Book Review: The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Orbit (August 23, 2022)
Length: 336 pages
I read The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy while on vacation which worked out well, for I was in the mood for something light, fun and casual, and as everyone knows there’s nothing quite like a quirky fantasy romance to hit the spot. It’s a story that feels very much like a 90s romantic comedy with You’ve Got Mail coming immediately to mind, and in fact some of the similarities and references to the film are just too overt for it not to be a direct inspiration.
The book begins with an introduction to Mercy Birdsall, the daughter of an undertaker. Ever since her father took ill she has been running the family business, even though ownership of the funeral home has traditionally been passed from father to son. However, Mercy’s brother Zeddie, who should have been going to school learning about undertaking, has just confessed to her about flunking all of his classes, leaving our protagonist in a jam. She loves what she does and would love nothing more than to take over the business especially now that Zeddie has bowed out, but she’s not sure her father would agree. Complicating matters is the fact that a competitor has also been sniffing around, looking to buy them out.
Meanwhile, patrolling the wilds are the Marshalls of Tanria, tasked to dispatch the zombie-like reanimated lost souls known as drudges. After the malevolent spirits are driven out their bodies, the hollowed-out shells of drudges must be brought to an undertaker to be prepared for the afterlife. Marshall Hart Ralson has been doing what he does for a long time, and one of the least pleasant parts of his job is visiting Birdsall & Son, where his least favorite undertaker Mercy works. Ever since their disastrous first meeting, the two of them have not stopped trading insults and barbs every time they meet.
But one day, driven by loneliness and the insistent prodding of his new apprentice, Hart decides to put his feelings into words by writing an anonymous letter and dropping it off in a mailbox. Little did he know, the letter would make it to the last person he would have expected, and that a special relationship would come out of it.
If you’re looking for a popcorny read that’s equal parts adorable and romantic, there’s a good chance The Undertaking of Mercy and Hart would be right up your alley. Extra bonus if you’re a fantasy reader who can appreciate the whimsical elements in the worldbuilding, though I wouldn’t say it’s the novel’s main selling point. I liked the paranormal aspects and some of the more unique ideas the author had, but at the end of the day, it’s the relationships that are at the heart of this story.
From the beginning, it was obvious that Mercy would become Hart’s secret pen pal, and that a romance would be the result, making this a hate-to-love romance. Fans of these kinds of stories will delight in the way the two characters continue to chafe at each other, while in reality there is a whole other life in which they are growing closer through their letters. Yes, it’s cheesy. Yes, it’s a bit contrived. I’ll also be the first to admit execution wasn’t perfect and thought that ultimately the way Hart and Mercy came together was too forced and artificial. Mercy’s character also annoyed me frequently, and her attitude would often rub me the wrong way, making her resulting change of heart towards her relationship with Hart feel like a flip of a switch.
But all of this comes with the territory when picking up a book like The Undertaking of Mercy and Hart. It’s intended to be alight and airy read, not to be taken too seriously. I had no idea what to expect when I started, but the aspects of storytelling, characters, and world-building were better and more impressive than I had anticipated for a romance fantasy, and I found it very entertaining.