Genre: Science Fiction
Sub-genre: Alternate history/time travel
Read the full, spoiler-free review here.
Originally published by Pocket Books in 1998, The Moon and the Sun won the 1997 Nebula award for best novel of the year. It's now available to be read for free at the bookviewcafe website. Straddling the lines between fantasy and science fiction, science battles against religion in the french court of Louis XIV.
The struggle of science versus religion is not a new one, especially with religion portrayed as being in the wrong (particularly Christianity, it seems), but bringing in the stories told by sailors as reality rather than superstition and fear is clever. The story is told almost entirely from Marie-Josèphe's point of view, and for much of the book she's caught between the two schools of thinking, although it's fairly clear to the reader that while the king may be unreasonable when someone threatens his perceived immortality, the church is even less forgiving.
And herein lies one of the most interesting parts of the novel. Marie-Josèphe is not entirely a reliable narrator, due to the extremely sheltered life she's led, and the reader is left to read a lot between the lines, particularly early in the book. Beneath the glittering surface of the court, there's a lot of corruption and hypocrisy, completely unnoticed by Marie-Josèphe until she's directly confronted with it.
There's a keen attention to detail throughout The Moon and the Sun, from the manners at court to historical figures and covering everything in between. Everything is meticulously researched, and this gives the book a depth and energy often missing from period fiction. On the other hand, all the historical figures running around creates a huge cast of characters often difficult to keep straight.
The love story is sweet and straightforward, notably mostly for the hero, a self-proclaimed dwarf. Despite his "deformities" and the pain constantly plaguing him, Lucien is portrayed as loyal, intelligent, and popular with the ladies. He's also a favourite of the king and set up as the example to follow at court, and while his height is noticeable, it's never a barrier for Marie-Josèphe. The first declaration of love between them is a little out of left field ("But I love you!" says Marie-Josèphe. "Huh what? When did that happen?" says I), but the rest of it fitted together naturally.
The biggest issue I think most people will have with The Moon and the Sun is that the plot moves along with all the speed of a glacier. The intricacies of court politics and the attention to detail means the plot doesn't start moving until about 200 pages into the book, before which we hear a lot about the heights of fashion in the 17th century. It's all interesting stuff and I enjoyed the historical tidbits stuffed in there, but the pacing is very uneven and as a result the book took me forever to read through. Those who prefer a more action-oriented novel take note.