Brown (The Last First Day, 2013) fictionalizes the lives of highly respected astronomer-siblings William and Caroline "Lina" Herschel with an emphasis on Lina’s growth from dependence on her brother to success in her own right.
The novel’s first section, devoted to Lina as a child in Germany from 1755 until her move to England in 1772 at age 22, is the most involving. She grows up in Hanover, in a large impoverished family headed by a musician father and a bitter, continually pregnant mother. Lina, small and sickly, adores William, a gifted scholar and musician 12 years her senior, who shares with her his love of astronomy and learning in general. William leaves permanently for England to avoid military conscription while Lina is still a child. Under her mother’s harsh control and with little hope of marriage, especially after a fever stunts her growth and leaves her pockmarked, Lina’s future looks bleak. But when she’s 22, William answers her written plea—“Save me”—by moving her to Bath, where his work as a musician pays for his explorations in astronomy and his eventually successful ambition to build a large reflective telescope. William gives her intellectual instruction, and she assists his astronomy, runs the household and finances, and contributes income with her singing. Lina’s adoration of William comes across as a bit creepy—the way she notes his handsome looks and feeds him by hand when he's occupied on his telescope, “intimacy” she herself notes is odd—but Brown never delves beyond polite boundaries. While jealous of Lina’s only suitor—a fictional creation—William marries a pretty, wealthy widow at age 50. Peremptorily moved from William’s house, Lina finally comes into her own as an astronomer.
The historical details may be of interest to astronomy buffs, but neither they nor the Herschels come into involving focus in this plodding version of their lives.