Synopsis from Goodreads.
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.
“I see it in your face, Gwenhwyfar. And believe me, I’m sorely tempted to let you, but by God, we are not animals, no matter how many times they say as much.”
Wow, this book was not what I expecting.
For a start, I seemed to have got it into my head that this was set in the Victorian times (don’t ask why, I have no idea!) and secondly, I thought it was a murder mystery (again, I have no idea).
I’ve told you before that I have a strange habit of reading synopses for books, ignoring them and just completely making up a new one, and then I’m surprised when the book isn’t what I was expecting.
But if I had known that this book was set in the Middle Ages and was about burgesses, markets, servants, the difficult relations between the Welsh and the English, I would have left it where it was and never looked back, because it would not be my thing at all.
But I read it and I’m so glad.
If you’ve ever read any of my reviews or know anything about me, you may be aware that I have a few connections in North Wales. I spent three years at Bangor University, about 50% of my friends are from Gwynedd and a great chunk of my family are from t’area too.
So when I saw that this book was set in Caernarfon, wait… Caernarvon, I was so excited.
This book is told via dual narratives. Cecily is the daughter of a Lord who decides to uproot them to Wales to “live among savages”.
Needless to say, Cecily is not best pleased.
She’s dramatic, she’s impossible, she’s entitled and she’s, well, spirited to say the least.
Gwenhwyfar (pronounced Gwen-who-euw-var… ish. My Welsh friend tried to text it to me phonetically and that’s the best I can do) , or Gwinny, works as a maid in Cecily’s house but she lives outside the city walls with her sick mother and her brother, Gruffydd (This one I could handle on my own: Griffith).
And, as you’ve probably guessed, they don’t get on.
Cecily resents Gwinny for daring to meet Cecily’s eyes and Gwinny hates Cecily for being entitled, a “brat” and another reason, but… spoilery.
I loved these two narrators and the girl’s characters, feelings and actions complimented each other perfectly. Both Cecily and Gwinny had such fiery, distinct personalities that it was difficult not to love them, even if they did things that I didn’t always agree with. These girls were wicked and they were….wait for it…wait for it… just.
It’s a really apt title.
I liked how Ms Coats didn’t make one girl be the “bad one” and the other the “good one”. She didn’t manipulate the reader into taking sides and I think that’s incredibly important in a book like this. Both sides were given a voice and it was left up to the reader to make the decision.
As much as it was a historical novel, I feel that this book was also an exploration of the relationship between two people living on different sides of conflict.
What happens with the delicate power balance is shifted and the tables are turned? Are wicked deeds justified if they’ve been done to you first?
It was also fantastic to read a book about an era which I knew nothing about. It’s relatable to people who, like me, may not be familiar with the era but I felt that it wouldn’t be dumbed down for people who are.
It is obvious that Ms Coats knows the Middle Ages inside and out and absolutely no detail was spared.
Which wasn’t always a good thing when it came to the descriptions of the stench hovering around the market crowds as the sweat and grime of the English and Welsh mingleD together…
This book was filled with excellent characters, tons of actions, heaps of emotion and kept me up until way past my bed time.
I’m really looking forward to see what Ms Coats writes next.
Seeing as I love any excuse to attach pictures of Welsh castles to my reviews, here is a picture of Caernarfon Castle on bizarrely warm day a few summers ago. I assure you, the sky in Wales looks like that approximately one day…. a decade.
I received an advanced copy of this book from the publishers via Netgalley.