Patricia Ryan has crafted an exciting tale, filled with romance, intrigue, betrayal and danger. It has a most unusual heroine, a complex hero, and a bevy of nasty villains who pose a danger to England’s stability and to her king, Henry II. Like all of Ryan’s medieval romances, it also provides a strong historical backdrop for the book’s
Hugh of Wexford is one of the king’s trusted agents and Henry has a problem. His wife and sons are apparently conspiring against him, aided by the king of France. Hugh is sent to Oxford to recruit a most unusual assistant: Phillipa of Paris. Phillipa has chosen to devote her life to scholarship rather than follow the usual path of an upper class woman.
The illegitimate daughter of a French lord, she and her twin sister were raised by their uncle, a scholar of some note. For seven years, since she was eighteen, she has lived in Oxford, attending lectures and disputations, reading widely, and honing her intellect. She has no desire to leave the groves of academe.
Hugh’s master, the king’s justiciar Richard de Luci, needs Phillipa’s help to preserve the peace of the realm. He knows that Canon Aldous Ewing and his sister Lady Clare are deeply involved in Queen Eleanor’s plots. Seven years earlier in Paris, Aldous had been in love with Phillipa. The justiciar needs a spy in the canon’s household, someone
who can induce him to spill his secrets, someone who can get very close to the corrupt churchman. Since Phillipa’s unusual lifestyle and her free-thinking ideas have led to her having a reputation for sexual promiscuity, de Luci is sure that she will be willing to become Aldous’ leman to preserve England from civil war.
Phillipa agrees to work for the king, but is not happy with the proposed method. She is convinced that intelligence and guile will work as well or better than seduction. She is even less happy when she discovers that she is to pose as Hugh’s wife. The two could not be more different. Hugh has served as a mercenary all over Europe since he left
his brutal father’s home as a young man. He is a man of action, while Phillipa is a woman of contemplation. They are as different as the sun and the moon.
Their mission takes Hugh and Phillipa into a world where the new idea of amor courtoise has become an excuse for any kind of depraved behavior. Hugh is undoubtedly attracted to the lovely woman who seems so paradoxical. Is she indeed the wanton of reputation, or is she in fact the innocent she often seems? For her part, forced into close company with this handsome and virile man, Phillipa finds herself experiencing feelings she had only read about before. Yet can she love someone so vastly different, someone who has spent his life rejecting any and all permanent commitments?
Phillipa may seem to some readers to be an anachronistic heroine. But the fact is that there were some few women who were committed scholars and who, in the informal Oxford of the 12th century, could participate in the infant university’s intellectual life. Her formidable intelligence is nicely drawn as is her gradual awakening to the power of
the emotions she has always avoided. She learns that woman does not live by learning alone, or at least, she does not live fully.
Hugh is a much more familiar character to romance readers. He is a prototypical wounded hero, grievously mistreated by his father, disbelieving in love and determined to maintain his independence at all cost. His refusal to admit his growing feelings for Phillipa seems perfectly understandable and in character. That he apparently accepts
the idea that Phillipa should become Aldous’ mistress to insure the success of their mission adds to the tension and suspense of the story.
I must admit that the nature of the conspiracy almost had me rushing to my sources to see if Ryan had tampered with historical fact; but she cleverly pulled it off. It might have happened this way.
The Sun and the Moon is a real page turner. I really wish I hadn’t started it so late at night. It kept me up way past my bedtime and there is no stronger recommendation than that.