Historical fantasy set in 1693 at the court of Sun King Louis XIV of France, from the author of Superluminal (1983), etc. In an age when the king's slightest whim has the force of an absolute command and the underclasses stand at the palace gates pleading for bread, Louis orders the natural philosopher and Jesuit priest Yves de la Croix to capture certain sea monsters that, he hopes, will yield the secret of immortality. Yves returns with a male corpse and a live female: She's of human aspect except for her green hair, webbed fingers and toes, and twin tails in place of legs. As the king observes closely, Yves dissects the dead male, seeking the organ of immortality. Yves's sister Marie-JosÂ²phe, convent-raised and nun-educated, sketches the procedure and attempts to train the captive female in her pool. Marie-JosÂ²phe, whose many flourishing talents bring her into conflict with the Pope and with Louis's courtiers, comes to understand the sea woman's eerily beautiful singing language; meantime, she also falls in love with soldier, Arab expert, king's advisor, and atheist Count Lucien the dwarf. Typically, however, despite Marie-JosÂ²phe's pleas, Louis rejects the sea woman's intelligence and humanity, and agrees to free her only after she has paid an enormous ransom; while for defying the king, Marie-JosÂ²phe and Lucien face exile and impoverishment. A dazzling and spirited evocation of the passions, intrigues, and preconceptions of the age, along with a dandy pair of misfit, star-crossed lovers: an enchanting slice of what-if historical speculation.