by Jillian Anderson Coats
Cecily is convinced her father has ruined her life when he tells her they are moving to Wales. Like many English, Cecily fears being murdered in the streets by the Welsh, who she believes are savage and violent. Her fears are not entirely unfounded; in 1293 Wales was a tumultuous and dangerous place. Ten years earlier the English king usurped land and imposed heavy taxes on the Welsh. In an attempt to subdue and control the indignant Welsh, the king offered tax breaks and land subsidies to Englishmen who moved to Wales. After losing his rights to the family estate, Cecily’s father decides to take advantage of the king’s offerings and make a home in Wales.
On the long journey, Cecily envisions her future as the lady of the house, a small recompense for leaving her beloved home and her mother’s grave, but she is sorely disappointed when she meets the willful and disobedient servant, Gwenhwyfar. Cecily hates Gwenhwyfar immediately and treats her horribly, assigning her the most difficult tasks and dolling out unjust punishments.
When the narration switches from Cecily’s voice to Gwenhwyfar’s we learn that Gwenhwyfar holds similar distain for Cecily and all the English who moved to her town. By birthright Gwenhwyfar should be the lady of her own home but instead she has to wait on “the brat” while she lives in a hovel, facing starvation and constant abuse by Englishmen. Her life is a stark contract to spoiled and arrogant Cecily’s. The contentious relationship between these two deeply flawed yet sympathetic characters mirrors relations between their respective countries.
The unfamiliar dialect of the middle ages helps develop a sense of the setting but can be difficult to understand at times. The dedicated reader will be rewarded with a deeply moving story full of raw emotion and excellent attention to historical detail. The Wicked and the Just, an outstanding example of historical fiction, forces the reader to consider the true nature of justice.