The Writer's View: The Moon and The Sun, by Vonda N. McIntyre

From Goodreads: In seventeenth-century France, Louis XIV rules with flamboyant ambition. In his domain, wealth and beauty take all; frivolity begets cruelty; science and alchemy collide. From the Hall of Mirrors to the vermin-infested attics of the Chateau at Versailles, courtiers compete to please the king, sacrificing fortune, principles, and even the sacred bond between brother and sister.

By the fiftieth year of his reign, Louis XIV has made France the most powerful state in the western world. Yet the Sun King's appetite for glory knows no bounds. In a bold stroke, he sends his natural philosopher on an expedition to seek the source of immortality -- the rare, perhaps mythical, sea monsters. For the glory, of his God, his country, and his king, Father Yves de la Croix returns with his treasures: one heavy shroud packed in ice...and a covered basin that imprisons a shrieking creature.

The Writer's View

Holy cow, I have been on a roll lately -- one terrific book after another, for the most part. Normally I don't find so many great books at the same time. This book -- The Moon & The Sun -- is no exception.

I read this book 8 - 10 years ago, and I totally fell in love with it. I recently felt a nagging desire to re-read it. I am happy to report it was as magical and wonderful as I remember it! It won the Nebula in 1997 for Best Novel. (I had an ambition to read every novel on the Hugo and Nebula lists. Even though I didn't make it through either lists, I did find some gems!)

You should all know that the blurb absolutely does NOT do this book justice. The summary makes the story sound pretty flat. This is a wonderful paranormal historical fiction with a whole lot of romance. The story is PACKED with colorful characters--unexpected heroes and heroines, a-holes and villains disguised in noble dress, and a captive mermaid put on display in the palace of Versailles for the whim of an aging king. All of this takes place admist the political maneuvering of the French court. Even Pope Innocent makes an arrival with his Cardinals. The plot is dark, twisted, beautiful, and inspiring.

The main character, Marie-Josephe de la Croix, is a woman out of time. She loves mathmatics and science. She writes music. She draws. She learns how to communicate with a captive sea woman. A total renaissance woman, but in the time of 17th century France, she's something of an eccentic -- aka, a "wild colonial girl," since she was born in a French colony. The men are always worried about her "taxing" her delicate feminine nature. They even bleed her, hoping to drain all the spirit out of her. But Marie-Josephe is not about to be put off; she pursues her passion with wreckless determination, despite the trouble it lands her in.

Marie-Josephe falls in love with the king's closest advisor -- who just so happens to be a dwarf. (Lan, this is for YOU! A love interest who isn't hot! And he is so, so loveable!) Their love for one another is magical -- it just flows off the page long before they even realize that they love one another. The best part? They don't even kiss until the very end of the story, long after they've realized how deeply they love one another. *happy sigh* I'm such a sucker for romance. Especially romance of the mental sort, where characters fall in love with the fabric of each other's souls.

Sadly enough, this book is out of print. You can find used copies on Amazon. E-books and signed hardcovers are available at the author's website. You have to work a little bit to get your hands on this book, but it's totally worth it.

Pacing vs. Worldbuilding -- the great trade off

Reading this book literally transported me to the court of Louis XIV. I was totally swept away by the politics, glamour, darkness, and danger of court life. The details of the clothing, of Versailles, the day-in and day-out duties of the king -- it's all rolled out in exquisite detail. The large cast of characters is expertly rendered, each one multi-dimensional and flawed.

The trade off for all this wondrous detail is that the pacing does not fit the bill of a lot of speculative fiction being published today. All of this detail requires time. The story is what I call a "slow build." I admit to having a preference for fast-paced novels. But, that doesn't mean a slow-and-steady novel can't be good. I was so swept up by the characters and the sensation of moving back in time, that I just didn't mind the steady pace.

So I am wondering what other folks think of this. Do you mind a slower-paced novel if you get great characters and great worldbuilding? Do you think slower-paced novels have a greater capacity for rendering detailed characters and worlds? What sort of pacing do you prefer in a book? What's more important to you as a reader -- worldbuilding or pacing?