Book Review: The Moon and the Sun by Vonda N. McIntyre
Historical Fantasy / Pocket / Standalone
The Moon and the Sun is a historical fantasy, or alternate history, about the discovery of a sea-monster by a 17th century scientist. At the behest of Louis VIX, who believes the monsters hold the secret to immortality, Yves de la Croix captures two sea-monsters for study. His sister Marie-Josèphe assists with his studies, but finds that the more she learns about the sea creatures, the less convinced she of their monstrosity she is. This Nebula Award winner from 1998 is an interesting mix of politics, science, art, and history, with obvious research and attention to detail behind it.
Not unlike the last book I reviewed, The Goblin Emperor, The Moon and the Sun follows a clever, gentle but naïve newcomer (Marie-Josèphe, in this case) maneuvering through the endless relationships and political machinations of court. The Moon and the Sun is based in history, however, and specifically explores the impact of religion and monarchy on scientific freedom. Marie-Josèphe and her brother are subject to the whims of both Louis XIV and Pope Innocent, and their research is only valuable insomuch as it furthers either church doctrine or Louis XIV’s power. Marie-Josèphe also faces constant sexism in both her scientific and artistic endeavours, which are variously considered offensive, unseemly, or inherently flawed.
In truth, though, I found the themes a bit on the nose; the parallel between Marie-Josèphe and the caged sea-monster felt overly obvious to me, and the multi-talented Marie-Josèphe is a little too good to be true sometimes. I enjoyed her character most when she ended up in over her head – for example, her total shock and ignorance over sexual affairs. Louis XIV and his companion Count Lucien were really great characters, definitely my favourite cast members. Marie-Josèphe’s relationship with her slave Odelette was interesting, but I felt that the conflict between them was resolved neatly, with too little interrogation of the problematic aspects of their relationship.
The most exceptional thing about this book for me was that it had a romance I really, truly enjoyed from start to finish. I am so hypercritical of romances that this is a pretty monumental feat.
I found The Moon and the Sun to be an enjoyable read, with a unique premise and a satisfying conclusion… but it didn’t thrill me or catch my imagination. For my taste, the prose was a bit unvaried, the plot slow-moving, and that overall it lacked a sense momentum until very near to the end. Not the book for me, precisely, but it has an interesting concept, overt feminist themes, and detailed historical elements that I’m sure would speak to other readers.
If you like ____________, you should check out The Moon and the Sun:
- alternate history
- historical fantasy
- themes of religion and science, feminism, freedom and captivity, and self-determination
*I had to return this book to the library and I forgot to make note of which Pope Innocent…. though I would imagine it was XI. Having to return it prematurely is also why I’ve missed my traditional quote at the beginning of the review.