Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Review: The Moon and the Sun by Vonda M. McIntyre

The Moon and the Sun by Vonda M. McIntyre
Published: Pocket Books, 1997
Awards Won: Nebula Award, Intergalactic Award

The Book:

“The family of Marie-Josèphe de la Croix has risen in prominence at the court of Le Roi Soleil, Louis XIV of France.  Her brother Yves has become the king’s favored natural philosopher, and he has just returned from an expedition where he has captured a live sea monster. While Yves wants to study this new creature for science, the aging king suspects it holds the secret to immortality.

Yves and Marie-Josèphe are pulled into the complicated social life of the court at Versailles, as they try to please the king without sacrificing their principles. The court is an especially difficult place for Marie-Josèphe, who has no dowry to ensure a good marriage and dreads one day returning to the silence of a convent. She must find a way to stay true to herself without losing all chance of a happy future.”~Allie

This is the second novel l’ve enjoyed by Vonda M. McIntyre, the first being Dreamsnake. This one is supposedly going to be made into a movie pretty soon, on April 10th! Mysteriously, there are still no trailers or promos for the film, so I’m not sure if it will hold to that date or not.  We’ll see!  

To get into the right mindset, I also watched Le Roi Danse just before my final edit of this review.  The film is set a fair bit before The Moon and the Sun, but also gives an interesting look at baroque music, Versailles, and King Louis XIV.  

My Thoughts:

I think that The Moon and the Sun would be an excellent book for anyone interested in the day-to-day social scene of King Louis XIV’s court at Versailles.  It feels like McIntyre put a lot of time into researching what it might have been like at that particular point in history, and there are endless descriptions of clothing, hairstyles, the social hierarchy, the religion, and a variety of social gatherings.  There are also a variety of real historical figures who show up, of which my favorite was the young Domenico Scarlatti (I am biased, I love playing his music).  I believe that McIntyre actually cut down on the various titles each person carried, but the titles that remained made it a little difficult to keep people straight, at least at the beginning. Aside from the existence of the sea monster, I felt like the novel painted a thorough picture of what it might have been like to live at the Court of Versailles.  As a student of baroque music and a person who has visited the palace and grounds, it was an interesting glimpse into another world.

Though there are several viewpoint characters, it is clear that the heroine is Marie-Josèphe de la Croix.  She’s a perfectly likable lead, but that very perfection can be a little annoying at times. She’s more skilled than others at just about everything: drawing, composing music, mathematics, horseback riding, languages, etc.  She’s devoutly religious, demure and humble, though it seems she is constantly being singled out by important members of the court because she is so special. She’s also very sheltered—she begins the story as a grown woman who believes that having sex is a horrible experience married couples must endure in order to build a family.  With all of her charms, it is inevitable that she would attract a handful of men at court, and so her story involves a romance.  I don’t want to give details of that part away, but I rather liked her slow-building romance and thought it suited the character and her story well. Aside from Marie-Josèphe, the court was populated with a wide variety of characters, and the tangle of these courtiers attachments provided a complicated social backdrop.  

The sea monster was the main fantasy element, but her existence seemed more natural and biological than magical.  From a note by McIntyre after the end of the novel, it seems that the story grew around the idea of what might have happened if sea people had actually existed in this time period.  Through Marie-Josèphe and her brother’s work, we see an idea of how scientists of that age (natural philosophers) might have approached the study of such a creature.  The existence and nature of the sea monster also prompted discussions of personhood and self-determination, not only for non-humans, but also for different classes or genders of humans.  Though the sea monster is eventually important in driving the story forward, I felt that the focus was really on romance and social maneuvering at the Court of Versailles. I feel like I am perhaps not the target audience for this novel, but I was surprised by how much I ended up enjoying it.       

My Rating: 3.5/5   

The Moon and the Sun is a historical romance featuring a somewhat improbably perfect heroine, with a fantastical twist in the existence of sea people.  I think it would be most enjoyed by readers interested in fiction about daily life at Le Roi Soleil’s court at Versailles, since the setting, fashions, customs, complicated social webs, and politics were portrayed in great detail.  The many titled people are court were difficult to keep straight at first, but they provided a complicated social environment for the ingenue, Marie-Josèphe, to navigate. The fantasy part of the story comes along very slowly, though it does eventually affect events.  Though I occasionally became impatient with the heroine’s unending goodness and the many hairstyle or outfit descriptions, I enjoyed both the story of The Moon and the Sun and its meticulous setting.   

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