The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics is an F/F historical romance set in England in 1816, and it’s currently my favorite adult romance novel. It wasn’t perfect, as I did struggle with the pacing as I usually do with this genre, but to read a novel like this one, about unashamedly happy queer women during the Regency era, was such a refreshing experience.
The main characters of this novel are Lucy Muchelney, an astronomer who runs away to London to translate a French astronomical text, and Catherine St Day, the widowed Countess of Moth, who accompanied her scientist husband on travels around the world and now lives in London, free of that emotionally abusive marriage.
I had never read about a romance with a ten-year age gap before (Lucy is in her mid-twenties and the Countess is 35, I think), so I was a bit hesitant, but I ended up liking these characters’ dynamic – they were good at communicating and solving conflict; the moments of miscommunication never lasted long. I also thought that the sex scenes were well-written, that one bad simile notwithstanding.
One of the first things that stood out to me about this novel was the writing: it’s so detailed and atmospheric that I wanted to make an aesthetic board for this book, and I would have were I able to do that kind of thing. From star charts to libraries, from embroidery to seashell art – there was so much beauty in this book, and I knew me and it were going to get along from the moment I knew that one of the heroines was a scientist and that the other was an artist who liked to embroider plants (and the Tapeinochilos ananassae is objectively a good subject, Catherine is right).
More than anything, The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics is a story about art and science, their similarities and differences, and the ways women were excluded from them through time. It’s not a book that tries to tell you which of the two is more important, it’s a book that talks about the importance and beauty of science while talking about how men in this era did many unethical things in the name of it, it’s a book that talks about the complexities of art while also pointing out that the forms of it that were associated with women (like embroidery) weren’t seen as art at all.
I loved this message.
For what didn’t work for me as much – well, the characters get together before the 40% mark, which is… really early for a romance novel, or any novel, one could say. And while I did appreciate how the conflict in this book wasn’t internal to the relationship, the book did seem kind of aimless around the halfway point. The ending, however, made up for it.
Another thing that I could have done without was the part in which they called an Italian character “Contezza”. Will Americans ever not disappoint me like that? (It’s “Contessa”, and even google translate can tell you that. “Contezza” means “knowledge” or “awareness” and even then, it’s a word I’ve never seen anyone use.)
My rating: ★★★★½