Monday, October 14, 2019

Review: The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics

Historical romance is my first love in the genre, but over the years the sub genre has evolved, my tastes have changed, and I just need something "more."  What that "more" is isn't so easily defined and when I try to explain it I end up sounding like a ninny.  So I haven't really tried.  Well, after (finally) reading The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite - I think I've finally figured it out.  I'm here for feminist historical romance, a social justice warrior sort of romance pushing back on the patriarchy - but I also still want something that reads fairly true-to-live.  It was a hard life for women who openly defied male-dominated society at large.  Oh sure, women did it - but it was never easy nor did it always end happily.  That's what made Waite's debut with Avon stand out for me.  These are two very unconventional women who are more than aware of the men standing in their way, and while there's uncertainty, and even doubt at times, they forge on.  They hit road blocks, they are dismissed and belittled, but they forge on.  And the whole thing reads like a bloody historical and never once feels anachronistic or silly.  Oh, and it's a romance so I get a happy ending.

I. Want. More.

Lucy Muchelney is sitting in her small country church watching the love of her life, Priscilla, get married to a man.  Worse yet, Lucy grew up with and likes the guy.  She's devastated, heartbroken, the worst of it being that Pris felt so little regard for her and their love that Lucy found out about the engagement when the banns were read in the bloody church!  Upon return home to the house she shares with her artist brother, Lucy discovers a letter from the Countess of Moth, who is looking for someone to translate a revolutionary French astronomy text.  Having aided her dead father's work for years, Lucy knows she's the gal for the job - and heads off to London posthaste.  She figures the Countess will have a harder time saying no if Lucy is literally standing on her doorstep.

Her not-dearly departed husband no longer holding her hostage with his mercurial moods, Catherine St. Day is looking forward to a life of quiet solitude - just as soon as she can aid the Polite Science Society in getting this French text translated.  When Lucy shows up on her doorstep Catherine braces herself, seeing the same determined tilt of her chin and the gleam in her eyes that reminds her of her dead husband - a comparison that is anything but good.  But Catherine admires the girl's moxie, takes one look at her outdated country wardrobe and thinks, "sure, why not."  Having corresponded with Lucy and her father for years, Catherine thinks she's surely as capable as anyone else.  But when Catherine presents her to the Society, and Lucy is callously dismissed out of hand in an appalling manner, Catherine decides to pull her money on their project and back Lucy all on her own. 

What I loved about this book, besides the fact that it's a historical that feels like a historical while still giving the reader "unconventional" heroines, is the romance is a slow burn.  Lucy very comfortably identifies as a lesbian, but she's also aware of the society she lives and has to operate in.  She simply cannot just walk up to Catherine and say, "I think you're hot - how would you feel about a torrid love affair?"  Catherine, for her part, is a widow and took a male lover after her husband's death (which did not end well), and it's only after spending time with Lucy, getting to know her, and the slow burn chemistry begins to smolder, then ignite, that the characters land in bed together.  Waite didn't put the cart before the horse, which I cannot tell you how refreshing that was to read.

I also loved how both women are smart, logical, have dreams - but also are realists.  They are well aware the obstacles that are in their path, acknowledge them even, and then like all resourceful women that have come before and since, look for ways to maneuver around them.  This is, quite possibly, the most startlingly feminist romance I've read in a long time that didn't feel like overblown wish fulfillment.  Like, seriously - I felt like this could have happened (heck, it probably did and I just don't realize it - that's how true it all felt).

There is a lot of science talk in this book, and coming from someone who took four years of college to get past three measly science requirements (obviously not a subject I'm keen on, nor terribly good at...), none of it flew over my head or made my eyes glaze over.  My only real quibble with this book is that the pacing of the conflict ebbed and flowed.  While I appreciated the slow burn of the romance, there are portions of the story that sag a bit.  I carried on through them because I was very invested in the characters, but the second half of the story is back-loaded with most of the conflict.

But, quibbles.  It's a lovely romance, featuring lovely characters, and a great sense of time, place and history.  It's also the kind of book where I wanted a romance for darn near every secondary character - that's how much I enjoyed this world Waite has, obviously, lovingly created and brought to life.

Final Grade = B+


azteclady said...

"Wanted a romance for damn near every secondary character" is high praise indeed!

Wendy said...

The poor sap that Priscilla marries in the first chapter - whoa doggie. That guy needs to dispatch of her somehow and get himself a romance. But yes, there are others too :)