Review: The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter by John Pipkin


Overall Score: 5/10

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA

Release Date: October 11, 2016

Source: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Book Summary (From GoodReads)

In late-eighteenth-century Ireland, accidental stargazer Caroline Ainsworth learns that her life is not what it seems when her father, Arthur, throws himself from his rooftop observatory. He has chosen death over a darkened life, gone blind from staring at the sun in his obsessive hunt for an unknown planet near Mercury. Caroline had often assisted her father with his observations; when astronomer William Herschel discovered Uranus in 1781, she watched helplessly as unremitting jealousy drove Arthur to madness.

Grief-stricken, Caroline at first abandons the vain search, leaves Ireland for London, and tries to forget her love for Finnegan O’Siodha, the tinkering blacksmith who was helping her father build a massive telescope larger than Herschel’s own. But she later discovers that her father has left her more than the wreck of an unfinished telescope: his cryptic atlas holds the secret to finding a new world at the edge of the sky. As Caroline reluctantly resumes the search and confronts her longing for Finnegan, Ireland is swept into rebellion, and the lovers are plunged into its violence.

This is a novel of the obsessions of the age—scientific inquiry, geographic discovery, political reformation—but above all astronomy, the mapping of the solar system, and beyond. It is a novel of the quest for knowledge and also—just as importantly—for human connection.


The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter is a sweeping tale that ties together the scientific, the historical, and the political. There are a variety of main characters that serve to give the reader a glimpse into the Ireland of the late eighteenth century. However, I believe the author may have been too ambitious in his scope as the stories can feel disjointed and jarring at points.

The story gets off to a slow start as the author established a baseline for his characters. We learn the history of Caroline Ainsworth and her father before joining them in their search of the heavens. This novel does a very good job of explaining astrology and the unceasing need of the stargazers of that time to find the next astrological marvel. A great deal of time passes as Arthur and Caroline gaze up into the heavens, however any suspense that may have built up is ruined by the opening of the book. At the start of the novel, before the reader knows either of the characters, the ending of their story together is revealed.

There were multiple subplots that all started at different times in the novel. While I enjoyed learning more about how various people lived in the time period, these stories were only slightly related to the main plot regarding Caroline. The only one that I think needed to be included was Finn’s because it fleshed out the character and showed an entirely different side of Ireland than the other storylines. Otherwise, the stories served to make the story feel piecemeal, the cohesiveness stressed with each switch.

As for the romance aspect, most of the romance in this novel is between humans and the heavens. So if you’re looking for a historical romance, this may not be the book for you. There wasn’t a lot of development in terms of interpersonal relationships so it was difficult for me to connect to or care about the characters.

Overall, this was an interesting novel that explored a time period where man was racing to discover the skies. I would recommend it to those who prefer historical fiction that focuses on the events of a time period rather than the people.

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