A Perfect Equation by Elizabeth Everett
The Secret Scientists of London #2
February 15, 2022, by Berkley
Reviewed by Kate H.
The Perfect Equation is a well-paced Regency-era romance that features a bluestocking heroine, a mathematician no less, as well as a bottled-up hero ready to be uncorked. The opening of the book begins with a street protest by the Guardians of Domesticity, part of the noisy and disturbing backlash against women working and becoming educated. “Ladies should be taking care of men’s needs instead of taking men’s wages!” one man yells. My attention was immediately riveted.
My favorite part of the novel was the hero, Lord Greycliffe, or Grey. He was raised in seclusion because of the epileptic fits he displayed as a child. In order to participate in society as an adult, he applies such self-control he might as well as be in an emotional straitjacket. It is fascinating to watch him awaken throughout the book and re-evaluate both his method of living and his mentor and godfather, Earl Melton. He is about to take over Melton’s role as head of the Department, a quasi-governmental agency that is somewhere between MI5 and the army, when he encounters a figure from his past, Leticia Fenley who is now a founding member of Athena’s Retreat, a secret women’s STEM haven.
Letty and Grey are put in charge of Athena’s Retreat while Letty’s best friend, the owner of the building, leaves for a stint in the country. Without giving anything away, they have conflicting purposes, which adds to the tension as the novel progresses. Just as Grey’s childhood has shaped who he is, Letty is also constrained by a scandal that damaged her reputation six years before. A scandal that Grey only made worse at the time.
The most disappointing part of the novel was the depictions of what went at Athena’s Retreat. Most of the science occurring there was depicted as silly, comical, or out of control. The explosions and damage made several of the women seem irresponsible. There were other moments, like when Letty is working through her equations, where the process reflects a more purposeful inquiry. I found it hard to believe that these women, who risked so much to pursue their science, would come off as so slapstick.
The leader of the Guardians, an oily villain named Victor Armitage, has it in for everyone in this novel. He is a terrifically bad, bad guy: I really wished harm upon the man. I liked how his presence in the novel really made clear the risks the women of Athena’s Retreat. This is definitely a worthy addition to bluestocking sub-genre!
CW: ableism; cruelty to a child