Shiri’s Review: The Moon and the Sun
From a straight up reader perspective, I adored The Moon and the Sun. Historical fantasy isn’t something I’ve read a lot of. I’m honestly not sure how much of it there is to read. Historically set fantasy, sure (Outlander, Ben Bova’s Orion series — yeah, that doesn’t date me at all). Historically influenced fantasy, absolutely (A Song of Ice and Fire, Lord of the Rings). Fantasy, by its nature, seeks the yore so as to be exotic by virtue of not being here or now. Also to justify a whole host of things that are not okay (rape, incest, torture, gladiatorial combat, lack of indoor plumbing, etc).
McIntyre’s novel, however, is not only set in an actual well-documented historical period, it utilizes historical figures as characters. We’re not talking little cameos either: Louis the XIV, Pope Innocent, Louis’ family (acknowledged and not so much), are all fodder for McIntyre’s gorgeous, sumptuous setting, plot, and narrative. Even vaguely informed laypeople know far too much about these individuals, this place (Versailles), the time, the culture (sovereign as god, pope as a lame cousin, the dominance of men, a love/hate with science, giant freakin’ hats, banishing single women to convents because one could) to screw with it too much.
In sum: one does not simply fuck around with the reign of the Sun King (well, he did quite a bit of fucking, apparently, but that’s not central to the… well, actually, yeah it kind of is…).
There is no excusing errors away as, “well, this isn’t the real world,” because it is or, at least, it was. You screw up be it a minor faux pas or a major blunder, someone is going to call you on it. And then there will be memes and trolls and the whole thing gets completely out of hand.
McIntyre did fantasy the hard way and she did a bold and masterful job.
The fantasy element? Louis commissions a Jesuit to find him a sea monster so he can eat it and gain immortality. My inclination is to assume this is the “fantasy” part of the enterprise. Of course, it was Louis, and it was France, and it was the seventeenth century, so would it shock me if some variation on this tale were a least a little bit true?
Do I really have to answer that?
The plot moved along at a nice clip, though there were a few places it felt recycled by the end. The love story was… I hesitate to say “believable” but I’ll concede “credible” and “sweet.” The fantasy elements were presented as matters of fact, which allowed them to integrate smoothly into the historical surroundings. There’s a lot of moral ambiguity, which, if you’ve read any blog entry I’ve written ever, you already know I love. Also, giant freakin’ hats. And more complete characters, well rounded, backstroried, honest characters than I think I’ve ever seen in one novel ever.
Which leads me to my issue a couple of issues I must take because blah blah blah I loved it isn’t so much a review.
My smaller of two peeves is the majority of the story being written from Marie-Josephe’s perspective with small, breakout scenes that appear without warning, and are gone just as fast, from the perspectives of other characters (Lucien, Yves, the sea monster, Louis). The switch doesn’t serve the narrative or the story; it’s a convenience to the author who has written herself to a place where Marie-Josephe isn’t present but something important must be revealed. I recognize this problematic because I have done it. And then slapped myself later because it makes for a bumpy read and some brainlash.
And then there’s Marie-Josephe herself.
There are plenty of smart women in this book. They are mostly street smart in the 17th century France sense of the term. We, as modern folk, may find their behavior reprehensible and their means deplorable (go ahead, sleep with your half-brother the Jesuit priest, Madame Chartres. I’m sure you’re not the first). At the root, however, each is using the means available to steer their world in the direction of her choice. Which you have to admire considering most of them were raised to be pretty, wear giant freakin’ hats, and be bartered to the man of their father’s choosing for cash or livestock.
I think we’re supposed to like Marie-Josephe because she does none of those things. She is an innocent. When we first meet her, she’s not even sure of the mechanics of regular sex, let along anything fancy. Or involving partners of the same gender. People have to explain to her multiple times that they mean sex after using other more polite, but equally obvious, terms. She blushes and stammers a lot and she’s pretty sure she’s always making one social blunder or another.
But, okay, girl spent a bunch of years in a convent, so say we give her that one.
She is book smart. She has corresponded with Newton (apparently). She knows Antoine van Leeuwenhoek (yes, I did have to look up the spelling) makes the best microscopes. She knows anatomy, physics, math, and she can compose music. I think this is supposed to set her apart from her compatriots, make her more appealing and liberated.
Sadly, she’s the least liberated of the bunch. That and she doesn’t learn. Ever. She makes the same mistakes over and over and over again. She sets her mind on her goal, noble as it is, and never once stops to consider what consequences her actions may have for the people she purports to care about, even love. She screws her brother (not in the gross sense), she screws the man she falls in love with (the “credible” one), she screws the King, and she screws the Pope. Her getting what she wants in the end doesn’t mean she did right, it just means she was lucky.
I didn’t expect her to suddenly morph into Gloria Steinem, but come on now. If you believe in something, you don’t cower just because some dude gets his panties in a twist over your trying to make the thing happen. Okay, maybe if it’s Louis, but for real. Grow a backbone if only internally.
There was also a random character, a former slave who turns out to be a half sister… I don’t know if part of her deal got lost in the editing process or what, but she served absolutely no purpose as relates to the story. I’m still scratching my head about what she was even doing there.
In the end, I four starred The Moon and the Sun because I enjoyed reading it. I recommend it. Highly. Be prepared to take deep breaths here and there so as not to start screaming at Mlle Marie-Josephe to sack up but, that aside, it’s a beautiful story, the written equivalent of one of Louis’ bedazzled suits. I think most people will devour it.
Just don’t pick your teeth with sea monster bones. It’s rude.