tragic, bloody, slice of history I should have known it would be. Caernarfon, Wales, 1293, that setting.
The book is told in alternating POVs, with the vast majority of the narrative going to Cecily, especially at the beginning of the book. There's a quote on the front cover from Karen Cushman, and in the beginning Cecily's voice sounded *very* like Birdy, which is always a good thing, although that set it up for being a less tragic story. (Also, Coats doesn't have the sure touch with maintaining "period language" that Cushman has. It's not usually too bad, but there are definite missteps.) But it soon becomes clear just how different from Birdy Cecily is. She's presented as a spoiled brat, and in fact the other POV character, Gwenhwyfar, calls her "the Brat", but in ways she's worse than that, and so willing to cause others to suffer that it makes for chilling reading. Of course she's not going to have been taught that injustice matters even when it's not just to you or yours, because her father doesn't think that way. And in all honesty, it's probably a very small number of English people at the time who would have been likely to think outside the "the King conquered Wales - it's ours now" mindset when told [Edit to change to correct spelling - good grief I was tired to have written the grape juice version] Welsh holdings were theirs for the asking. (Pretty much.) I didn't get just why the father thought he SHOULD have had the estate he ran for his crusading brother - he was the younger, and would there even have been the ability to bring a suit to try to get it for himself? I'd have thought it extremely unlikely, but then my 13th century English legal knowledge isn't that solid.
Gwenhwyfar's narrative is also difficult, as her reasons for burning resentment and hatred against the English has so much to feed it. Her father was killed in an earlier uprising, leaving her and her younger brother to take care of their mother and themselves, in a town that the English are running in a deeply corrupt manner. She has reason to hate Cecily from the start, as Cecily tries to have her thrown out of her position on the first day, but just as she starts to believe Cecily might be learning a bit (which she is), Cecily behaves even more unforgivably. (It's bad, too, for all Cecily isn't quite aware just how horrifically it could end. I mean, she *should* have been aware of it, even though she chose not to see.)
Those of you whose history is less pathetic than mine will have known that there was an uprising coming, and it's then that the book takes a turn I didn't expect. It's not as simplistic as showing the Welsh to be capable of brutality in the killing of people in the town when they rebel - though it shows this, also. But it's how Gwenhwyfar and her brother react when Cecily is utterly at their mercy that is surprising, and works towards an unexpected and satisfying ending, though one that leaves nothing sure. There was a fine author's note at the end that told about what happened after the uprising - and it was what she'd put into some of the characters' mouths. I do like a good author's note after a good historical novel!