The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics
The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics is a luscious historical f/f romance. I adored this book, which includes science, art, and feminism. It may be too slow for some people’s taste – this is a book in which people spend a lot of time either thinking about their feelings or talking about their feelings. It’s very much a drawing room romance as opposed to an adventure romance. However, if you have the patience for this kind of slow paced story, you will love this one.
Our story begins at a wedding. Lucy’s lover, Pris, is getting married and Lucy is heartbroken. Her father was an astronomer and Lucy did the mathematical calculations that proved his theories. Once Lucy’s father dies, her artistic brother, Stephen, points out that no one will employ a woman as an astrologer. This leaves Lucy at loose ends.
Meanwhile, Catherine, the Countess of Moth, is also at loose ends. She had married George, a naturalist, and accompanied him on expeditions around the world. Now that George is dead, Catherine is both relieved (George was abusive) and without purpose (her life revolved around trying to keep George happy). On behalf of the Polite Science Society, she sends a letter to Lucy’s father asking if he can translate an astronomical text by M. Oleron (Catherine doesn’t know yet that Lucy’s father is dead). Lucy wants to do the translation but she knows that it will be difficult to convince the Society to hire her so she shows up at Catherine’s house in person to plead her case.
Lucy and Catherine end up forming a professional collaboration and a romantic relationship that includes romance, sex, emotional healing, fighting the patriarchy, and appreciating the art of needlework. Catherine loves embroidery but has always dismissed her work, which is made from her own original patterns, as “not really art.” The conversation that runs throughout the book about what true art is and is not parallels other conversations about who actually does science, and all the hidden ways that women use to express themselves in a repressive society.
I adored these characters and drooled over the descriptions of the night sky and of Catherine’s needlework. The slow pace allows the characters to progress from mutual shyness to friendship to love. Near the end there is a stupid fight based on mutual misunderstanding but thankfully that does not last long. For the most part, the conflicts are not between Catherine and Lucy, but rather between the two united women and the society that won’t recognize their romantic relationship nor their contributions to the sciences and the arts. The book becomes a meditation on all the ways that women try to support (and, alas, in some cases undermine) each other in a world that barely acknowledges their existence.
The biggest flaw in the book is Pris, who is one dimensionally shallow, selfish, and manipulative. It’s a glaring flaw in a book otherwise full of layered characters. Otherwise, the book is evocative, interesting, and full of competence porn, fashion, art, and intelligent people saying intelligent things. Anyone who doesn’t mind a slow pace will love this.