the determined heart book coverReviewed by Nina Longfield

The myth surrounding Frankenstein, both the making of the creature and the creation of the literary masterpiece, continue to intrigue the world. It’s been almost two hundred years since a young woman wrote the immortal novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1918). The Determined Heart by Antoinette May is the fictional retelling of Mary (Wollstonecraft Godwin) Shelley’s life and how she came to write the classic novel.

The Determined Heart begins with a young Mary Godwin of around four years of age when her beloved father, William Godwin, chooses a new wife. The addition of family, a new step-mother, a stepbrother and a stepsister, Claire, press Mary at a young age to develop and build her sense of independence and her capacity to follow her own path and not one prescribed by society. The novel follows Mary’s and her step-siblings’ coming of age. When Mary falls in love and runs away with notorious poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, she is mortified that her stepsister Claire not only accompanies them but later also becomes Shelley’s lover. The group joins the notorious poet Lord Byron at his Swiss villa and the rest of the story became history. Mary’s story is told with many ups and downs, triumphs and heartbreaks.

Meticulously researched, The Determined Heart pulls together all aspects of Mary (Wollstonecraft Godwin) Shelley’s life. Antoinette May does a good job getting into character’s heads and delving their thoughts. The Determined Heart does require a sense of suspension of belief on the reader’s part. As the novel progressed, this suspension became easier knowing adults have an inherent sense of logic and intellect that comes with age and education. In Mary’s case, considering her philosophic and literary upbringing, one can accept that intrinsic logic came to her sooner. However, I had difficulty believing the four and five year old Mary Godwin was truly as logical and astute as May wrote into the character. The beginning of the novel is where the suspension of belief was most required on the reader’s part. Again, once I got beyond the childhood Mary Godwin, The Determined Heart seemed to fall into place and made for an interesting and entertaining read.

I recommend The Determined Heart to any interested in the Romantic-era, especially as related to the infamous poets Shelley and Lord Byron, or simply for any wanting to read a good story.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Lake Union Publishing. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.