The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy
Pub Date: 23 August 2022
Genre: Fantasy Romance (Romantasy)
Hart Ralston is a demigod and a marshal, tasked with patrolling the wasteland of Tanria. The realm the exiled old gods once called home is now a forsaken place where humans with no better options or no better sense come seeking adventure or spoils, but more often end up as drudges: reanimated corpses inhabited by the souls of those who’ve died in Tanria before. Hart tells himself that his job is simple: neutralize the drudges with a quick zap to the appendix and deliver them back to polite society at the nearest undertaker’s, leaving the whys and hows of the drudge problem for men without the complexities of a god in their family tree. But working alone, Hart’s got nothing but time to ponder exactly those questions he’d most like to avoid.
Too much time alone is the opposite of Mercy Birdsall’s problem. Since her father’s decline, she’s been single-handedly keeping Birdsall & Son undertakers afloat in small-town Eternity—despite definitely not being a son, and in defiance of sullen jerks like Hart Ralston, who seems to have a gift for showing up right when her patience is thinnest. The work’s not the problem—Mercy’s good at it, better than any other Birdsall—but keeping all her family’s plates spinning singlehandedly, forever, isn’t how Mercy envisioned her future.
After yet another run-in with the sharp-tongued Mercy, Hart considers she might have a point about his utter loneliness being a bit of a liability. In a moment of sentimentality, he pens a letter addressed simply to “A Friend,” and entrusts it to a nimkilim, an anthropomorphic animal messenger with an uncanny connection to the gods, (and in Hart’s case, a bit of a drinking problem). 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 two unlikely pen pals grow closer, the truth about Hart’s parentage and the nature of the drudges creeps in. And suddenly their old animosity seems so small in comparison to what they might be able to do: end the drudges forever. But at what cost?
⚠️ CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNINGS
Parental abandonment, physical injuries including gunshot wounds, emesis, heart attack recounted, dead bodies, grief & loss depiction, death of a father recounted, death of a mother from cancer recounted, death of a grandparent from a stroke, attempted murder, animal death recounted (dog)
TL;DR: The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy is an entertaining, hilariously quirky and slightly morbid fantasy romance mixed with so many well-executed rom-com elements. This curious world sucked me in and the characters had me falling head-over-feet for them and I had such a hard time putting this down when it came time to fall asleep! I would definitely recommend it to those who love the hate-to-love/enemies-to-lovers trope, delicious emotional angst, all the grumpy/sunshine vibes in both romance and friendship, strong family banter and MCs who are so very easy to love.
Countless people told me that I was sure to love this romantasy and they weren’t wrong. I’m upset that it took me so long to read it but I’m glad that I finally picked it up on a whim yesterday because omgoodness, I adored it so very much! 😍 I don’t often re-read books but the minute I finished this I immediately missed these characters and wanted to dive back in again. Thank you in advance for reading this essay I wrote! 😂
Bannen swept me away to this weirdly quaint and macabre world where zombie-like creatures existed alongside portals to lands that served as a magical prison for Gods. The setting was a mix of old-fashioned historical western and magical modern quirkiness that sounds like such an odd combination but really worked so well for this story—it’s unlike any fantasy romance setting I’ve read before which made it so much more fun to read. Although the world-building was pretty light, I liked that it wasn’t so complex that I’d get lost in the intricacies but it was still enough for me to get a clear picture of what was happening, where and why. This had a mystery element too and though it was kind of predictable and only played a minor-ish role in pushing forward the romance and character development, it was still fun to figure it out.
As intriguing as the world-building is, the characters are 100% what won me over and I knew I would love all of them—main and side characters alike, the moment we are introduced to them! 💜
Mercy was absolutely wonderful! She has such a big heart and has so much love and kindness to share with everyone. She’s the oldest child and has worked tirelessly to support her family, from helping raise her siblings when their mum passed to now handling the family business since her dad got sick. Although everyone assumes she’s being held back from “living her life” due to these obligations, she actually loves being an undertaker and it was such a pleasure to read about her passion for providing people with the best care she can give them even if they’re no longer alive to see it. She’s selfless, which often meant she puts her wants and needs last, but her responsibilities also made her feel a little lonely and friendless. She is an easy character to admire and I loved her sunshine positivity!
“Oh. It’s you,” she said, the words and the unenthusiastic tone that went with them dropping off her tongue like a lead weight. Hart resisted the urge to grind his molars into a fine powder. “Most people start with hello.”
“Hello, Hart-ache,” she sighed.
In total grumpy contrast to her is Hart. He is a super-sad and super-lonely demigod and honestly, that romance hero archetype is absolutely my kryptonite so it’s safe to say that I LOVED him. He’s lost so many loved ones in his life and is understandably jaded because of it, but it’ll surprise no one to know that under his gruffness, Hart is an ooey-gooey softy who’s scared to live his life (in case he lives forever and has to lose everyone he loves all over again—y’know, immortality and all that jazz), and yet he craves the comfort of companionship though he doesn’t know how to show it. As much as I loved Mercy and her personal growth, I was most invested in Hart’s because he’s so harsh on himself but he deserves so much happiness and it was so satisfying to see him open up thanks to Mercy and Duckers entering his life. I honestly didn’t expect to get so emotionally invested but by the end of this book, I was full-on weeping (yes, I am a crier in general but it’s been a while, okay)!
And aah, don’t even get me started on their romance! It was everything! Totally *chefs kiss!* and I feel head-over-feet for these love birds! 💜 If you are a fan of the hate-to-love trope, with plenty of “I loathe this person and yet I can’t keep my eyes off them or stop thinking about them” vibes, then you’re for sure going to love the dynamic between Hart and Mercy. They both come in hot with slinging insults at each other and their snippy hate-filled banter is just as good as their friendship-turned-lovers banter! The emotional, physical and sexual tension was palpable each time they met and it created such delightfully angsty moments that had me questioning if they were going to take swipes at each other or launch themselves at each other for what we know will be a devastating kiss. Plus, knowing that they’re unwittingly writing to one another and cracking their chests wide open in those letters only served to ratchet up the tension and I loved every second of it! 😍 If you enjoy epistolary stories or mixed media formats, then you’ll enjoy the inclusion of their letters in this. The vulnerability, the cheeky banter, and the comforting connection they formed all came through so well in these letters and let me tell you, that last one had me seriously ugly crying, negl! 😂
“Bassareus regarded Hart, studied the bottle in his hand, then turned his attention back to Hart. “She must be a hot piece of ass.”
“You look like a rabbit, but you’re actually a pig, aren’t you?” Hart said, making it clear that this was a statement, not a question.”
Aside from our two wonderful MCs, the side characters all won me over too. Mercy’s family is delightfully weird and wonderful and it was such a blast to read all their interactions. They’re small but loud, rambunctious, and so full of life! I also adored Pen Duckers—Hart’s apprentice and the one who starts injecting more joy and life into Hart’s world. Their connection was all sorts of heartwarming and together they not only made a great team but also a little family unit that made my heart so happy. I can’t forget to mention the nimkilim Horatio and Bassareus, the latter who was shockingly and vulgar but it was so comical and somehow fitting for this giant magical rabbit’s personality. 😂 Honestly, so many of the characters and their dynamics in this book were hilarious and had me cracking up! This book was a lot funnier than I thought it’d be which just made reading Bannen’s writing all the more enjoyable to read.
I can really go on about this book but long story short is that I absolutely loved it, couldn’t put it down, want to go back to these characters immediately, and would highly recommend it to all of those who love romance and aren’t afraid to get it with a lite dose of fantasy. This is definitely one of my favourites this year (yes, I really loved it that much). Please read it! 💜
Have you read The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy or is it on your TBR?