This is the second volume in Elizabeth Everett’s The Secret Scientists of London series, about a group of ladies who form a scientific club, and manage to find true love during their adventures. This one is a bit weaker than what came before it (A Lady’s Formula for Love), but is still a welcome addition to any romance lover’s shelf.
Mathematician Miss Letitia Fenley is the kind of woman who snaps back at a group of men protesting outside of Athena’s Retreat, a club for lady scientists founded by her close friend Violet, Lady Greycliff, without any concern for what might happen to her own self in the process. Letty frequently and proudly stands up against those who would abuse honest women. She has good reason to. Her dour, dry-eyed realism replaced girlish, romantic flights of fancy years ago, her heart hardened against romance ever since she gave her body to a nobleman named Nevin six years previously on the assumption that they’d be married, only for them to be caught in bed by his father. Her reputation was ruined in the crucible of a scandal when Nevin’s father declared his son would never marry a shopkeeper’s daughter. Letty was blamed for the seduction and turned into an outcast, making her a persona non grata, and forcing her to keep her distance from her friends to avoid damaging their reputations. Thus Letty is a loner with little to lose.
Letty plans to compete for the Rosewood Prize in Mathematics disguised as a man, but her best friend Violet (heroine of book one) has recently suffered a miscarriage, and she and her husband, Arthur, are planning on a long vacation in warmer climes to help her recover. They ask a reluctant Letty to take over stewardship of Athena’s Retreat in Violet’s absence.
Lord William Hughes, Viscount Greycliff (Grey) saves Letitia from brawling with a protester ( a situation she didn’t need SAVING from, thank you), which will be perfect practice for taking over his uncle’s soon-to-be-vacated spot in the Department, a secret government organization. Grey has his own damage behind him – a seizure disorder which made his childhood an isolated hell, which he only surmounted due to what he believes to be his own iron will. That means emotions are a remote thing for him and he Refuses to Love. He and Letty have been at loggerheads about her behavior for ages now. But Grey is intrigued by Letty and Letty is intrigued by Grey.
When Violet asks Grey to stand in Arthur’s place and guard the retreat in their absence, he jumps at the opportunity to at least prove to the Department he has what it takes to make it.
Naturally, love soon intervenes. But when Nevin reappears – together with a dangerous group of anti-Athena protestors called the Guardians of Domesticity, who want to stop the group at any cost – a happy ending doesn’t seem to be assured at all.
First things first – I loved the tension in the romantic and sexual attraction between Letty and Grey, including their fun banter. I loved Letty and Grey as people, too, and their friendship with Violet and Arthur. Letty becomes friends with the other women living at Athena’s Retreat, and that is lovely to see. And Grey has to learn to let go of his fears and be vulnerable, which is well-done.
I am utterly math-dumb, so Letty’s love of the subject was fun to delve into. The other women continue their own experiments, which involve ants and a particularly adorable hedgehog. I felt as if I were learning something as we went along.
I did subtract some points for a few pat plot twists – we even get a traditional sex-act-in-a-carriage scene. Also, the supporting cast continue to be large and diverse, but I desperately want Everett to give them books in which they fully feature instead of acting as window dressing for another book about white Brits. We have a Black housekeeper adept at science, two women in a Boston marriage, and a trans footman – it’s nice that they all exist in the story as people, but I want them to DO something, drive more of the plot, have different romances of their own. Also, the villains are very thin, their machinations an obvious jab at men’s rights politics and anti-vaccine, anti-science types. They get their due and it is good, but nuance would’ve been appreciated.
Yet I did really like the spicy connection between our hero and heroine, which makes A Perfect Equation well worth recommending.
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