In a conquered land, starvation fells the youngest and oldest,
memories and hunger gnaw at those who can still work,
who suffer under heavy taxes, hating their English overlords.
The Welsh nobles and working folk have been thrown out of their town, forced into damp stone huts, forbidden to gather in groups or carry weapons, and the spark of rebellion still burns.
Caernarvon Castle in the late 13th century is a mighty stone structure overlooking the river and town, garrisoned by the King of England’s soldiers for the past decade.
Torn away from the land where she was born, where people speak good English, not this “tongue-pull” sing-song Welsh, a young lady is aware of only what she wants to see in her new home, oblivious to the dangerous currents of local politics that may pull her under forever.
Jillian Anderson Coats’ debut novel illuminates a small slice of history through two unforgettable voices, as Cecily and Gwenhwyfar wish their paths had never crossed, but must carry their own burdens through to the end. You’ll find this May 2012 release now at your local library or independent bookstore.
Book info: The Wicked and the Just / J. Anderson Coats. Harcourt, 2012. [author’s website] [publisher site] [book overview video]
My Recommendation: Cecily isn’t happy about moving from the family estates to Wales. Nor are the Welsh happy to have their homes taken over by Englishmen sent by the King to subdue them. So many tensions and such oppression… a tinderbox just waiting for a spark of rebellion.
If only her uncle hadn’t returned from the Crusades, then Cecily would have inherited Edgeley Hall from her father, ever staying near the grave of her loving mother. But as the younger brother, her father has no land now and jumps at the chance to rise in the King’s service. As a burgess in Caernarvon, he’ll be free from forced military service and heavy taxes imposed on the conquered Welsh. Better yet, Cecily will become lady of the house and perhaps find a suitable husband someday among its English nobles.
Gwenhwyfar is Cecily’s age, working dawn to night for the Edgeleys to earn enough to keep her younger brother and crippled mother alive. Agonizing as Gruffydd falls in with men who whisper plans of rebellion, the Welsh girl despises Cecily’s snooty manners as much as she longs to take the crusts that the English girl casts aside.
How bitter to be a servant in the house which truly belongs to Daffydd, a Welsh nobleman reduced to hauling quarrystones, to see that brat Cecily sewing in the parlour where she should be as Daffydd’s wife, to know that Welsh children are dying daily from starvation as the English burgesses hoard grain in the King’s castle above Caernarvon city…
Ten years is a long time to be conquered and spat upon, long enough to make bitter plans for revenge, desperate enough to rebel despite overwhelming odds – 1293 may be the worst of times to be English in Wales.
Told from two very different points of view, The Wicked and the Just takes readers to a little-noted historical era as the age-old struggle for power roars through town and castle. (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com) Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.