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?
Megan Bannen is an award-winning author of speculative fiction. In addition to her many years working as a public librarian, she has sold luggage, written grants, and taught English at home and abroad. In her spare time, she apparently enjoys collecting graduate degrees from various Kansas universities. Megan lives in the Kansas City area with her family and more pets than is reasonable. You can find her online at www.meganbannen.com or follow her on Twitter or Instagram: @meganbannen.
I’ve never read a romance quite like this! It gave me really strong Howl’s Moving Castle vibes, and I admit for much of the book, I saw it like an anime rather than live action. So, for the romance lovers out there who love Studio Ghibli, this is totally for you. It takes place in an inventive fantasy setting with old gods, new gods, and talking creatures that I found captivating and fresh, and the love story between Hart and Mercy, especially their secret letters to each other, was absolutely swoon worthy. It’s a enemies to lovers story and I loved their banter. Sending this into the universe: Please make an animated film of this.
I feel very strongly that you deserve a friend more worthy of you than I am in reality.
Spice Meter: 🌶️🌶️
❗This is a spoiler-free ARC review from NetGalley❗
⚠️Trigger Warning: Various depictions of death⚠️
📍Date Released: August 23, 2022📍
I don't know how I managed to pick three different ARCs, all of them great, and all of them including adorable pet dogs that made the stories 100x better. It feels like a blessing, ngl. Another blessing is that I deeply enjoyed all three of these ARCs even if they weren't all 5 ⭐ reads. The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy may have a pretty simple yet straightforward plot, but its execution was very well done. It was humorous, sweet, emotional, and delightfully romantic in that specific haters-to-lovers trope kind of way. Seriously, this trope is magnificent. Not to mention its additional grumpy x sunshine trope that I also find delightful and have been reading a lot of lately. It's the little things in life, right?? 😍😍 For the most part, I found this story terrific. Excellent romance and world-building, extremely likeable and relatable characters, solid plot and subplots. BUT, there were some minor things that didn't really impress me. For example, while the writing was mostly great and very intelligent, it could be a little cringy at times. Just some romantic parts and dialogue. Also, the male love interest, Hart, was a little too obsessed with his female counterpart's boobs, in my opinion. These are the only reasons this book didn't get 5 ⭐ because other than that it was excellent.
I liked Mercy Birdshall very, very much. Sure she's the protagonist, she's supposed to be lovable, and in this case, cute. Also, she has a dog and I'll love anyone with a dog. I mean, who wouldn't? Even so, Mercy was very well written, she was pretty complex as a character, strong-willed, and I don't know of any other character that could actually make the position of undertaker (mortician) look cool. I loved her compassion, loyalty, and her determination in the face of adversity.
Despite his obsession with Mercy's boobs, Hart was a decent character. As the grumpy one in this relationship, he lived up to his role successfully. He was morose, antisocial, and brooding. It was hard for him to make or maintain friendships which made him a very lonely person. I used to be like that as well, so I was able to connect with him more so than I did with Mercy. He was also kind, sweet, passionate, and hot as fuck. Don't come after me, secretly soft hotties are my catnip. 🤷🏻♀️🤷🏻♀️His being a demigod was a bonus. 😍😍
The romance between Mercy and Hart was really good. Very entertaining. Not that anyone should expect less from haters-to-lovers, of course. Especially when it's combined with the grumpy x sunshine trope. The banter started IMMEDIATELY and it was so so gooood...and hot. 😝😝 I always love that when it happens. I was deeply invested in their relationship, happiness and well-being, but I will never forgive them for making me cry MULTIPLE TIMES. They scared the crap out of me for a minute there. Although, I do enjoy a good cry from time to time. It can be cathartic.
As for the other characters, I found them all to be absolutely delightful. Sure, I've had a few favourites among them. A certain humanoid rabbit messenger that was a total asshole in the best way possible and cussed at any given moment, for example. (intriguing right?? 🤩🤩) And Hart's apprentice with the best name I've ever seen, Penrose Duckers. WHO NAMES A KID THAT???? 😂😂😂😂 Despite his weird name, he was an awesome character, funny, sweet, and excitable. Pretty much the complete opposite of his mentor. You can guess how amazing the scenes between them were.
Source of book: NetGalley (thank you) Relevant disclaimers: The author and I are social media moots and sometimes exchange bants. Please note: This review may not be reproduced or quoted, in whole or in part, without explicit consent from the author.
And remember: I am not here to judge your drag, I mean your book. Books are art and art is subjective. These are just my personal thoughts. They are not meant to be taken as broader commentary on the general quality of the work. Believe me, I have not enjoyed many an excellent book, and my individual lack of enjoyment has not made any of those books less excellent or (more relevantly) less successful.
Further disclaimer: Readers, please stop accusing me of trying to take down “my competition” because I wrote a review you didn’t like. This is complete nonsense. Firstly, writing isn’t a competitive sport. Secondly, I only publish reviews of books in the subgenre where I’m best known (queer romcom) if they’re glowing. And finally: taking time out of my life to read an entire book, then write a detailed review about it that some people on GR will look at would be a profoundly inefficient and ineffective way to damage the careers of other authors. If you can’t credit me with simply being a person who loves books and likes talking about them, at least credit me with enough common sense to be a better villain.
This is a macabre, whimsical, unabashedly soft book. And I adored it.
I guess it’s technically what the industry might be trying to call “romantasy” which is to say a fantasy where the romantic elements are as significant as the fantastical stuff. And I actually thought the way the central relationship was woven around the more conventional plot-like elements (the mystery of Hart’s parentage, where the zombies are coming from, what’s going on with Cunningham, the dodgy owner of a chain of funeral parlours) was pretty damn masterful.
In any case, the basic setup here is … actually, it’s really hard to summarise. But essentially you have Hart, a lonely, zombie-fighter, demigod marshal, and Mercy, who works for her family’s funeral parlour: a mutual failure to understand the other has created an antagonistic dynamic between them that shows no sign of changing, until—each of them, in their own way desperate for emotional connection—they accidentally enter into an anonymous correspondence. Though, honestly, this is one of those attempts at a plot summary that barely touches on what the book is actually about … and that feels sort of right, because while Hart and Mercy is not explicitly a suspenseful read, unravelling its world-building is definitely one of its pleasures.
This may well turn out to be one of those “your mileage may vary” aspects of the story—those accustomed to more traditional fantasy fare, where everything is explained to you the moment it appears, might balk at being thrown into the action like a corpse from the back of an autoduck. For me, though, it really worked. You see, the more you, ahem, scrape the surface of the book, the more you realise that Hart and Mercy inhabit a deeply weird and specific world (the best description I can manage is, a bit wild west, a bit Waterworld, a bit Six Feet Under) but it is also very much their world, one they take for granted as much as we take our own. And there’s a particular sort of immersiveness that comes from only having the details of a setting become relevant to the reader at the point they become relevant to the characters—for example, we learn about the zombies (drudges) and Hart’s work in containing them when he’s mentoring a new apprentice, and the history of the world, with its old and new gods, is only fully explored when Mercy goes to church to pray.
In any case, as much as I came to the love the world-building, and how the book approached it, the true heart (heh) of Hart and Mercy is the characters, particularly Hart and Mercy themselves. I adored both of them, although I did end up feeling that Hart was the character with the greatest emotional depth and greatest emotional journey to, y’know, undertake. Mercy is quirky and charming (and enjoys reading romance novels in the bath—what’s not to love?) but the majority of her problems are external: her family’s funeral home is in crisis, her ex-boyfriend is a dick, etc. Hart, by contrast, has a lot of work to do in terms of understanding himself and his place in the world, and learning how to be open to both loving and living. There’s a lot about him that’s painfully relatable, I suspect even to people who aren’t, cough, profoundly damaged themselves. In fairness, though, I do also think that if both characters had equal degrees of the same sort of baggage to deal with it would have unbalanced the book in a different way and, while it was hard for me personally not to feel more connected to Hart than to Mercy, I deeply appreciated what the book was doing with its themes of love, trust and emotional vulnerability, and the way these are inevitably shaped by gender and gendered expectations.
“Woman help man learn to emotion, man help women find self-agency” is kind of the unquestioned bedrock of a lot of m/f romance dynamics, and I’m certainly not challenging its value. But something I loved about Hart and Mercy is that the characters catalyse these journeys for each other but, ultimately, they sort their own shit out. Mercy does not need Hart to fix her family’s business—the family fix their own business by talking to each other openly about what they all want and need—and Mercy is never expected to perform emotional labour for Hart. Through the act of loving each other they essentially free themselves and that is a beautiful, beautiful thing to watch unfold.
The other thing I found incredibly touching about their relationship is the degree to which communication plays such a significant role. Although, to be honest, there are a very few problems in this book that can’t be solved by a good faith attempt to communicate with someone else—which, again, I found kind of lovely. In any case, it is miscommunication that originally puts Hart and Mercy on the path to mutual hostility, letter-writing that brings them together, a lack of honesty on Hart’s part (he knows his anonymous correspondent is Mercy before she realises he is hers) that brings about their third act reversal, and honesty that brings them together again. Knowing Hart is … not lying exactly … to Mercy is a little difficult read, but it also feels true to where he is, emotionally speaking, at that point in the book. Something I had less patience for personally, though, was when Mercy told Hart she never wanted to see him again and then later complained that he didn’t love her enough to … I don’t even know what? Disregard her? Disrespect her wishes? Compromise her agency? This sudden requirement that Hart be telepathic was an odd note for me in a book that is so otherwise committed to the notion that love, whether it’s love of family, work, strangers, partners, is something you build deliberately and specifically in words and deeds, not something that just happens magically.
I’ve spent most of this rambling excuse for a review talking about Hart and Mercy, but I should also mention how much I enjoyed the side-characters too. From Mercy’s rambunctiously loving if not always entirely helpful family to the extremely camp magic owl who delivers the mail. Hart’s assistant, Penrose Duckers, is also a goofy delight although I wish his relationship with Mercy’s baked-good loving brother had been more fleshed out. Queerness is a very comfortable part of Mercy and Hart’s world, which I appreciated, but Duckers and Zedde basically take one look at each other and are then boyfriends? Obviously, they’re secondary characters (and mostly comedic secondary characters) so it makes sense their relationship wouldn’t / couldn’t have the depth of Hart and Mercy’s but it felt jarringly shallow. Especially, as discussed above, in the context of all the other complicated, messy loving relationships within the book. Of course, it’s totally fine for relationships to be shallow and I can see a reading of Duckers and Penrose as a celebration of connections that are nothing but banging and baked goods … except I also got the sense that I was being asked to take them seriously as long-term romantic partners. Which felt, honestly, unearned. I do half-wonder if they got stuck in a sort of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” twilight zone, in that if they’d been allowed to be young daft horny fuckbuddies (which is probably a more accurate reflection of their one-page connection—I mean, Zedde picks Duckers up with the line “well hello” like he’s Kenneth Williams or something) it might have looked like the book was implying queer relationships, or mlm relationships, were physically driven and superficial compared to non-queer ones. Although there is a happily married lesbian couple in the book so who knows?
Minor gripes aside, Hart and Mercy really is the most loving book, and its understanding of love so expansive and resilient that I teared up at about the 14% mark and later escalated to bawling on public transport. Given that it’s partially set in a funeral parlour and that Hart kills zombies for a living, death is also a major theme—but even death, in the context of this book, is a soft and loving thing, one that offers continuance, and opportunities for kindness, rather than merely the inevitability of ending. Emotions, in general, are handled with such tenderness here—especially, the unglamorous ones, like fear and, most significantly, loneliness. Not everything is easy in the world of Hart and Mercy, not everything is easy for Hart and Mercy either, but their story still felt like a safe space somehow. Somewhere that I myself could be a little vulnerable the way Hart learns to be. And that is such a gift of a thing for a book to give you.
PS - it’s also a genuinely funny book. I should have found a way to work that in earlier, but I was too deep in my feelings. But the levity is the perfect complement to the sweetness and some of the more wrenching moments. For example the phrase “horny illogic” has definitely made its into my personal idiolect.
✨A wild and resounding yes but also a wild and resounding what the fuck just happened.✨
I feel like I need to reread in order to really process my thoughts because I really can’t articulate why it worked for me but it absolutely did. Helen Hoang said it was a romance and that’s basically all I needed to know. I don’t really think anything can adequately prepare you for all of the feelings you’re going to feel, so just go into this understanding you’re going to understand nothing until you understand everything.
The closest thing I can compare this to is The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels meets You’ve Got Mail. The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy isn’t like The Wisteria Society at all but they’re also absolutely the same. Doesn’t make sense? Perfect. I want you confused, intrigued, and ready to risk it all for these two morbidly hot cinnamon rolls.
I laughed, I cried, I wondered aloud what I was reading several times, I blessed the rains down in Africa, I thanked the maker. Seriously, I really did cry. I did not think this book would make me cry. Oh how the turntables…
The romance hit me hard and Hart and Mercy really were the perfect enemies to lovers. There were talking animals, dead bodies (so many dead bodies), steamy scenes, and zombies. The world was both foreign, a bit dystopian, and definitely fantastical, but it also had enough snapshots of our normal life to ground my understanding. For example, Mercy read romance novels and loved bubble baths. It was cool to see how both worldviews were entwined, as you’re kinda just dropped into the story without extensive worldbuilding. Again, you’ll be confused until you’re not.
Overall, I’ll definitely be reading the next book by the author and will be forever happy I most assuredly judged this book by its (lovely) cover. Give this a read if you want to explore a romance maybe a tad out of your comfort zone! I guarantee the hart (see what I did there?) of the book is rooted in an extra sweet romance between two lost souls, looking for love in all decomped places.
Tropes - Found family - Enemies to lovers - Meet cute angry - You’ve Got Mail esque pen pals - Secondary romance - Workplace romance - He falls first - Hero is a boob guy - Grumpy/sunshine sidekick - Angry they find the other hot
Quotes I loved (may be slightly spoilery) ✨ “I’m sorry,” he sobbed. “I don’t want to hear ‘I’m sorry, Mercy’ or ‘I don’t deserve you, Mercy’ or ‘I hope you find someone else, Mercy’! I want to hear ‘I love you, Mercy’!”
✨ He spent a couple of hours finishing the copy of Enemies and Lovers that he had checked out from the library during his last visit to Herington. He figured that if he could no longer love Mercy in person, he could at least love her through the pages of her favorite novel.
✨ What was he supposed to say? I’m here to see your daughter to tell her that I’m her secret pen pal and I’m hoping against hope that she won’t hate me forever and might even want to have sex with me tonight?
✨ I want you to worship at the altar of my glorious ——————beautiful, intoxicating —————————pussy.
✨ That is enemy cleavage, he reminded himself.
*all quotes are subject to change
CWs: There is extensive talk about a dog who passed away in the past, death of loved ones, forensic type corpse descriptions
Thanks so much to the publisher for an eARC via NetGalley! All opinions are honest and my own.
3.5⭐️ These characters are definitely not like the ones I usually read about. For one, Hart is a demi-god and Mercy is an undertaker, which is just mortuary stuff…I think. They were the main characters but everyone was genuinely interesting and made the book more fun! Add this to the really cool magical world this is set in, and you’ve got yourself a pretty solid book.
Hart is not someone who easily opens up and we the readers are mostly the ones who know much about him until he starts to share more about himself anonymously. Bannen really did a great job with his character. He is complex and mysterious and obviously lonely. Mercy is not necessarily the sunshine to his grumpiness. She herself has devoted herself to her family business and has not really done a good job of taking care of herself. Their anonymous letters were really cute but I couldn’t vibe with them outside those letters. I get that there were misunderstandings as to why they didn’t really get along at first, but it still felt rushed for me.
After some series of events, I thought the story was going to end up being predictable, but Bannen surprised me with other details about the world and the life of the characters, and the ending was beautifully wholesome.
“You’ve Got Mail” is my favorite movie, so you would think I would love a book based on that same general premise (writing to someone you don’t know but grow to love, and who ends up being someone you do know that you sort of hate). But I really disliked this for that exact reason, much to my own dismay. I just kept waiting for Mercy and Hart to have that same love/hate chemistry like Kathleen and Joe had, and I was sadly disappointed. It just feels like a bad knock-off. I think if you haven’t seen You’ve Got Mail or you did and don’t watch it every year like I do, then chances are you’ll like this more than I did.
It annoyed Mercy to no end that after years of putting up with that insufferable marshal, some primal inner instinct continued to think he looked good enough to eat.
Well, I adored everything about this. Mercy and Hart are adorable, most of the side characters are hilarious and lovable and a constant nuisance in the best way, the world is fun and unique, the drudges (AKA zombies) are just present enough to keep things suspenseful without ever over-shadowing the romance, and the entire story is a mash-up of so many genres that I never thought it would work, but guess what? It works.
I was sucked in from the very first moment Mercy and Hart bickered at one another, and it never got old. Even when I just wanted them to get over their respective obliviousness and recognize what was happening between the two of them, I still found myself enjoying the arguing and angst and reluctant attraction so much. I feel like a lot of enemies-to-lovers stories don't always nail the ratio—either there's too much enemy content with a magical flip switching them to lovers, or they were never enemies to begin with!—but Megan Bannen perfectly showed the gradual shift from enemies to reluctant friends to hot, passionate romance.
I loved every minute of this book, friends. I tabbed this poor paperback half to death and already know it's going to be a well-worn copy in no time because this is the sort of story I can easily see myself revisiting very soon.
I was absolutely psyched when I read the description for this book. Make romance weirder and more imaginative! Make fantasy have more romance! I was hoping that this would be true love, but both the romance and fantasy parts fell under the “good, but not great” category for me. I had fun reading it, but it didn't sink its teeth into me like a ravenous zombie.
Surprisingly (and disappointingly), the You’ve Got Mail/The Shop Around the Corner element was the least successful part of the romance. For some reason, I did not expect the comparison to mean “swaths of this story are a literal remake of the inspiration text down to the dialogue.” It gave those parts of the book a fanfiction quality (derogatory). It can be fun to read scenes you’re familiar with play out in a different universe, but this didn’t feel elevated or special in its interpretation of those story beats.
On top of that, the novel takes the best part of You’ve Got Mail/The Shop Around the Corner—the shift from enmity to friendship to love—and collapses the timeline so the shift happens in mere pages. It also takes the part that is the toughest to palatably navigate—that he finds out the truth about their correspondence before she does—and blows it up to take more page space and make it an even greater source of conflict. And on top of that, I found the letters between Mercy and Hart to be pleasant and sweet, but fairly generic. They were not a stand-out in terms of what the epistolary format is capable of stirring emotionally.
Despite my qualms expressed above, I was still swept up by Mercy and Hart’s relationship when Megan Bannen wasn’t trying to fit them into marketing bullet points. There is such genuine affection and tenderness expressed throughout this book. Actual tears might have leaked from my Sahara-dry tear ducts?? It was easy to root for these characters and their happy ending.
(This 100% fits into genre romance parameters, in case that is a concern. The romantic arc is the central focus, there is on-page sex, and there is a HEA.)
I enjoyed the general flavour of the world Bannen constructed. It’s a fantastical setting with contemporary vibes—a place where underwire bras, bubble baths, and sneakers exist alongside portals to other realms, zombies, demigods, and talking animals who deliver the mail. But I hesitate to call what Bannen accomplishes world-building. It’s more like world-blueprinting.
The book goes in-depth in terms of some aspects like the belief system (it is very Game of Thrones with the Old Gods and the New and names like Grandfather Bones, The Warden, etc). Enough is explained as you move through the book that you understand the basic contours of the world. I didn’t feel lost, exactly. But I did feel undernourished. I would have liked more detail about the physical space and its occupants. For example, Bannen drops in words like “equimare” and “autoduck”; you can infer through context that they are this universe’s equivalent to horses and cars. However, if you asked me to describe an equimare I guess they are… vaguely scaly? Webbed-footed? As for autoduck, you got me. I mentally substituted in the Penguin’s giant rubber duck vehicle in Batman Returns in lieu of an in-text description. I hesitate to level this type of complaint given the current insufferable state of pop culture criticism (where fans demand an explanation for every single minutia of a story in sneering "but plot holes" commentary). However, I do think there is a way to achieve a happy medium between explaining too little or too much of a fantasy universe, and this book landed just on the side of underdeveloped.
Content notes for discussion of parental death (occurred prior to the story), mild violence and gore, and lots of (compassionately cared for) dead bodies.
Thank you to Orbit Books and NetGalley for the ARC. I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
At first glance, it gave me steampunky-western vibe? Mixed with magic portals and zombies? And I was like...is this a romance?
But the worldbuilding was so damn cool (and the cover so darn cute) I gave it a roll. Her worldbuilding immediately drew me in and I wanted to know more, and by the time they started exchanging letters, I was SHIPPING ALL OF THIS SO HARD. IT'S SO GOOD EVERYONE. I cried like a baby in the last 20% of the book and sighed with happiness when I closed it.
The enemies to lovers aspect was just delicious and the worldbuilding was fascinating! It kinda gave me Ilona Andrews levels of crunchy, deep-dive worldbuilding mixed with the super-satisfying romance. It's not out for a few months but if you like your romance with really intricate world building and plot, and you love a penpal romance mashed up with enemies to lovers and and and JUST ADD THIS TO YOUR LIST, SERIOUSLY.
For all the love this one is getting, sadly it was not one for me.
The balance of sweet lightheartedness vs the macabre was a valiant effort but one I couldn't believe all too well, with it instead feeling like a ricochet between the two. It made the emotions of our main two characters feel extreme and ever-changing as opposed to the complicated dynamic I assume was attempted. The timeframe didn't help either, with how quickly everything was acted upon.
It also seemed like the book was trying to do too much, with three main branches of issues - the demigod issue, the business issue, and the romance issue. None of these felt intense enough for me to be concerned, or fleshed out enough to understand why everyone was reacting the way they were. It was a weird one where everything just felt very surface level, so my interest just didn't really hook.
I think anyone who's a fan of the light fantasy rom-com vibe that seem popular in witchy books at the moment would like this one. Sadly just not for me though!
I’m back with another cozy fantasy/PNR book review! INJECT THEM ALL INTO MY VEINS! This is everything that I’ve been asking for because I LOVE fantasy settings but don’t often love how much brain power they require of me when it comes to plot and world-building. These romance-centric ones, like The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy, are perfect for me. This book in particular holds a special place on my bookshelf because I feel like it’s a book written for all the lonely readers out there.
What appealed to me the most about The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy was the comparison to You’ve Got Mail. Epistolary romances are my JAM. I may or may not have shamelessly begged the lovely publicist for a copy simply because of that. I just knew that I would inhale every word of this book and I DID. Both Hart and Mercy are lonely individuals and that loneliness seeps into every chapter of this book. When Hart, in need of a connection, writes an anonymous letter that winds up being delivered to his real-life nemesis, Mercy, it sets off a chain reaction that permanently alters his life. Their anonymous friendship was delightfully humorous and heartachingly sweet. Through the letters, they bond over their shared loneliness and loss, forging a deep connection. As a fellow lonely person, I was touched by the way Megan Bannen wrote about their alienation. I can’t even begin to describe the pangs felt reading some of the quotes in the book because they are that resonant.
Soon enough, they agree to meet-up in person, but when Hart realizes that it’s THE Mercy, he leaves without revealing himself. Hart and Mercy’s dynamic outside of their letters was even more intriguing because they did not get along. They were still attracted to each other, but anytime they were in the same environment, they were ready to off each other. As a reader who knows that they’ve been unknowingly writing to each other, it’s nothing short of comical watching them act like irritable clowns! It provides humor and lightness to the story that I appreciated.
I was also unhealthily obsessed with both Hart and Mercy as characters. Mercy has to be one of the coolest characters I’ve come across. She has taken over her elderly father’s undertaking business while also having to care for him, handling her siblings, and dealing with the possibility of losing the family business. She’s got a lot on her plate, but she wouldn’t really have it any other way because she loves her family and the work that she does. Despite all that she’s going through, she’s actually the human form of sunshine to everyone around her (besides Hart). She has this quiet strength that made me love her fiercely. I only wanted for her to find romantic love to add to the love she is showered by her family.
Of course, she finds that love in the very grouchy, very sad, Hart, who is a demigod and a marshal. His job is to wander the island to find drudges, which are zombie-like creatures that are not as cute and cozy as the rest of this book. Hart is a sad BOI who loves puppies (😭). It probably makes me a little bit of a masochist but there’s nothing more I enjoy than reading books about sad characters. It’s not the actual sadness I *enjoy*, but the journey to the characters finding happiness. Hart’s sadness are as a result of his job and the sheer number of losses he has faced. Yeah, he’s a cantankerous knob at times, but can you blame him? He’s so hard on himself and so self-deprecating that you can’t help but want for his life to change so he experiences at least an inkling of happiness. Have no fear! While Megan Bannen ushers him through hell and more in The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy, she ultimately ends his story on a pleasant and rewarding note.
What I like best about these cozy fantasy books is the focus on the different relationships. The secondary characters add even more warmth and coziness to this tale through their varying relationships with the protagonists. You have some very relatable family scenes, a boisterous new sidekick/apprentice who pushes all of Hart’s grumpy buttons, a ridiculously funny scene-stealing talking rabbit! The world itself is wacky and weird, integrating elements of the modern world with fantasy elements. I liked how naturally the world was built and how it never felt overwhelming. I left the book with a good sense of it which makes the writing very impressive in my eyes.
The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy is quirky, lovely, and all sorts of emotional. I really can’t recommend it enough and I hope that Megan Bannen writes more of these relationship/romance-centric cozy fantasies in the future. I’ll be seated!
I'm not sure I can round up on this one. But we'll see how I feel after I peck away at all my thoughts.
No word of a lie, it took about 40% of this book for me to get on board. And when I say on board I mean.. one foot on said board. I was like Jack, hanging off the edge, but at least I had stopped drifting, frozen, to the bottom in an attempt to escape. Because the entire beginning? I was | | close to a DNF. Or a one-star (though the final rating might not be much better!).
Beyond just not being able to grasp or picture this world (are they cars or part duck? why did it take me 80% to realize equimare was actually half horse half frog-like? did I miss that description or did it not get described at the outset..) and the combination of our world but not, and also fantasy, just did my head in. I appreciate we didn't get an info-dumpy explanation until it could be shoehorned in more naturally but I think this book is a perfect example of being Too Much and yet Too Little.
Speaking of which, someone, please, explain the boats thing to me. I started out lost about that and ended lost about it, too. Were they giant Viking-like boats? Miniatures? I swear it was explained both ways and I'm just.. well, honestly, don't bother explaining. Just know I don't get it. Back to me being unable to picture this world. It felt unfinished; like a sketched out concept that should've been fleshed out but wasn't. But maybe that's just me. Imma read some reviews after I finish this.
Also, listen, I love an epistolary novel but I have a love-hate with You've Got Mail (it's a concept that infuriates me when I think about the logistics but I can't help but still think of it fondly; but only in vibes and secondary characters, the romance is pure mess, but the drama of pining after someone who actually dislike is delicious). So the moment we shifted away from that? The happier I was. Because I enjoyed it when these two were together. I didn't like (or understand) the rationale for why they were hateful towards each other and, because of that, the switch flips too quickly. Almost.. instantly, if you will. Specifically for Mercy who, much like the aforementioned movie, is the last to know who Hart really is. His infatuation is gradual and makes total sense, though.
Which leads me into my Mercy issues. Her whole complaint about how her family just assumes everything about her and never asks.. well, missy, you never spoke up either! Frustrations like this are never one-sided and I lose sympathy with it more often than not. Additionally.. I hate to admit it but I only liked Mercy when she was with Hart. But that's not to say Hart was perfect! I wish there had been some acknowledgement about his mentor's failings or prejudice beyond the little drama that gets tied up with Hart's other friend. Mostly, I'm thinking about a line early on where he reflects on his mentor's observation that undertaker's like Mercy were greedy and opportunist. Did that ever get acknowledged as wrong? Once again, I can't recall. But, much like the waterhorse thing, maybe I missed it.
As for the other side characters? I would say most were just noise, either for some attempts at humour, or for added conflict, and I only really actually enjoyed two (Alma and Pen) and, of course, the dog. Truly, the only thing that really kept me engaged was the romance when it was romancey. So let's hope there's another romance -- one that is also weird but a weird I can get on board with! -- to come.
Because, yes, I think I would give this author another go. While I have nothing very effusive to say, neither was there anything dramatically terrible, and this might've just been a story-specific fail. So, yes, some good, some not-good, and thus it leaves us here.
Listen, I've seen You've Got Mail approximately 5000 times, so I was going to be into this almost no matter what. But on top of a story structure I love, I also enjoyed the bizarre dark-yet-whimsical world and the cozy family vibes
Review copy was received from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
I really enjoyed You've Got Mail when it came out and the idea, that if you talked to someone you knew and didn't like in person on paper or in emails would you feel differently. The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy was a play on this concept in a fantasy world where spirits who haven't crossed over sometime take over dead bodies and need to be dispatched.
Hart knows he is a Demigod; he just doesn't know who his real father is. When he met Mercy years ago, he was struck by her beauty but being the broken man/godling that he was, he totally screwed up their first meeting and managed to insult Mercy's life's work in just a few minutes and set them on a path of cold distain for years. Mercy, sometimes called Merciless by Hart runs an undertaking business. In this in-between place, called Tanria, where the demigods live in harmony with the humans and some interesting creatures, Mercy prepares people to cross over once they have left their mortal coil. People are kind enough to her, but it can be an icky job and let's face it death creeps out a lot of people. She took over helping the business at seventeen and in the last years she runs all the business after her father almost died. But when the plans for the business change, Mercy feels a bit lost and longing for someone to see her in all of this.
Hart is a marshal, out in Tanria, protecting it from the reanimated corpses that sometimes enter the area. Business has been busy lately too, where are all these Drudges coming from? He is lonely and has isolated himself from almost everyone who used to care about him. One night, he pens a letter to 'A Friend' hoping that someone out there might get him and how he is feeling. The postal service picks the letter up and delivers it to none other than Mercy, also in need of a desperate friend. This makes sense as the mail is delivered by former messengers to the gods who currently take to form of talking animals. As they both confide in each other their woes and such something beautiful starts to blossom between them.
I liked this story overall. The world is interesting, I liked Mercy and her crazy family who I wish just saw her a little better. Hart, when he wasn't being a broken mess of a man is so heartfelt and kind. I could see why the two of them belonged together. Mercy helps Hart understand why he has put so many at arms length and helps him begin to open up again to the possibilities of friendships and more. Hart sees Mercy and her hopes and dreams that sometimes her family just accidentally takes for granted. I liked how they bolstered each other.
There is a side story on why there are so many Drudges coming out of the woodworks and why Mercy's undertaking business is so attractive to the competition that they want to buy it out. I liked how all of those items played out on the side of the romance to keep the story going. Hart's eventual meeting with his dad was really well done and made perfect sense to who he was and the gifts he had.
Overall a good romance with a smidge of fantasy on the side. Based on this book, I'd check out some of the authors other works. Narration: I always appreciate having multiple narrators when there are different PoVs Michael Gallagher and Rachanee Lumayno felt perfect for their respective roles. Rachanee captured both Mercy's strength and loneliness even through she is surrounded by family and Michael Gallagher was able to perform Harts PoV so the reader empathized with the decisions he made and his longing and fear to belong to something or someone. I was able to listen at my usual 1.5x speed.
This was delightful! And not what I was expecting. It's basically You've Got Mail, but with a grumpy demigod and undertaker he hates working with.
Set in a macabre and whimsical world where your soul is located in your appendix and reanimated corpses are a real problem, this contentious pair ends up sending anonymous letter that are magically delivered and an unlikely romance develops. It's very cute and has funny family moments of teasing and internal drama. This really follows the plot beats of You've Got Mail (one scene actually lifts some direct dialogue which I'm kind of side-eyeing) and you know? It works! It's fun and cozy and surprisingly sweet. There is a third-act breakup and I wanted more of a grovel from the hero, but it mostly sold me on the ending. Regardless, this brought me joy when I really needed it after reading a book I was not a fan of and can't talk about for several weeks! Thank you to Libro.FM for the audio influencer copy. All opinions are my own.
if courtney milan had a baby with zombieland this would be it
no, but truly, if you enjoyed hold me by courtney milan but wanted to read a fantasy romcom, you definitely need the undertaking of hart and mercy. the way this book had me in a chokehold!!!! enemies to lovers who suddenly become anonymous pen pals but still hate each other in real life. yes sir yes sir.
meet an undertaker heroine who is sunshine and bright colors who hates a grumpy, lonely hero who k!lls zombie-like creatures in this hilarious fantasy romance! im obsessed with hart because he worships mercy so much, like the way he loves her so fully, so completely, he really can't live without her and omg when you're on his pov it's so emotional. PLUS THIS IS KINDA SEXY TOOOOO like pls orbit really went there im so happy!
I'm a big fan of original plots, quirky characters, and solid writing.
Happily I can say that the book had it all. I especially enjoyed the developing friendship and then romantic relationship between the couple - I'm such a sucker for romance.
The writing was right up my alley, except for some parts here and there that I skimmed - don't ask me why, I couldn't even explain why my attention floundered at times. Overall, I was impressed by the original and very solid storytelling. And I wouldn't say no to a sequel or another book in this world.
Well done!!! ___________________________________ I received a copy of this book from the publisher for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.
The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy is one of those lovely books that almost defies description. I mean, you can say the words You've Got Mail with extradimensional zombies—but then you'd also have to add "but it's really cute, actually, and the hard-drinking anthropomorphic rabbit that delivers the mail is probably my favourite character, and—"
You know what, I'll start from the beginning.
Hart Ralston hunts zombies and delivers bodies to the undertaker to keep them from being possessed. Mercy Birdsall is a young undertaker holding together her family's business by sheer willpower. They despise one another, and the banter regularly proves it. But when the two of them accidentally become secret pen-pals, they each begin to fall in love with the mystery person behind their new anonymous letters.
Dramatic irony drips from every page of this book—and I mean that in the best way. It makes a few clear homages to the 1940s film The Shop Around the Corner (or its remake, You've Got Mail—I normally reference the remake to people since it's better known, but I suppose I should admit that I haven't seen the later one!). Every time Hart and Mercy start sniping at each other or trying to hide their latest heartfelt anonymous letter from someone, I found myself chuckling at them. It didn't matter that it was such a simple plot device; I just plain enjoyed it. Add in some fantastically strange world-building, some zombie attacks, and some sarcastic divine mailmen, and you've got a fantastic book that is still, yes, almost impossible to describe.
Death plays an outsized role in the story, given the somewhat tragic zombies and Mercy's job as an undertaker—but it's handled with empathy and respect, and I came away from the book feeling pleasantly existential. This was a lovely, macabre fantasy romance about life, death, and Actually Living. I cried twice and smiled plenty. All in all, I'd highly recommend it.
One Liner: Entertaining but go with the right expectations
Hart is a marshal with the dangerous job of patrolling the wilds of Tanria and preventing dredges from attacking the citizens. Mercy is an undertaker, solely managing Birdsall & Son Undertakers despite the obstacles.
Hart and Mercy can’t stand each other. They seem to bring out the worst in the other (do we see sparks flying?). However, they have more in common than they like to think. Both are lonely and pretty much have no life beyond their jobs.
When Hart’s letter to an unknown friend reaches Mercy, she responds to it without knowing the sender's identity. Though a tentative friendship is born between them, things could go either way once the truth is revealed.
What’s more, Tanria seems to be under attack by dredges coming out of nowhere. Why is there a sudden increase in cases? Who is responsible for this? How does it affect Hart and Mercy? What about their feelings for each other?
The story comes from a limited third-person perspective of Mercy and Hart.
What I Like:
The narration is lighthearted and sprinkled with some bittersweet moments. There isn’t any descriptive prose or lyrical imagery. Though I’m a fan of both, I like that the narrative style suited the storyline and the cover.
The side characters are an absolute treat. No kidding. I love them (except for Nathan and another guy). The main characters are decent, though they sometimes act less mature for their age.
There’s food in the book, sweet treats and desserts (which is always a plus). It’s the men who cook while the ladies enjoy the delicious servings.
The letters could have been better, but I preferred the toned-down version. It also helps that I didn’t even think of You’ve Got Mail. The letters suit the characters (who aren’t philosophical), so no complaints.
There are quite a few weird, funny, and eye-roll-inducing moments. The overall effect is satisfactory, which is important to me.
What Didn’t Work for Me:
The pacing is super slow. A 336-page shouldn’t feel like a 450-page book. It took me four days to read this book (even when the prose is easy). I deleted 0.2 stars for this.
The world-building goes a little on and off, and the same happens to the terminology as well. The contemporary slang doesn’t always suit the unidentifiable fantasy period. After all, they are writing letters to each other, and there’s no mention of phones (wired/ wireless).
The shift from enemies to lovers is a little too abrupt. Sure sparks are flying, but the transition needs to be smooth.
A few threads didn’t seem to conclude properly, especially the Bill part. I won’t elaborate, but it could have been handled better.
To sum up, The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy is an entertaining read if you plod through the slow pace and ignore a few bumps. Don’t compare it to You’ve Got Mail or expect heavy stuff.
Thank you, NetGalley, Little, Brown Book Group UK, and Orbit Books, for the eARC. This review is voluntary and contains my honest opinion about the book.
PS: The book has steam of 2ish level and cuss words (including F-bombs).
The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy tries to do a lot of things--to be romantic, to be poignant, to be funny--and it's not that it fails at those things, exactly, but that it doesn't quite succeed at them, either.
On paper, The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy is a novel that should've been--and that I very much expected to be--an instant favourite. But the execution really let me down here. It attempts a lot, but the writing just doesn't sustain or hold up all the things it's attempting. First, the romance: again, on paper all the elements were there, but in practice they didn't come together--which is a shame, because it really was poised to be such a great romance. For one, there's the fact that it's based on You've Got Mail, which is one of my all time favourite movies. For another, it's also such a great setup in general: the enemies-to-lovers, epistolary-romance, dramatic-irony of it all. For me, though, it didn't quite work. I didn't really get why the characters hated each other--the novel does eventually tell us why, but its explanation felt flimsy and not very believable given that these characters have disliked each other for 4 whole years--and then when they did stop hating each other, it felt way too abrupt and not organic enough of a development. The novel spends a lot of time in the beginning setting up the characters' letters to each other, and the letters were nice, but nothing about them really struck me as especially moving or special either. The word I keep reaching for is generic: the letters were nice, sure, but they just never surprised or moved me in any way. (That the romance is inspired by/retells You've Got Mail doesn't do the novel any favours because You've Got Mail does it all--the setup, the characters, the dialogue, the conflict, the resolution--so much better.) (Then again it is one of my all time favourite movies, so a lot to live up to there, I guess.)
What I felt about the romance--that it was lackluster, that it was more than a bit disappointing--I pretty much felt about the rest of the novel. The worldbuilding was fine, the plot was fine, but neither elicited anything in particular from me, and they both felt a bit cobbled together in their execution. Had I been more invested in the romance, I wouldn't have minded the weak worldbuilding or plot--I can forgive a novel a lot if I feel drawn to its characters and/or their relationships--but because I wasn't, those weaker elements stood out to me all the more.
I think what it comes down to for me is that this novel was really missing a strong sense of narrative voice. (Or maybe that its narrative voice just wasn't to my taste.) Frankly, I don't care about the plot or worldbuilding stuff all that much--or at least, I only care about it up to a point. What I'm really here for is the characters, and I just didn't feel like these characters were that distinct or impressionable. I could tell what The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy was trying to do as a novel, but at the same time I could also tell that what it was trying to do wasn't working for me. I can see this novel working for a lot of readers--and again, it wasn't a complete write-off for me--but as a whole it just lacked that strong sense of personality that's at the forefront of the kind of books that I tend to love.
Thanks so much to Orbit for providing me with an e-ARC of this via NetGalley!
Is this a romance or is it a dystopian about stabbing appendixes and wrapping decaying bodies in salt and ghosts taking possession of dead bodies? Somehow it’s perfectly, wonderfully, BOTH!
I seriously LOVED this love story. This is one of my favorite books of the year, gobbled this mess up, pre-ordering a copy now to reread later because this is a definite rereading kind of book.
Hart is a six foot nine marshal that stabs zombies and drags their rotting corpses to Mercy, an undertaker who salts her dead and sings incantations over them before respectfully setting them off to their final destination. And they absolutely HATE each other. *cheers in dystopian*
The loathing is real. The loneliness is real. The way these two open up to each other anonymously through letters and fall for each other is SO REAL! With all these palpable feelings all around, this book is an easy read even if you don’t understand WTF is actually happening. Old gods, appendixes, demigods, keys, salt sea, mists!? It took a long time for me to get my bearings on what the actual hell this world was, but Mercy and Hart(!OMG THIS DEMIGOD MAN!) are such interesting characters with so much chemistry, I didn’t care. And when they fall for each other I melted and swooned and cheered and sighed. The heart of this story is romance, and THAT I could definitely follow.
❤️Epistolary romance ❤️Enemies to lovers ❤️Funny side characters ❤️You’ve Got Mail vibes ❤️Squishy sensitive hero ❤️Fiery strong heroine
But also 🧟♂️Zombies 🧟♂️Rabbit god mail carrier who cusses nonstop 🧟♂️So. Many. Dead. Bodies. 🧟♂️Lots of stabbing. And death. And then more stabbing. 🧟♂️More zombies.
So just buckle up and be prepared for the weirdest world ever with the hard but secretly SQUISHIEST MARSHMALLOW OF A MAN and the yellow dressed angsty badass undertaker who bear their souls without knowing they’re actually each other’s nemesis 😭🎉 Seriously, this book is incredible and I will rant about it’s weirdness for all my days.
ARC was provided by the publisher, review is my own!
This book might be starting my cozy fantasy romance era. The grumpy x sunshine, the exploration of loneliness and the sheer love in it made my heart ache. it's a perfect mix of whimsical, macabre and funny. RTC!
Absolutely the cutest zombie book we've ever read. Not a single word of that is written in irony. Not only is this a zombie book, it's an enemies-to-lovers epistolary romance set in a fantasy world that is just different enough from our own to make it wonderfully familiar and at the same time skewed. This is the first book in a long time that made us stay up past our bedtime to read. It's funny, it's cute, it makes you think about the inevitable mortality awaiting each human being's existence, AND there is some mild spice. Apparently it is exactly what we wanted to read right now.
Did we laugh? Yes. Did we cry? Also yes. Did we love this mashup of romance tropes and gaslamp-ish fantasy? DUH. This was a total book binge and we loved every second of it.
Meg: A stinking cute romance between a zombie hunter and an undertaker!
Laine: Enemy has a great rack and a cute dog, how inconvenient.
This objective review is based on a complimentary copy of the novel.