The Sun and the Moon by Patricia Ryan
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Patricia Ryan must be a fan of the musical "Camelot." The number "The Lusty Month of May" contains a line exhorting everyone "to do a wicked thing or two and try to make each precious day one you'll always rue." Many of the characters in The Sun and the Moon do more than their share of "wicked things" -- including female-dominant S & M -- causing me to rue the precious day I spent reading this book.
The "Sun" is King Henry's soldier-cum-spy, Hugh of Wexford, scarred by a brutal upbringing compounded by 15 years as a warrior into eschewing all ties, especially those of love. Petite, scholarly yet innocent Phillipa de Paris shines as the "Moon," recruited by Hugh under the king's orders to uncover evidence of Queen Eleanor's rumored rebellion by becoming the paramour of a corrupt cleric, Aldous Ewing. More than half the book centers on Phillipa's attempts to siphon information from Aldous without succumbing to his lust, because she wants to keep herself untainted for Hugh as they reluctantly fall in love with each other.
These machinations grind on against the backdrop of "courtly love" as purportedly invented by Eleanor of Acquitaine and further twisted by Ryan into practices that seem more apropos to a 20th century mindset than a 12th century one. Adultery and other sexual behavior typically ascribed to the practice of "courtly love" is a myth perpetuated by literary scholars mistaking jest for fact.
Alas, the characters' actions do not constitute the only anachronisms in this novel. Twentieth-century words, phrases and concepts run rampant through the dialogue and internal monologue. And when the word choices didn't catapult me out of the story, the plot's predictability did. The plot did take a somewhat unexpected turn near the end, but the development brought to mind Marion Zimmer Bradley's quip to aspiring writers, "Suspension of disbelief does not mean hanging by the neck until dead."
Not to mention the prevalent sin of telling the reader information rather than revealing it through the characters' actions, as in the following sample:
'She shouldn't do that,' Father Nicholas told Hugh when Phillipa took hold of the [corpse's] sheet to pull it back. It was telling, Hugh thought, that the priest directed the comment to him rather than to Phillipa, as if his disdain for women ran so deep that he couldn't lower himself to censure one directly.
Hello, Ms. Ryan! Your audience is smart enough to figure out that sort of thing on our own without being bludgeoned!
Save yourself from a mental beating, gentle reader, and avoid this novel at any cost.
(Originally published in Crescent Blues. Reprinted with permission.)
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