Thursday, 8 October 2015

Review: The Moon and the Sun by Vonda McIntyre


Date Finished: 5/10/2015
1997 • 432 Pages • Rating: ★★

Set in the decadent French court of Versailles during the reign of Louis XIV, a period in history I'm particularly interested in, The Moon and the Sun felt like a novel I should have really liked. However as indicated by the two-star rating, this just didn't make the cut.

The premise of The Moon and the Sun is not your standard historical fiction novel as it's blended with elements of science fiction. The story follows Marie-Josèphe de la Croix, a young woman fresh out of the convent who has come to court as an attendant in the household of the Duke of Orleans, the King's brother. Her brother Yves is a natural philosopher and a new favourite of the King since - and this is where the sci-fi kicks in - he has just returned from a voyage in which he has brought back with him a sea monster/mermaid whose flesh possesses the ability to grant immortality. Louis XIV gets totally hooked on this idea and plans to cook and eat the mermaid (it's referred to as a sea creature in the novel, but I'm going to carry on calling it a mermaid because that's essentially what it is) once Yves has finished with his research.This plan becomes not so straight forward after Marie-Josèphe is put in charge of taking care of the mermaid, and comes to realise that it is more human than she initially believed.

In a nut shell, that is the novel. Granted it does exactly what it says on the tin, no beating around the bush, but the fact is I just didn't care for the story. There were a few little twists and revelations concerning the truth about certain characters gene pools, but they were mentioned pretty whimsically without adding any depth to the plot, as though they were just thrown in last minute.  As a central character, Marie-Josèphe is at times painfully irritating. As far as intellect goes she's a pretty smart cookie. She studies maths, composes music, expresses an interest in the works of Isaac Newton, all in addition to her somehow possessing the ability to communicate with the mermaid. How? It's never really explained; she just kind of wakes up one morning and is able to translate and understand everything the mermaid says.

I guess I should be happy that the novel focuses on a smart female character during a period where women's education was limited to learning how to draw and play the piano (which, by the way, Marie-Josèphe can also do). Maybe I would be if Marie-Josèphe was a likeable character, but her intelligence is outweighed by her boringly repetitive dialogue and absolute naivety about the facts of life. I know she's spent time cooped up in a convent but good God, if she can be up to date in the scientific developments of understanding gravity, then how can she be so dense as to not understand anything about sex, or what the word "whore" means? Also she is forever apologising to Count Lucien, the King's adviser, for saying something she believed to be inappropriate or insulting in his presence. Most of the time she just over thinks absolutely everything because whatever it was she said that she believed worthy of an apology, can't have been that bad because it never stuck in my mind long enough to remember what she was saying sorry for. Girl, just chill.

She's not the only one. Her brother Yves is an insufferable dickhead most of the time who constantly orders Marie-Josèphe around. Our beloved protagonist of course never calls him out on his dickish ways and is forever - again - apologising for being such a let-down. There's a scene early in the story where Marie-Josèphe forgets to wake Yves up one morning, thus causing him to miss the King's Awakening Ceremony which he was personally invited to and is apparently a pretty big deal, so he tells her himself once he finally drags his arse out of bed. Dude, this is your problem. Stop being so whinny and relying on your little sister to do everything for you. There's also a love story brewing throughout, but the writing and the fact that the love story involved Marie-Josèphe meant that I no longer cared once things finally got steamy. And by steamy, I mean holding hands and having an awkward smooch in the back of a carriage. Sexy.

If the historical and science fiction collab is something you're interested in then this might be your thing. The only parts of the novel I actually liked were the lavish descriptions of the French Court, but sadly even that wasn't enough to save this for me.
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