Bothari’s #CBR4 Review #8: The Moon and The Sun by Vonda N. McIntyre
I have a thing for sea monsters. I love Deep Rising and The Host and Jaws and Piranha, sea monster stories good and awful. So when I found a historical fiction book about Louis XIV and his search for sea monsters, I thought “This might just be weird enough to be wonderful.” And it was! It wasn’t the sea monsters I was expecting, but it was a good story with a heroine I liked very much.
The Sun King sends a scientist to sea, demanding that he return with sea monsters to study. Yves, the scientist, succeeds, and returns to court with a captured female sea monster and a dead male. His sister, Marie-Josephe, is a lady-in-waiting at court, and receives permission to help her brother in his studies. She’s feisty and smart and woefully naïve, having been stashed at a convent for several years while her brother (also her guardian) was away. Despite being told repeatedly that scientific study is too much for women’s tiny, unformed brains, Marie-Josephe earns the favor of the king and is allowed to persist in her unladylike passions of science and music. As she assists Yves with the dissection of the dead sea monster, she is also charged with the feeding and care of the live one.
Throughout the book, the debate rages through the court as Yves, His Majesty, and the visiting Pope try to decide if the sea monster is fish, animal, or demon. Marie-Josephe slowly begins to suspect the truth: that the creature is actually closer to human than anything else, with her own language, grief for her dead friend, and fear of her captors.
From then on, it’s a fight to save the sea woman, to convince everyone she’s not crazy, to stay a well-behaved and proper French lady while still doing the things she loves. Marie-Josephe is great fun to watch as she finds her way in this world of terrifyingly casual sexism and small-mindedness. I wish she was around today to show certain people a thing or two about a woman’s place. The endless descriptions of court dress and food and music get a little repetitive at times, but that may just be the norm for historical fiction. The supporting characters are great, especially the love interest. The book takes a little while to get into, because everybody has a long French title and a long French name and then sometimes a nickname. But once it gets going it’s a fun ride, even though nobody gets eaten.