Reading level: Young Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction/Fantasy
Size: 352 pages
Publisher: Harcourt Children’s Books
Release Date: April 17, 2012
Stand Alone or Series: Stand Alone
Source: From Amazon Vine for Review
Rating: 5/5 stars
I got an advanced reading copy of this book to review through the Amazon Vine program. When I started this book the main character just annoyed me, but as I continued reading it I got totally sucked into the story and couldn’t put the book down. It ended up being an absolutely wonderful historical fantasy read.
This book is told from two viewpoints designated by two different fonts of type. The first viewpoint is Cecily; a privaleged English girl who is being forced to move to Wales because of her father’s debts. Cecily thinks she is entitled to good living and is despertately unhappy that she has to give up good English living to be the lady of a manor in a backwater Wales town. The second viewpoint is Gwen; Gwen was the lady of the house until Wales was overrun by the English. Now Gwen is a servant in Cecily’s house. Gwen is struggling just to survive and dealing with Cecily is not her idea of fun. Both girls are struggling to survive in different environments and the politics that surround them are tumultuous and out of their control.
When I started reading this book Cecily really really annoyed me. She is such a brat. As the book goes on you learn that there is more to Cecily than meets the eye. Cecily is not blind to the persecution of the Welsh people around her, yet she still feels entitled to her good life. Cecily ends up becoming a very real character who is torn between believing her father and English propaganda and learning from what she sees happening to the people around her.
Gwen is also a very complex character and I had more compassion for her right off the bat. If anything drives Gwen it is anger; anger at her position, at how her people are treated, and at Cecily. Again as the story continues we see that Gwen is also very complex; she understands Cecily’s viewpoint and wonders how she would act in Cecily’s position.
Watching these two girls, at first polar opposites, interact was fascinating. The thing that compels the story forward the most though is the impending sense of doom throughout. There are so many things going on here that are just wrong, as a reader you know things are going to implode at some point. This made it so I just couldn’t put this book down. I knew something horrible was going to happen eventually, but I didn’t know what it was or what our characters would have to endure by the end.
This book is written to describe an event in English/Welsh history and it is fairly accurate. As such I would recommend for older YA readers. There is an attempted rape scene in here, occasional bouts of torture and gore, and Gwen is forced to endure a lot of physical sexual harassment to survive. None of it is inappropriate and it all stays true to the story, but just a warning.
Coats has a wonderful afterward that addresses the actual history behind this book. While this story is a fictional account it is meant to replicate actual historical events. The story wraps up like real life wraps up; life goes on and the characters do the best they can.
Overall I ended up being blown away by this book. When I started it I wasn’t sure I was going to like it, but as I kept reading I was absolutely enthralled by the story…I seriously lost so much sleep staying up late to finish this book. The characters are so realistic and so complex. I think that what makes the story so engaging is the realness to it. The other thing that made it engaging is the sense of impending doom that hangs over the story; you just know all the bad things happening are going to culminate to something horrible. Highly recommended for fans of historical fantasy/fiction. In fact I would recommend everyone read this; it is an excellent fictional account of a tumultuous time in history and very well written.