In seventeenth-century France, Louis XIV rules with flamboyant ambition, yet the Sun King's appetite for glory knows no bounds. In a bold stroke, he sends his natural philosopher on an expedition to seek the source of immortality, a rare, perhaps mythical, sea monster. When Father Yves de la Croix returns with the shrieking creature with the gargoyle face, Marie-Josephe de la Croix looks forward to assisting her brother in his scientific experiment. But struck by the creature's gaze and exquisite singing, Marie-Josephe finds herself contemplating actions that would defy every institution in her life: king, country, church, and even family. Somehow, she must find the courage to follow her heart and her convictions, even at the cost of changing her life forever.
Set in an alternate C17th France, Yves de la Croix has captured two sea monsters, one dead, one alive, which he has brought back to the Court of King Louis of France. There is a rumour that the sea monsters possess an organ that makes them immortal and the king is growing old.
Yves' sister, the beautiful, naive and extraordinarily talented Marie-Josèphe, heroine of this story, has been lady-in-waiting to King Louis' niece during his absence, but on her brothers arrival home, her duties become divided as she helps him in his dissection of the dead sea monster and the care of its still living mate. Whilst attempting to train the monster, she slowly comes to the realisation that she is in fact a sentient being. Struggles to convince her brother, the King and his Court and even the Pope that the female sea monster is not an animal ensue. Mixed in, is a fairly hefty portion of Court intrigue and romance.
I will state again, for the record, at this point that I'm really not one for historical romances - or at least not those taking place in royal settings. This is just me. I will happily read other completely ridiculous stories that I'm sure plenty of lovers of historical romances would find as clichéd and silly as I found this book. It was not to my taste, but I have read (and, occasionally given up on) far worse and to do it credit, the middle third of the book genuinely had me gripped. The fact that in normal circumstances (ie not an ER book), I probably wouldn't have made it to the middle third is maybe an argument for persevering with books we don't like. Or not. There are thousands of books out there that I would enjoy more, but will never read.
So, as I say, I can cope with a silly story whose ending is predictable from chapter two. My main problem really comes from the fact that the book is presented as more than it is. This is not really Vonda N. McIntyre's fault.
Marie-Josèphe, we are told, is a feminist role model. Brought up in the colonies, learning with her brother, she has no concept of how a woman should be seen and not heard. When she is sent to live in a convent, on her parents death, she finds the restrictions placed on her by the nuns, (who repress her scientific and artistic talents as unseemly), completely horrific (these events happen before the start of the book).
So far, no problem. Yes, she's not your normal meek and mild romantic victim. Quite. However, she is completely impossible to believe in. Beautiful, innocent and virtuous, devoted sister and friend, a wonderful artist and musician, she is also a dedicated natural scientist who corresponds with Isaac Newton and plays around with calculus in her spare time. Oh and apparently, she needs no sleep. There is, seemingly, no flaw in her character except extreme naivety. This person does not exist. She is an eight-year-old's image of a heroine. To be fair to Marie-Josèphe, she is not alone in this - I didn't really find any of the characters particularly convincing (the "rake" character is an especially cardboard stereotype and, for the second half of the book, the brother seems only to be rolled on in order to be confused and contradictory) she is just a particularly good example. This is Vonda N. McIntyre's fault.
Something else I found a little disturbing was that, although the poverty of the general populous was mentioned at the beginning of the book, it was largely swept aside for the majority. I understand that in the Court of Versailles, normal, everyday people did not usually come into view and that the degradation and penury of most of the country would have been hidden, or ignored. What I don't understand is why we have these occasional glimpses of the poor, when they don't seem to have any consequence in the plot, or even particularly in setting the scene. If a point is being made, it doesn't come across.
I am being unfairly harsh as I suspected I might be. Cardboard characters, loose ends and clichéd romance story aside, read simply as a bit of fluff for fun, I think that lovers of court based romances would probably enjoy this (the fantasy element, beyond the characterization, is fairly incidental). Even I (despite my comments) enjoyed the novel in parts - the writing style is readable and while I could have given you almost the complete story plan very near the beginning, once I'd got a few chapters in, I still wanted to find out if I was right or not. Just don't expect too much.
There are some quibbles about which genre this novel belongs in: Science Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance, Fantasy etc. The answer is simply that it belongs to all of them. There are so many elements to the story that it borrows from many genres; it involves fantastical mermaids that are studied scientifically by a Jesuit priest in the royal court of king Louis XIV's Versailles. See what I mean?
The Historical side of the novel is very well researched, and the detail of the fashion, etiquette and intrigue take up a good amount of the page space. Not only is Louis XIV realized credibly, but so are real life members of his court all brought to life by vivid and extreme detail. Some may find this tedious, but personally, these are the exact kind of things I enjoy in historical fiction.
This detail of the time is not limited to dress and setting, it extends to characters also. The reader is made aware of exactly who everyone is, where they come from, what their standing in court is and also why they do the things they do. This does take time, so the beginning of the novel is bogged down with the machinations of the court and a great deal of dialogue between the characters, but again, this is precisely the kind of unhurried and meticulous characterization that I enjoy.
While all the character's follow obvious archetypes, they are not one dimensional. Marie may be the Naive Beauty and her brother may be the Stoic and Moral Scholar, but they are both so much more than that. Marie is a woman of ideas who struggles with the belief of the time that women are not supposed to even have ideas. Her brother is also a man of ideas, but struggles with balancing the morals of his order and the strictures of society. In the court they are surrounded by the greedy, the immoral, the disillusioned and the spiteful and lusty lot that make up the Royal Court. Every character, even the minor ones, have some personal struggle.
There are some hokey or "cheesy" moments, and these are what appeal to the romantics and the dreamers, but I think these light hearted and fanciful moments are needed to balance out some equally morbid and dark parts of the novel. There is a love story but there is also a good deal of hate, prejudice, misogyny, deceit and plain viciousness. This is the main reason I enjoy the novel so much, that many of the characters and their issues bring up interesting ideas about ethics.
It really isn't that difficult to figure out where the plot is headed, but following the predictable plot in no less enjoyable simply because you know where its going. The story as a whole is represented by the mermaid itself, not a lovely siren but and ugly humanoid fish, an metaphorical symbol of all the characters in the court: creatures bound by the beliefs and expectations of others, forced to hide the things that truly make them happy.
Another such moon is Yves's sister Marie-Josephe, lady-in-waiting to the king's niece, and the main character of the book. In addition to her many extraordinary talents in science, music and art, Marie-Josephe resembles her late mother, one of Louis's many lovers. The plot focus on what is to be done with the surviving sea monster, and with Marie-Josephe. The aging Sun King hopes that eating the sea monster will make him immortal, and he is determined to arrange a good marriage for the young lady. The pope is also eager for immortality, forcing Yves to weigh his scientific calling against his priestly duties. Although Marie-Josephe is initially infatuated with the dashing courtier whom the King selects for her to marry, she discovers him to be cruel and domineering, and learns that the court's disreputable iconoclast is actually considerate and kind. Finally, there is tension between Yves and Marie-Josephe, who have not seen each other since they were children, and are each disturbed by the changes in the other.
All of these conflicts provide plenty of fuel for storytelling, and I am not surprised that many readers are enchanted by McIntyre's tale of Versailles at the dawn of the scientific age. Although I was often impressed by McIntyre's luminous descriptions of the setting and scenery, The Moon and the Sun as a whole failed to hold my interest, and I had to force myself to finish reading it.
Although my main problem with the book is likely just a matter of taste, there were several specific features that irritated me. The character of Marie-Josephe, for instance, I found completely unbelievable. Although she is amazingly gifted in science, mathematics, music and art, she is incredibly naive and wholly ignorant of matters of love, sex, politics, war; I found both aspects of her character unconvincing. I also had a hard time keeping track of the many courtiers who are referred to variously by their given names, family names, and titles. Here I appreciated the ebook format that I read, since it let me easily search through early chapters to figure out which characters were which, something I had to do many times.
Finally, things simply become weird when Marie-Josephe discovers that the surviving sea monster is sentient, and she is the only person able to communicate with it, through hallucinogenic song (really). At this point in the story, I started to suspect that Marie-Josephe had actually gone insane, but the plot plays out much as one might guess from the second paragraph of this review. I expect that only readers fond of historical courtly romances (and willing to forgive a fair amount of nonsense) will fully enjoy The Moon and the Sun.
The book is written in superb style. The fierce glitter of the court and the cloying charms of the aristocracy are related through the eyes of a protagonist who, despite being gifted with seemingly all the accomplishments one might desire -- for she is beautiful, musical, artistic, mathematically gifted -- finds all her ambitions thwarted by her station and yet she must draw upon every single one of her gifts merely to survive.
Her initial innocence, which translates into the reader's innocence, transforms. Surrounded by men glutted with power and privilege, as her innocence fades she establishes a connection, which is at the same time supernatural, mystical and moral, with the creature her brother had brought back from the seas for the sake of the king's immortality. The sudden connection between her and the sea-woman requires a suspension of belief but that hardly matters.
This is a very cruel book. It begins happily, wonderfully, beautifully. The details and the wonderment of the French court and all the interesting people seem enough. Then begins the suffering. The protagonists' despair, the horrific moral implications, the threats of rape, murder, and unsuccessful attempts at challenging authority...This novel mentions all the usual unmentionables in fiction -- from menstruation to the depth of attachment between Monsieur and Chevaliar de Lorraine -- everything is not as it seems and people are oftentimes worse than they are.
Happily, the ending is ultimately satisfying.
Almost two books, actually. The first half of the book provides a ton of insight and detail into the court of the Sun King at Versailles. While McIntyre paints a vivid and detailed picture of life, rules, taboos, and fashion at court, she slowly reveals the nature of Marie-Josephe, the heroine, and the sea monster she is tasked with keeping alive in the waters of the Fountain of Apollo. As the characters develop and the need to illuminate the setting wanes, this 'period piece' turns into a novel of adventure, relationships, and love.
I enjoyed this novel because I enjoy accurate historical detail and because I found the characters engaging and sympathetic. The escape attempt near the end of the story seemed almost like it was there because it was expected, but, otherwise, the story was enjoyable, and provided Mcintyre a vehicle for us to look at our ability to dehumanize and demonize as needed to serve our desires and protect our notions of how the world works.
That said, this book usually made me forget the discomfort of reading it on a laptop. The characters were engaging, and felt very real. The author resisted the temptation that so many others fall into of making the heroine an anachronism. Instead she is a strong female character in a world that doesn't welcome strong females, while still being a believable inhabitant of that world. I enjoyed the way the descriptions of what was going on changed gradually as the main character understood more about what was happening and the people around her.
I would definitely read this book again -- but in print.
While I enjoyed the story, I skimmed (extensively) because the painstakingly researched and lavishly depicted court at Versailles overwhelmed the characters to the point of being distracting.
The heroine is a strong and educated woman in a era when those weren't universally perceived as qualities. Well, in fact she's bordering on a Mary-Sueish all-too-perfect and accomplished in nearly all she does, except when it comes to time management, but the other characters are drawn boldly enough too that they are not overwhelmed.
The insertion of the speculative premise in a quite thoroughly recreated historical environment is superbly done, though individual characters are given a treatment toward the dramatic, one-sidedness, larger-than-life qualities and flaws of characters as one may find in a Dumas novel.
And some end up quite skewed indeed under that treatment *cough* Pope Innocent XI *cough*.
Great premise, but fails to deliver.
The characters are wooden and stereotypical. The main character is completely unbelievable and the semi-historical court of the sun king is ruined by randomness that breaks immersion again and again. At the end I was expecting king Salomo and the queen of Sheeba to turn up.
I wasn't sure what to expect. I read a lot of SF, and knew McIntyre's name solely from her Star Trek novelisation, which did the job rather well.
The Moon and the Sun is, to use an old-fashioned phrase, a novel of ideas. Set in the court of the Sun King, various aristocrats battle of the fate of a sea monster: the King believes it to hold the key to immortality, whereas the naturalist's sister sees the creature as a sentient individual, and so the novel explores the consequences of these differering perspectives, while weaving in a good deal of historical context and reflects the social system in which it is set. It's also a decent adventure story with a compelling heroine in Marie-Joséph. Fun!