As I was reading The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows over the weekend, I thought it might be good to start with the review of Celestial Mechanics which I read a bit under a year ago. It was something like April/May and the middle of the first lockdown, and it kickstarted my reading again. I meant to share my review from last year then realised I did not write any??? I’ve been thinking about this book on and off since, I basically jumped on Waspish Widows when it got published, and I’ll jump on the next one too. So I really have to write a review!
I’ve been a fan of Jane Austen since I was a teen but I did not really read much more regency romance than that because what I found available was always… disappointingly straight. This is the book that convinced me to give romance novels another try, and it’s led me to many more good books in the past year!
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?
So apparently last year I wrote “I’ll need to stew in it a little bit before i can write a full review but the short of it is, I absolutely loved it!!” in my goodreads updates and then proceeded NOT to write a full review. Oops.
One thing I can say is that it’s still a full 5 stars a year on, and I recommend it to anyone who says the words queer, f/f, romance, or regency within earshot. To be honest it’s got everything I love, two fierce women who’re each different and independent and learn to work with one another despite some uh, early conflicts. Learning to work around each other’s past and traumas, as well. But also, a Regency novel that doesn’t just show women being idle and rich, but going about doing their thing, whether it’s art or writing or embroidery or printing. It’s very much about what you can do with the power you have.
Lucy’s work to translate a very scientific book (and make it accessible to women) makes the men around her, especially the astronomers and physicists of the Royal Society (or whatever it’s called in the book) bristle because How Dare A Woman Do Science, right? But the two women (and some allies) work together to make them eat their words.
And it’s not just about the rich countess or the scholar, but also working women around them – the handmaid who’s worried she’ll be dismissed because she’s not white and her lady seems to have found someone she gets along with better, the very young maid who draws in her spare time, the printer’s shop where the printer’s wife does most of the engraving… it gives a much more complete picture than you usually get. And you can clearly see the author is conscious of race issues as well as class and gender, and nothing’s brushed under the rug.
The writing is amazing, it reads very quickly but it’s also intricate and poetic, and when it comes to the technicalities you know Waite did her research. I absolutely loved the explanations on astronomy but also embroidery. As someone who loves embroidery, I really enjoyed the discussions about the differences between art and craft, and how women’s work is often swept under the rug, as it were, even though it’s just as beautiful, inspired, and full of craft(wo)manship as any artist’s painting. But it’s not there for argument’s sake, it’s tied to the characters and their struggles and their idea of self-worth.
Which brings me to the romance… I loved it! I really loved both main characters, groaned when they were being stubborn, shook my head, and all that. Both women are highly relatable in their own ways, but in hindsight what really made me appreciate this book was just how gentle and respectful they were of each other, and how they worked with Catherine’s past trauma, and Lucy’s fears, and made a relationship that truly worked for them. And I also really appreciate that the author made sure they weren’t the only queer characters in the story, but there were other queer women, showing that this is an intrinsic part of society and our two leads have a community to fit in rather than being alone.
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