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{Review} The Wicked and The Just by J. Anderson Coats

The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats

“To the Victor Belong the Spoils” and “Winner Takes All” are common sayings. It makes sense on some levels. Someone wins, someone loses. Winner takes, loser gives.

In the context of Monopoly, it’s all fun and games. But what about when it comes to occupying someone’s land in real life? Or taking over their culture? Stripping them or their home? And what about their livelihood? Or their mere survival? 

J. Anderson Coats thoughtfully navigates these thorny questions in her thoroughly-researched historical novel, The Wicked and the Just, which is told from the eyes of two girls on opposites ends of the English occupation of Wales during the late 13th century. 

Cecily, an English girl, has long fantasized about the day when she would become the Lady of Edgely Manor. But when a court rules in favor of her uncle Robert, she and her father are left landless.

Facing the choice of being steward of the manor of which he was formerly the master and becoming a burgess in Wales, with none of the financial and military obligations of a manor lord, Cecily’s father chooses the latter. He packs up their belongings in Coventry, where he and Cecily have been living while awaiting the verdict on Edgely manor, and they begin their life in Caernarvon, the heart of occupied Wales. 

[Editor’s Note: Since Grave Mercy has benefited from a colossal publicity push, we thought it would be worth having a second opinion on this book. Interestingly, Sandra’s take is quite similar to Laura’s. Warning: Some may read this review as slightly spoilerish.]

Set in medieval Brittany, Grave Mercy’s timeless theme of abuse and escape gives the story of Ismae, Death’s Daughter, a contemporary storyline that unfortunately does not work, even when I did my best to employ the concept of Suspension of Disbelief.  

Mortain, the  God of Death, feeds off belief in and worship of him much as humans  nourish themselves  with bread and meat. Without belief and worship, Mortain would starve for lack of sustenance. Ismae Rienne, who Robin LaFevers created in Grave Mercy, bears a deep, red stain from her left shoulder to her right hip,

…a trail left by herbwitche’s poison that [her] mother used to expel [her] from her womb. 

The expulsion failed.

Life for Ismae’s mother was too ugly, dangerous and harsh to bring a child into. Yet, Ismae survived with a mark upon her signifying her role as the daughter of death, Mortain’s progeny. Her earthly father did not perceive the mark of the God Mortain upon her as significant, rather he viewed her as his personal whipping post, something  he could pummel his fists upon thus feeding  his cruel streak.

I felt absolute horror for Ismae.

I liked, but didn’t love Robin LaFevers’ debut novel, Grave Mercy.

(Similar to how I liked, but never loved Lyla Garrity, and often found certain aspects of her personality annoying—hence the FNL Character rating below.)

First of all, this book is erroneously being marketed as Young Adult.

The main character and narrator, Ismae Rienne, is a young adult. That’s the only element of this book that strikes me as YA. (Sandra, a retired English teacher and therefore someone who knows what she’s talking about when it comes to literary genres, thoroughly agrees that this book does not have the attitude of a YA book.) A large part of that is due to the Ismae’s voice, which never quite struck me convincingly as that of a seventeen year old girl. This book should be categorized as historical fiction/romance with a touch of the supernatural.

Just keep that in mind if you decide to read this.

Now, the premise of Grave Mercy is Assassin Nuns + Medieval Court Intrigue, which sounds like it would = Badass Fun. However, Grave Mercy ends up going light on the badass, middling on the intrigue, and heavy on the non-smutty romance.

If that doesn’t sound interesting to you, don’t read this book. 

Now, my favorite part of Grave Mercy is the setting.