Book Review: The Moon and the Sun by Vonda N. McIntyre

The subject of this novel is that which would normally be least likely to appeal to me: a fantasy-romance set in Louis XIV’s court at Versailles.  However, it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable and well-written novels I have read in a long time.

I came across it by accident, while perusing the wire discount towers at Half-Price Books in Seattle.  It was a mass market paperback copy in good condition for only a dollar.  I knew it had won the Nebula Award, so I bought it and relegated it to my stack of someday-to-read books that usually stands half-a-dozen or so volumes high.  I really do intend to read those books sometime.  If I don’t plan to devour new purchases soon, I put them on the general bookshelves for my boys, all of whom are avid readers when the mood strikes them, to discover and enjoy.

I met Vonda McIntyre a few times, long ago.  She was helping to coordinate and manage the Clarion West science fiction writing workshop I attended in 1973, but I don’t remember meeting her there.  I do, however, distinctly remember meeting her shortly afterwards on Bubbles Broxon’s houseboat on the shore of Lake Union in Seattle, where we held follow-up writer’s workshops for a while.  If I recall correctly, she had just won the Nebula Award for her novelette, “Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand”.  During the workshop, another attendee told me a story about how he had helped her come up with the title.  I doubt she would remember me; I wrote nothing worth remembering back then, and I didn’t have much of a flamboyant personality in public either.  Both my writings and myself were eminently forgettable.  I attended several sessions of the Lake Union workshop before I took off on the road in pursuit of adventure, to seek my fortune, and to find my voice as a writer.  I managed the first and the third, at least, if not the second.

I enjoyed the novel-length expanded version of “Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand”, “Dreamsnake”, that won both the Nebula and Hugo Awards, but in my opinion, “The Moon and the Sun” is a much more mature and nuanced work.  I have to confess that I struggled a bit with the first chapter, in which so many characters with foreign-sounding names are introduced that it is hard to keep them apart without constantly referring to the cast of characters at the front of the book, but from the start of chapter two I was hooked, and afterwards it was hard to put the book down.  I have a tight schedule; I’m a single parent with a household to run and I work long hours besides, and when it’s time to stop reading and get back to work I have to do it no matter how difficult it is to wrench myself away – but with this book I was constantly telling myself, “just one more page,” or “just one more section” – and that’s one of the greatest complements you can pay any writer of fiction, that you couldn’t put the story down.

The novel has got splendid characterization, a tightly-woven plot, and a fascinating story.  It’s also obviously meticulously researched, and full of intricate details about the historical era in which it takes place.  Versailles in the late seventeenth century comes across as bizarre and otherworldly as an alien culture in a science fiction story set on another planet, but despite the intricacy of detail, at no time does the story lag due to the wealth of accumulated historical information.  It is all woven into the fabric of the story like the threads of a fine tapestry.  The fantasy element, the capture of the sea woman and the revelation of the culture of the sea people, is so much an elemental part of the plot that it never seems contrived or inserted as a genre-labeling afterthought, as so often happens in inferior tales.

In an afterword, McIntyre writes that she first wrote “The Moon and the Sun” at a screenplay workshop sponsored by Amblin Entertainment and Universal Studios, and that she wrote a screenplay of the story first.  She subsequently wrote the novel because she had had to trim out a lot of detail to conform to screenplay parameters.  That was back in 1994, and it seems that soon, finally, “The Moon and the Sun” is going to filmed as a major motion picture starring Pierce Brosnan as King Louis XIV.  The first thing I checked was whether they were using McIntyre’s script, or at least whether she shared writing credits, and it seems that she is not involved in the writing of the film.  I hope that the film manages to maintain the core integrity of the book, and doesn’t take major liberties to conform to Hollywood’s supposed audience expectations, as Peter Jackson unnecessarily did in some of the changes he made to “The Lord of the Rings”.  That remains to be seen.

In the meantime, read the book.  It is a marvelous, fascinating, uplifting experience.  You won’t be disappointed.

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