The Moon and the Sun
by Vonda N. McIntyre
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Yet another award winner that I didn't like as much as I'd hoped. The Moon and the Sun won the Nebula for Best Novel for 1997. It is an alternate history fantasy, set in 17th Century France during the reign of King Louis XIV, the Sun King. In addition to the King, many of the other characters are historical, but the most interesting ones are fictional. Marie-Josèphe de la Croix has recently arrived at Versailles to assist her brother, Jesuit priest Yves, in the study of sea creatures he has captured at the behest of the King. The one still alive is female, the male is dead but kept preserved as well as possible, to be disected. Not once were either referred to as mermaid or merman, but most often as sea monsters. Marie-Josèphe develops a rapport with the female, and is convinced of her humanity, that she possesses a soul. The King has heard the rumor the sea creatures may hold the key to immortality, and he means to have it.
I am interested in history, although not that familiar with this period, and have no reverence for the monarchy of any country or era. I consider the Divine Right of Kings to be one of the most egregious fallacies to ever capture the mind of man. Thus, the majority of the book didn't interest me because it focused on the pomp and circumstance of palace life. I didn't care enough to try to remember everyone's relationship to the King, which was his wife, which his mistress, which of the offspring were legitimate or not. Besides, based on google searches there are innacurracies in the way some of the relationships are described. Then again, this is fiction, so I guess that's acceptable. Aside from Marie-Josèphe, the only other character I cared about was also fictional; Lucien de Barenton, Count de Chrétien, an honored soldier and one of the King's most favored advisors. He was also a renowned ladies man in spite of his dwarfism. His relationship with Marie was one of respect and affection, and eventually love. It was only because of the latter that he risked his career, fortune, even his life, to help her free the sea woman, whom Marie had named Sherzad, a variation of the name Scheherazade, the storyteller of A Thousand Nights and a Night. Marie is able to interpret the singing of Sherzad, recounting the stories of her people's life in the sea, and of their various encounters with humans.
Those two characters were not enough to make the book enjoyable, and it took a lot longer to finish than it should have. The prose was stiff and formal, which I guess was appropriate for the subject, but too stilted for my taste. Too many descriptions of palace ceremonies and what everyone was wearing, the male courtiers' perrukes, the ladies' fontages, the excess of jewelry. There were just brief reprieves from that during Marie's narration of Sherzad's songs, but not enough. What Marie had to endure as the subject of an "infallible" monarch, as well as a prejudicially religious, suffocatingly patriarchal society, was depressing. The ending was at least positive, but based on everything that had occurred before, that proved to be even more illogical than the rest of the fiction.
There has been a film adaptation, with the title changed to The King's Daughter, the IMDb description of which indicates something hinted at in the book, then debunked, concerning Marie's parentage. It's over four years old and still doesn't have a distribution deal, and might not have even played film festivals, since I can't find any reviews. I was originally interested in it, and might still have been if not for the fact Count Lucien is apparently not included.
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