Book Review: The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite | F/F Romance & Scientists in Regency England

Olivia Waite’s The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics follows two women, Lucy and Catherine, as they fall in love in Regency England. Lucy is an astronomer attempting to translate an important scientific text from French to English, facing discrimination as a female scientist. Catherine, on the other hand, is a talented embroidery artist and the widow of an important astronomer, attempting to carve out her own space in her big house. Both women have an interesting and distinct path of development throughout this romance novel, supportive of each other through their differences.

Science & Art in Regency England

While mostly orbiting the romantic development of the two ladies’ relationship, Waite’s story also has a heavy focus on the world of science, art, and publishing. This is a definite strength of the novel, the details of celestial discoveries, painting, and book publishing adding a layer of fascination to what would otherwise be plain romance — a genre I personally had no experience with, and would have found overwhelming on its own.

Character Development & Scruffy Sidekicks

A particular Goodreads reviewer pointed out their concerns that Catherine, being the initial inspiration for Lucy’s attempt at making science accessible, would forget about her artistic embroidery, and get dragged into science despite her lack of interest. I agree with this reviewer that it was delightful to follow the two women’s journey and discover that, in fact, Lucy learns to respect Catherine’s beautiful works for their own merit, and does not pressure her to become another female scientist. Catherine shows her love for Lucy’s work through her making of beautiful, space-themed gowns, and Lucy in turn is inspired by Catherine to take her own project to a new level.

Not All That Glitters Is Gold: Erasure & Colour Blindness

One problem I had with this novel is perhaps its slightly overbearing optimism. While I am in support of positive, happy historical fiction, I have an issue with the erasure of discrimination, and found myself a bit frustrated with the author’s occasional colour blindness. In one instance that made this particularly obvious, a dark-skinned, female scientist is doubted for being a woman only, her skin colour seemingly irrelevant.

Yaiza is a content writer, magazine editor and creative author based in Singapore. She uses this space to write about books.