Book Review: ‘The Determined Heart’ by Antoinette May

determined heart

*4 out of 5 stars*

When I saw a historical fiction novel based on Mary Shelley I knew I had to read it. So I was very pleased when I received an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. Mostly because I am imminently impatient and didn’t want to wait until this one’s publication date. There’s nothing I find more interesting than the lives of Romantic poets and viewing them through the long suffering wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley is possibly the best way to view them.

The daughter of famed, but notorious, feminist Mary Wolstonecraft and radical philosopher William Godwin, Mary Wolstonecraft Godwin knew from early days that she was meant for greatness. But when her father remarries a woman who shares none of the ideals of Mary’s great parents she sinks into an unhappy childhood. Everything changes when an admirer of her father’s seeks an acquaintance. As a poet and radical, Bysshe Shelley has enjoyed quite a notoriety after being expelled from both Eton and Oxford. A wife, child, and another on the way, doesn’t stop Bysshe and Mary from falling into a torrid affair. Spanning continents and vast creative output the path is seldom smooth but the stage has been set for one of the greatest fiction creations of the nineteenth century.

When I first started out reading this the writing seemed a bit stilted and it seemed as if the focus would be too heavy on the creation of ‘Frankenstein’, which is intensely significant but hardly the most interesting thing about Mary Shelley and her crew. While it’s Byron that often gets all the tales, I have always thought it was Shelley who was the far more interesting fellow. Mary is the perfect window, allowing us to see all his flaws while still admiring his spirit. But also, it can not be denied, that of the group she somewhat belonged to she is the name that receives the most recognition today. Which would probably have rankled her husband and most of his friends.

I enjoyed the author’s method of weaving in elements that would shape ‘Frankenstein’ slowly, as the idea of corpse reanimation was something that had horrified and fascinated Mary for a long time. Her visit to Castle Frankenstein, which may or may not have happened in life, in Darmstadt, Germany on a journey back to England and her deep grief in losing her first child coupled with the glimmer of an idea that the baby could be brought back to her through mad science.

Mary Shelley’s life was a tragic one, losing child after child, her sister, and her husband at a young age, it seemed at times that there was nothing left for Mary to lose. As I fan, I knew these things going in, but the author brought these events to life vividly. After getting used to the author’s style, which can be choppy and matter of fact (which I ultimately found fit Mrs. Shelley’s life, if not her prose) I couldn’t put this volume down. I love reading about the lives of authors so it’s really no surprise that I loved this so, especially as Mary Shelley, and all her Romantic poet friends and lovers, are great favorites of mine. But regardless of favor, I think this book is a worthy entry into this oeuvre.

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About Lindsay

I have a C'est Moi page, you should probably just read that.
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