The Moon and the Sun, by Vonda N. McIntyre

the-moon-and-the-sun-by-vonda-n-mcintyre coverGenre: Fantasy
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Published: 1997
Reviewer Rating: three and a half stars
Book Review by Aaron M. Renn

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The book won the 1997 Nebula Award for best novel. After reading it, I can only scratch my head as to how it even got nominated. This is clearly NOT science fiction. It’s not even really fantasy. It’s not — as several blurbs suggest — an alternate history (unless you consider Pride and Prejudice an alternate history too). Instead, it’s a historical romance novel with a few fanciful elements thrown in. As such, it deserves to be shelved in the romance section along with such works as Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. If that’s a genre you like, then you will love this book. If not, you should probably give The Moon and the Sun a pass.

The story takes place in the court of Louis XIV of France in the late 17th century. The protagonist — Marie-Joseph — is a young woman who left a convent prior to taking the vows in order to become a lady in waiting to the daughter of a powerful duke. Her brother Yves is a Jesuit priest and scientist commissioned by the king to capture a sea monster, one of the creatures who are rumored to possess the power of immortality. The story opens with Yves returning to Paris with his sea monster in tow. (This is just about the sum total of all the fantasy in the book).

Unfortunately, the story rapidly grinds to a halt as McIntyre spends about 150 pages developing her characters and trying to convince us how boring and banal life among the courtiers at Versailles is. Unfortunately, she manages to bore the reader in the process. If you make it through this, you’ll be rewarded with a somewhat predictable but extremely enchanting and entertaining love story. The first 200 page of the book I was hard pressed to keep reading. The last 250 I could not put it down.

Any conventionalties in the plot are overcome by McIntyre’s extremely well conceived and implemented characters. She clearly put a lot of thought and work into even the most minor characters in the story. She uses actual historical characters to great effect. The period details and description of King Louis’ court were nothing short of spectacular. This book left me wanting to hike down to the local library to do some reading up on the era and the historical people in the story.

For those SF and McIntyre fans who are new to this sort of work but enjoyed it, I do suggest checking out Diana Gabalon’s Outlander series, which I personally liked better than The Moon and the Sun. It is another historical romance with some fantasy elements. However it is largely set in Scotland (though interestingly also spends time in the French royal court) and is a lot steamier.

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