Quite often, it turns out my random, on-a-whim purchases turn out to be some of my absolute favourite reads. I’d been seeing The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics on Twitter for quite some time – and I know so much of the f/f fan brigade absolutely adored it – but I didn’t actually buy it until the e-book went on sale a few weeks ago.
Once I delved into this book, I immediately understood the hype. The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics has got so much going for it, and I’m honestly kicking myself a little bit for not reading it earlier.
Want to find out why I adored this f/f historical romance so much? Read on!
Title: The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics
Author: Olivia Waite
Age Range: Adult
Genre: Romance, Historical Fiction
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?
Content warnings: Period-appropriate homophobia, sexual content
☕ Quotes ☕
“Once people saw what I did, really saw it and acknowledged it, they’d believe other women were capable of thinking, of learning, of discovering the world in the same way that men are. But tonight I learned that there were other women before me. So very, very many of them. They were here all along: spotting comets, naming stars, pointing telescopes at the sky alongside their fathers and brothers and sons. And still the men they worked with scorned them. Scoffed at them. Gave the credit and the glory to the men who stole their work—or borrowed it or expanded it. Rarely cited it directly.”
“I am tired of twisting myself into painful shapes for mere scraps of respect or consideration. Tired of bending this way and that in search of approval that will only ever be half granted.”
“…maybe being an artist is also really about the work. It’s not about standing up and trumpeting one’s own genius to a throng of adoring inferiors, agog with admiration. Maybe an artist is simply one who does an artist’s work, over and over. A process, not a paragon.”
“Women’s ideas are treated as though they sprung from nowhere, to be claimed by the first man who comes along. Every generation had women stand up and ask to be counted—and every generation of brilliant, insightful, educated men has raised a hand and wiped those women’s names from the greater historical record.”
“The point of fashion is not for the gentlemen: they call it trivial because they cannot bear the thought of women having a whole silent language between themselves.”
“The moment we raised our eyes to the heavens is the very moment we became, if something less than angels, still something more than animal.”
“Every moon, sun, comet, planet, and star is itself a center, and exerts its own force upon all the rest. Nothing in the universe stands alone.”
“Anyone who yearns to discover more truths about the nature and order of our world—they ought to be encouraged, and not forced to rediscover what other people with better luck or more experience have already found out. Our energies are better spent if we work together than if we struggle separately—men and women of every nation and of every race.”
☕ Plot ☕
This book is a crash course in the difficulties faced by women scientists in ye olden days, interspersed with one of the most tender love stories I’ve ever read, and I absolutely loved every minute of it.
The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics begins with Lucy Muchelney fleeing her hometown after her sweetheart and best friend gets married. She ends up going to Catherine St. Day, the Countess of Moth, who, along with her husband, has been her astronomer father’s patron for years. With her husband now passed away, the countess has taken on her husband’s scientific endeavours, including the translation of a French astronomical text. Lucy, who’s been her father’s assistant for years, decides to try for the post. Neither Lucy nor Catherine expect themselves to fall head over heels for each other, nor start the simmering coals of a feminine scientific movement that will sweep all of England.
The great thing about this book is how flawlessly it weaves together both internal and external conflict. On the one hand, you have Lucy going up against the men of the Polite Science Society, who prevent and block women from joining their ranks and publishing their findings. On the other, Lucy and Catherine navigate their feelings for each other with not a small amount of trepidation, as well as a desire for permanency in a time when such things could not be afforded to people in same-sex relationships. The two sources of conflict don’t feel like disparate things; they’re perfectly intertwined and therefore double the pain (lol), but it also feels twice as satisfying when all the loose ends are neatly tied up.
One major gripe I have about historical romance fiction written by white people is that all too often it skirts or shies away from the rather difficult topic of sexism and racism that was rampant in those days (well, it’s still rampant nowadays, but you know what I mean). This book does not do that, and instead tackles these issues head-on. We’re basically given front-row seats to how men of science have made great advances, yes, but often at the expense of their female and POC counterparts, as well as the integrity of the indigenous societies they’ve explored and mapped out. I’ve literally never read a historical romance written by a white person that is so unflinching in the face of such portrayal.
Another thing that I loved about the plot of this book is the commentary it made on art made by men versus that made by women, and the lesson that each field is important and has a part to play in the human experience. Catherine turns out to be quite an artist with embroidery, but doesn’t feel like her work is considered art because embroidery, sewing, and the like are considered a woman’s field. This actually echoes some thoughts I have on creative work in the present day. Men’s work is lauded as innovative, brave, groundbreaking; women’s work on the other hand is seen as frivolous. This notion that men are the titans of industry – including the art industry, apparently – while women’s contributions are to be smiled at and tutted over is a tale as old as time, and a problem that certainly hasn’t been solved yet.
The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics is a perfect mix of romance and social commentary and that made the reading experience so much more enjoyable!
☕ Writing ☕
Olivia Waite is a master of angst and I simultaneously love and hate her for it.
One of the things that really made this book work so much for me is the absolute sheer chemistry between Catherine and Lucy. They’re instantly physically attracted to each other, but it’s only when they come to know each other well that feelings start becoming involved, and the tension between the two almost quadruples in size.
I really have no idea how someone can make sitting in a library together while one character reads and the other character sews so fraught with unresolved sexual tension, but that’s just how talented Olivia Waite is. Honestly.
And the sex scenes. Phew. Don’t get me started on the sex scenes. They were spicy to the max, and I had to go and get a drink of water every time I finished reading one. But they were also tender, loving, and sweet. This book walks the line between plowing your girl into the mattress and making her a cup of tea after, and I absolutely freaking love it.
I also really appreciated how the conflict between Lucy and Catherine was portrayed. It wasn’t written as being solely down to homophobia (which is an important thing to talk about, don’t get me wrong, but it’s nice to see an f/f relationship where the source of discord is something else), but rather there were other factors that influenced their relationship too. One of the main issues between Lucy and Catherine is their desire – and the seeming impossibility – of a sense of permanency. Lucy doesn’t want to be beholden to a patron her entire life, and Catherine is afraid of being used for her money. It’s a conflict that could exist in any other story, not just an f/f one – and it’s heartachingly beautifully navigated.
☕ Characters ☕
By sheer dint of the fact that she was born centuries too early, I know logically Lucy Muchelny is not a millennial. And yet she radiates big millennial energy anyway.
I absolutely adore Lucy. She was just so take-charge, both in terms of loving Catherine and of her own life. Now here is a woman who knows what she wants, and while she might have fears and misgivings, she will never shy away from going after what makes her happy. I was just rooting for Lucy so much throughout the entire book, and I think a character that can make you do that is a character that was just incredibly well-written from the get-go. Lucy, in my opinion, is someone that I actually would want to be friends with.
In terms of character growth, I haven’t seen a journey as special or as significant as Catherine’s. Whereas Lucy already very much knows who she is and what she wants, Catherine spends the duration of the book making that discovery. To see her go from a beaten-down, suppressed woman to one who actively pursues what makes her happy was a complete and utter joy.
Rounding out the cast of characters is a wide array of people from all walks of life. Most importantly, we get to see other queer people – who, as we all know, were not invented in the 21st century. We also get to see other people of colour – particularly women of colour – making their mark in the scientific field. And we also get to see Lucy confront some deep-seated notions she had about race, and that she was subscribing to the same prejudices she hated in the men of the Society. This book is chock-full of some amazingly fleshed-out characters and I wouldn’t mind reading books about them as well!
☕ Overall ☕
The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics was a book I wouldn’t mine reading and rereading over and over again. It was sweet, romantic, and funny, but also thought-provoking and scathing in its societal commentary. I really can’t recommend this book enough. If you’re into science, art, and two women falling in love, this is the book for you!
What did you think?
☕Have you read any historical romance? What are your favourites?
☕ Do you plan on reading The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics?
☕ What are your favourite f/f romances?