Review: The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy – Megan Bannen
by Megan Bannen
Publisher: Orbit Books
Publication Date: August 23, 2022
Genres: Fantasy, Romance
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Hart is a marshal, tasked with patrolling the strange and magical wilds of Tanria. It’s an unforgiving job, and Hart’s got nothing but time to ponder his loneliness.
Mercy never has a moment to herself. She’s been single-handedly keeping Birdsall & Son Undertakers afloat in defiance of sullen jerks like Hart, who seems to have a gift for showing up right when her patience is thinnest.
After yet another exasperating run-in with Mercy, Hart finds himself penning a letter addressed simply to “A Friend”. Much to his surprise, an anonymous letter comes back in return, and a tentative friendship is born.
If only Hart knew he’s been baring his soul to the person who infuriates him most – Mercy. As the dangers from Tanria grow closer, so do the unlikely correspondents. But can their blossoming romance survive the fated discovery that their pen pals are their worst nightmares – each other?
A book involving zombies, familial trauma and so many dead bodies has no right being this adorable. It’s weird and impossible to categorize, but it’s ultimately an enemies-to-lovers romance that delighted me to no end.
“Most people start with hello.”
“Hello, Hart-ache,” she sighed.
After her father’s heart attack, Mercy’s taken on the lion’s share of work at her family’s undertaking business. Trying to keep it afloat is hard enough, but dealing with Hart, the Tanrian Marshal who frequently drops off dead drudges – basically zombies – is an additional annoyance she’d gladly do without. Even if he is super tall and handsome. Hart has nothing outside his job – not even an apartment. In a fit of loneliness, Hart pens a letter, which gets posted…. and winds up delivered to Mercy. Mercy finds herself empathizing with the lonely stranger and writes back, sharing her own struggles. Before they know it, they’re each having the most honest conversations of their lives with an anonymous stranger. But will meeting in person ruin their tenuous relationship?
Mercy’s a lonely ball of sunshine. It’s clear from the beginning how much Mercy loves her job and how seriously she takes the responsibility of preparing the dead. Besides the business, Mercy’s also the family confidante – everyone’s told her secrets that she has to keep from the other family members. But who’s there for Mercy? Even in the middle of her big bustling family, she’s lonely. Hart’s cantankerous and grumpy and downright mean to Mercy (though she’s just as rude back). But he also adores dogs. In fact, the only good thing about having to visit Mercy’s business is getting to see her dog Leonard, who adores him right back. While I loved Mercy, it’s Hart who really shines in this book because of his excellent character arc. The slow realization of how isolated he’s made himself because of his trauma, and what he’s willing to do to change, is heartaching and lovely.
“Guess you and Marshal Ralston aren’t best friends?”
Mercy put a sudsy hand to her chest. “Whatever gave you that idea?”
“How did that start?”
“It didn’t start. It was, is, and will always be an infinite loop of fated and mutual dislike.”
The lure of an epistolary romance was what first drew me to this book. While there aren’t that many of them, the letters are truly lovely and serve as a good way to understand each character and see how similar they really are. They’re both so terribly lonely and seeing them find another kindred soul was so comforting. The relationships, and not just the romantic ones, were what made this book really shine. Watching Mercy and Hart go from their no-holds-barred verbal feud (with a large heaping of attraction) to actually listening to each other was *chef’s kiss.* Watching Hart open up to his bouncy new trainee, and attempt to restore his friendship with his ex-partner, was adorable. And watching Mercy interact with her family, who love her so much but don’t seem to understand her, was bittersweet. The world-building, while initially a bit confusing, was amazingly inventive. It’s sort of the wild west, but there’s also talking rabbits that deliver the mail. It’s weird, but once you get the hang of it, it’s the perfect setting for the story.
“Most people seal themselves off from death, but that doesn’t change the fact that we’re all joined together by this single thread.”
Overall, yet another book to add to my comfort reread pile, and another author added to the auto-buy pile!
Content notes: View Spoiler »violence (mostly against zombie-like creatures) including gun violence, death of a parent from cancer (before book starts), death of a parent from violent means (before book starts) « Hide Spoiler