The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics
by Olivia Waite
As Lucy Muchelney watches her ex-lover’s sham of a wedding, she wishes herself anywhere else. It isn’t until she finds a letter from the Countess of Moth, looking for someone to translate a groundbreaking French astronomy text, that she knows where to go. Showing up at the Countess’ London home, she hoped to find a challenge, not a woman who takes her breath away.
Catherine St Day looks forward to a quiet widowhood once her late husband’s scientific legacy is fulfilled. She expected to hand off the translation and wash her hands of the project—instead, she is intrigued by the young woman who turns up at her door, begging to be allowed to do the work, and she agrees to let Lucy stay. But as Catherine finds herself longing for Lucy, everything she believes about herself and her life is tested.
While Lucy spends her days interpreting the complicated French text, she spends her nights falling in love with the alluring Catherine. But sabotage and old wounds threaten to sever the threads that bind them. Can Lucy and Catherine find the strength to stay together or are they doomed to be star-crossed lovers?
This is such a feminist novel, and I love how unapologetically feminist it is.
Lucy Muchelney dreams of being an astronomer, and has spent several years assisting her beloved father with his astronomical work. After her father’s death and her ex-lover’s marriage to a local man, Lucy needs to escape. When she discovers Catherine St Day is looking for an astronomer to translate an astronomical text from the original French, a project her late husband was keen to complete, Lucy turns up on her doorstep for the job. Naturally, because this is a romance novel, the two fall in love – and it’s glorious.
This is the first time I’ve read an f/f historical romance novel that’s been specifically marketed as a historical romance novel, and one of the things I loved most about it was how much it felt like a piece of historical fiction. When I’ve read historical romances in the past, such as Katrina Kendrick’s His Scandalous Lessons and Mimi Matthews’ A Holiday by Gaslight, there’s been something about them that doesn’t quite make me feel like I’m in the 19th century.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed both of those stories a great deal – and I could talk for a long time about how romance, and historical romance in particular, is often a form of escapism, a way for women to imagine a world of romantic entanglements where the men are gentlemen in the truest, most daydream-worthy sense of the word – but I was always aware that they were stories while reading them. The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics, on the other hand, felt as though it could have really happened because its focus was on the kinds of people that history has forgotten.
Many of the Lucys and Catherines of the world have slipped through the cracks of history, forgotten because revealing their lives would have put them in danger, in a time when homosexuality amongst men was punishable by death, and their lives haven’t been recorded by anyone else because they were lived in secret. In Lucy we have a woman trying to break into a STEM field, while in Catherine we have a woman whose art isn’t recognised as an art because embroidery is seen as a quaint little hobby for housewives to do in their spare time.
I love books about women making a name for themselves in STEM – it’s one of the reasons I love The Memoirs of Lady Trent so much – but it was Catherine’s relationship with embroidery I loved most in this book. Her journey is one of self-discovery and self-worth, and I loved the conversations she and Lucy had about the validity of her craft as an art form. Particularly when embroidery and cross-stitch have long been a source of scorn and derision in historical and fantasy fiction, where women talk about how they’d rather be learning to use a sword than learning embroidery because they’re not like other girls™.
My only real complaint about this novel would be that I wish the romance had been a bit more of a slow-burn, but because the two women fall for each other fairly quickly it did mean Waite was able to explore what it means to have a healthy relationship; how two adults talk through their problems and how they solve those problems together. This is something we need more of in all genres, whether the romance is a major focus or not. I loved how this story ended and I can’t wait to read more f/f historical romance from Olivia Waite in the new year!