“The Determined Heart: The Tale of Mary Shelley and Her Frankenstein” Book Review

Author: Antoinette May

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

Publication Date: September 29, 2015

Type: Historical Fiction

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I have long been a fan of the Frankenstein story. When I was a small child I first introduced to the basic story idea through such films as Young Frankenstein and Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Later I viewed a much more accurate portrayal of the story when I watched Kenneth Branagh’s film Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; but it was not until I was a freshman in high school that I finally read the story for myself. For me, Frankenstein is one of those few classic novels that held my interest from the opening sentences and appealed to the inner workings of my mind. To read of a brilliant doctor who takes it upon himself to play God and give life to that which once was dead, is both an intriguing and fascinating concept as well as a wonderful tale of caution and over stepping one’s place in the greater scheme of nature.

Over the years, I have found myself continuing to indulge in the story of Frankenstein by continuing to watch Young Frankenstein as well as to re-read the novel every so often. Thus it is with this true and profound love of the tale that I was excited to have received notification from NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing that I was to receive an advance e-galley of Antoinette May’s new book about the life of the woman behind the book. Prior to reading The Determined Heart: The Tale of Mary Shelley and Her Frankenstein, all that I knew about the author was that she first created the story as part of a challenge laid forth by Lord Byron on a dark and stormy night to the group of writers who were gathered. As I had hoped, May’s fictionalized account of the author provided me with the larger story that exists about one of the world’s most famous and prolific female writers of the period.

As with Mary Shelley’s novel, I found myself drawn in to May’s account of the writer from the first few sentences. The Determined Heart is a beautifully written tragic story with a heroine who continuously experiences loss and death from birth. Having lost her mother due to childhood, Mary goes on to live a coddled life with her father and half-sister Fanny who dote on her for the first four years of her life. At the age of four, Mary’s father marries a horrid woman who treats Mary terribly and at one convinces Mary’s father to send her away to friends, for the step-mother views her as a threat to the success of her own daughter, Claire. It isn’t until Mary is fourteen and returns that she meets, Percy Bysshe Shelley, then married to someone else, that Mary truly comes into her own as a woman and falls madly in love with the handsome young poet. With a whirlwind romance, resulting in Mary’s eventual running away from home with Percy and her stepsister; Mary begins the next phase of her life which will eventually lead to her writing of her most famous work.

Of the oft-debated topic of whether or not Percy entered into an affair with Mary’s stepsister Claire, May has chosen to come down on the side that he did carry on an affair with Claire, even going so far as to father a child by her. I found this an interesting side to take, but understand why it was chosen as it did help to add further drama within the story between Mary and Claire whose relationship had been strained from the beginning, as well as added drama between Mary and Percy who was a known philanderer. I couldn’t help but be amazed that Mary would remain with Percy, even going so far as to marry him following the suicide of his first wife, after all the instances of him cheating with random women and the continued cheating with Claire over the years. The fact that Mary was constantly able to find a way to forgive Percy for all of his misdeeds just reaffirmed both how young and naïve she was as well as how much she truly did love him.

If, like me, you’re a fan of Frankenstein and want to know more of the woman behind the gothic tale, even if it is a fictionalized account, I can’t help but highly recommend Antoinette May’s newest book about Mary Shelley.

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