His Unburned Heart

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Book 4 of The Selected Papers from the Constortium for the Study of Anomalous Phenomena
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Pub Date May 09 2024 | Archive Date Not set

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His Unburned Heart tells the story of Mary Shelley’s quest to retrieve her husband’s heart from his publisher. History tells us that Percy Shelley was cremated, though his heart failed to burn, but the rest of the details are lost to time. Sandner has channeled Mary Shelley herself to share the story with us. That story is paired here with a second, related, piece. The Journal of Sorrow is named after Mary Shelley’s personal journal, and imagines Percy Shelley’s demise.

“Sandner presents a tender examination on the nature of grief as a literary icon speculates on her lover’s demise and the strange effort to recover the last physical remnant of her dead poet. Compelling and very moving prose.” —Tim McGregor, author of Wasps in the Ice Cream and Eynhallow

His Unburned Heart tells the story of Mary Shelley’s quest to retrieve her husband’s heart from his publisher. History tells us that Percy Shelley was cremated, though his heart failed to burn, but...

Advance Praise

“A valentine’s gift of the most morbid kind, Sandner’s electric imagination shockingly brings back to life the woman who many would say founded science fiction and fantasy with her Frankenstein. Here we find the author turned main character, haunted by the love of her life in the most artfully gothic of ways. Sandner has crafted a terrific tribute, capturing the voice of not only young Mary but the whole period in which she lived, artfully winking with references to the literary history of the time, all while building on the sublime and terrifying concepts that underpin this artful tale. Only a writer, theorist and researcher like David Sandner could pull this conceit off so well, balancing tribute with tension, and Frankenstein’s many fans and literary scholars alike will find this treatment a fascinating contribution to the legacy of Mary and her hideous progeny. Shelley lives! And His Unburned Heart pulses with dread and delight!”—Michael Arnzen, Bram Stoker Award winning author of Grave Markings and 100 Jolts

“A valentine’s gift of the most morbid kind, Sandner’s electric imagination shockingly brings back to life the woman who many would say founded science fiction and fantasy with her Frankenstein. Here...

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Featured Reviews

A marvelous, richly written historical account of Shelley's death, and Mary Shelley reclaiming something for herself. When Shelley dies, Mary is not allowed to go his cremation because she's not a man - and she has to face that some people she believed to be "their" friends were actually her husband's friends. This novella is about grief and love, but also about rebellious women who dress as men to sneak into lectures and other places that they are banned from.

The second half of the novella is a series of imaginings of what might have happened on that boat where Shelley died. It's a bit dream-like, a bit abstract, and I enjoyed it less than the first half, but it was still beautifully written.

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“There, in the charred lump of his unburned heart, in its impossibility, my story lies. If you will know it, you must know it with the unsayable left in; the excess, like his heart, abides.”
His Unburned Heart opens in Tuscany, Italy, in August 1822 as Percy Shelley’s body burns upon a beachside pyre. Attending his cremation following his untimely drowning are prideful, hot-tempered Lord Byron; dishonest, pagan ritual-performing Edward John Trelawny; publisher and supposed friend Leigh Hunt; and other locals, including Mary Shelley, forced to disguise herself as a male servant in order to attend. For Mary, the sight of Percy’s post-mortem figure is chilling and horrifying, as is the strange occurrence of his heart, pillaged from his cracked chest by Trelawny after it fails to burn.

From there, the storyline moves back and forth in time, always with the burning day as the focal point, chronicling Mary’s furious revolt against period-standard misogyny and personal betrayal, the most pointed and grating of which involves Leigh, who claims Percy’s heart and tells Mary point-blank that she doesn’t deserve it, and who attacks her lifestyle, gender, and credibility and undermines her love and devotion, leaving her infuriated and determined to claim what’s rightfully hers.

The novella then progresses into The Journal of Sorrow, “Mary’s Shelley’s epigraph to her new journal,” begun in October 1822, an account of Percy’s fatal sea journey and Mary’s feelings of regret and culpability. The text also includes 12 imagined versions of the ill-fated voyage, where the men aboard the ship fail to thwart death and destiny, their demise interwoven with supernatural elements and private musings.

Through smooth and moving prose, the story immerses the reader in the early 19th century while resurrecting a literary icon, laying bare lower class humiliations, female tensions and challenges, Mary’s intense internal struggles with grief and self-regard, and her resolved quest to reclaim her true love’s heart. As the real details have been lost to history, this historical gothic horror work reimagines what may have transpired, producing a startlingly clear, morbidly fascinating peek into a much-lauded life — an expertly crafted, in-depth examination and a powerful tribute. Both heartfelt and compelling, it’s a deeply resonant read and a haunting meditation on the monstrously finite and fickle enigmas that are man, existence, and mortality.

Thank you to NetGalley and RDS Publishing/Raw Dog Screaming Press for sending this forthcoming novella (which hits shelves on May 9, 2024) for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

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A tender and explicit look into the fear and anguish behind this story where Shelly's heart does not burn and his wife desperately wants to keep this part of him. Unfortunate for her so does his publisher. Familiar characters take centre stage in this story portraying the details of the relationship between the Shelleys. Followed by exerts from his journal that chronicle his fragile mind. This was an intimate look into the relationships that shape the circumstances in both stories. Told through poetic prose it would appeal to fans of Frankenstein.

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This was a great fourth book in this series, it had everything that I enjoyed from the other three books. The concept was everything that I was looking for and enjoyed the overall feel of the characters in this world. I loved the idea of Mary Shelley going on a quest to save her husband’s heart.

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My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher Raw Dog Screaming Press for an advance copy of this novella about the death, love, those who wish to control the legacy of art, and the ways that people deal with loss, and comes after.

Grief I have always felt is the most universal of emotions. Some might never feel love, some might forgive instead of anger, but everyone has lost something, be it a person, ideals, dreams. We grieve for those things that we lose, and sometimes do things we regret later because of it. While grieving we usually blame ourselves, and imagine, if not by a bedside, or on a boat with our lost loved one what their last moments were. Was there blame cast on the living? A curse before the end? Did they know it was the end? All questions that haunt. Especially a writer of rare abilities who has lost so much. His Unburned Heart by David Sandner is a novella about Mary Shelley and the days following the loss of her husband, and what the author of Frankenstein imagined his last moments were.

This is a novella broken into two parts. On a beach in Tuscany, Italy during the year of 1822 a group of men have come to cremate the body of the poet, Percy Shelley who drowned with a companion in a boat accident. In attendance is his publisher Leigh Hunt, the adventurer and supposed-mystic Edward John Trelawny and Lord Byron. Disguised as a footman is Mary Shelley, whose presence was banned as this was a ceremony for men, not women, nor wives. Mary watches as Trelawny pulls out the unburned heart of her husband and gives it to Hunt. Before the bones have even cooled Mary visits Hunt and ask for the heart of her husband, but is told that Mary had no appreciation for Percy, her words have been hurtful, and the legacy of the poet should be kept safe with him. Mary is stunned, hurt and realizes that even with her great gifts, she is still a woman, and has no rights to even the heart of her love, in this world. The second part is Mary coming to grip with her loss, and her guilt for holding her husband up, allowing him to be caught in a storm and dying. Mary imagines different scenarios of Shelley's death each one adding to the guilt that is eating at her from the inside.

This novella has not only some of the best writing I have read in quite awhile, but is some of the most powerful writing I have read. Sandner in this short piece has gotten to the heart of loss, the confusion, the fact that people continue on while a person has died, and maybe those people were never the people you thought they were. There is a pain that leaves no mark that Mary is feeling, and the words and actions show this. Sandner uses words like a painter setting scenes, drawing emotions, and capturing the era, with phrases, words and descriptions. At one point a character uses the F-word and instead of shocking, one gets a true feeling that the character knows there is no coming back. The end is here, and only one word can convey it. I'm not ashamed I have read it twice, and when it comes out will buy it to read it again. A really amazing work, one I didn't want to end, but understand why it had to.

This is the first that I have read by David Sandner either fiction, nonfiction or edited. I plan to amend that quite quickly. A really beautiful work. One that even as I sit here typing I can't help but stop and think about.

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