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Thursday, August 11, 2022

The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen (reviewed by Shazzie)


Pre-order The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy over HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFO: Megan Bannen is a former public librarian whose YA debut The Bird and the Blade was an Indies Introduce Summer/Fall 2018 pick, a Summer 2018 Kids’ Indie Next List pick, and a Kirkus Best YA Historical Fiction of 2018 pick. While most of her professional career has been spent behind the reference desk, she has also sold luggage, written grants, collected a few graduate degrees from various Kansas universities, and taught English at home and abroad. She lives in the Kansas City area with her husband and their two sons. 

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: 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?

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Do you like small-town vibes, and an enemies-to-lovers romance in a quirky fantasy setting, in a book that is about so much more than just the romance, but the romance is done in such an endearing way?

I read a lot of epic fantasy books both YA and adult, and throw in the occasional romance book, or non-SFF reads to cleanse my palate. I generally flip through the pages of the lighter fantasy book in a few days and leave it at that. But I heard so much about this book from Kelecto @Panediting) and Nils, from The Fantasy Hive, who loved it. If you are familiar with Nils' reviews, this is the first time I've heard praise for a book that focuses on a romantic relationship.

The book is set in a town called Tanria, in the island of Bushsong, filled with wonder, and death. Like Mercy, who takes on the responsibilities of the family business after her father falls ill, there are undertakers who are tasked with giving a dignified farewell to the corpses brought in by Marshals. Hart is one of the marshals tasked with keeping the people of Tanria safe from the drudges, Megan's twist of zombies, that are always looking for new humans to infect. Hart takes a considerable number of the corpses to Birdsall and Son, Mercy's family business, and this is where the book starts off.

"It was, is, and will always be an infinite loop of fated and mutual dislike."

Hart and Mercy find each other utterly unbearable, and spare no effort in letting each other know exactly how despicable they find the other. One day, out of sheer loneliness, Hart writes an anonymous letter that reaches Mercy, who replies. And this starts off a series of letters where they bare their soul to each other.

Through the letters, and the different chapters written in each of their points of view, Megan strategically shows us that there is more to them than on the surface. When they meet in person, they are really mean to each other. If anybody talked to me the way either of them did to the other, I don't think it would even be a second before I burst into the most uncontrollable flood of tears possible. Over time, and through the first half of the book, this situation changes with the kind of slow-burn that I like to see in books.

"I am taking advice from a drunk rabbit."

As an epic-fantasy lover, I tend to look for fantastical elements in every story, but the characterization here was just so compelling, that for the most part, I didn't really care about the magical aspects in this book, which are plenty. There are the zombie-like drudges looking for more human hosts, Old Gods and the New, and the mail-delivering nimkilim, which were my favourite parts of the story. But what I really cared about what Hart and Mercy, and how they got on throughout the book.

"Maybe lots of people are walking through their days, lonely as can be and believing no one understands what it's like. That's not a very cheering thought, is it?"

Each of the chapters from their respective points of view were so well-written that I couldn't help but wildly oscillate my sympathy toward the one in focus. The depiction of their grief and loneliness was lovely, and I wanted Mercy to be able to do things for herself instead of being the responsible older sister and think about her dreams and desires instead of working to the bone for everybody else, and I wanted Hart to open up to more people and live a little.

Through the course of the book, there are parts of each of their personal lives and interactions with Mercy's family and Hart's apprentice and chief that show their past and present. These were my favourite additions to the romance and their growth, and ones that I wholeheartedly loved. It was heartwarming to see that the people in their lives wanted the best for them as individuals, but also supported their relationship, and offered sane advice without causing any unnecessary conflicts. How many books does that happen in?

My only problem with this book was that the pacing was done in a way that did not make the timeline of events clear. The story takes place over a considerable amount of time, but it was narrated with an almost breakneck pace that left me constantly wondering why things happened so fast, and unaware of the amount of time that passed between, and even within a chapter.

CONCLUSION: If you like romance stories with fantastical elements, characters that grow individually, and together, without being insulated from the rest of their lives, an incredible exploration of grief and loneliness in a quirky setting, and a book that does not have drama for drama's sake, then look no further. The Undertaking Of Hart And Mercy has it all, and has plenty to appeal for those who like with Darcy and Captain Wentworth. This should be your next quick, fun read.



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