Book Review: The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen

The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy
Publisher: Orbit
Pub Date: 23 August 2022
Genre: Fantasy Romance (Romantasy)

Panda Rating:

(5 pandas)

📖 SYNOPSIS

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.
“Hello, Merciless.”

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?

Book Review: King of Battle and Blood by Scarlett St. Clair

Goodreads: King of Battle and Blood (Adrian X Isolde #1)
Published: 30 November 2021
Genre: Fantasy Romance (Romantasy)

Panda Rating:

(4 pandas)

Their Union Is His Revenge.

Isolde de Lara considers her wedding day her death day. To end a years-long war, she is to marry vampire king, Adrian Aleksandr Vasiliev, and kill him. ⠀

But her assassination attempt is thwarted and Adrian threatens that if Isolde tries kill him again, he will raise her as the undead. Faced with the possibility of becoming the thing she hates most, Isolde seeks other ways to defy him and survive the brutal vampire court. ⠀

Except it isn’t the court she fears most—it’s Adrain. Despite their undeniable chemistry, she wonders why the king——fierce, savage, merciless—chose her as consort. ⠀

The answer will shatter her world.

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Book Review: The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

Goodreads: The Wolf and the Woodsman
Published: 08 June 2021
Genre: Fantasy, Romance

Panda Rating:

(3.5 pandas)

In her forest-veiled pagan village, Évike is the only woman without power, making her an outcast clearly abandoned by the gods. The villagers blame her corrupted bloodline—her father was a Yehuli man, one of the much-loathed servants of the fanatical king. When soldiers arrive from the Holy Order of Woodsmen to claim a pagan girl for the king’s blood sacrifice, Évike is betrayed by her fellow villagers and surrendered.

But when monsters attack the Woodsmen and their captive en route, slaughtering everyone but Évike and the cold, one-eyed captain, they have no choice but to rely on each other. Except he’s no ordinary Woodsman—he’s the disgraced prince, Gáspár Bárány, whose father needs pagan magic to consolidate his power. Gáspár fears that his cruelly zealous brother plans to seize the throne and instigate a violent reign that would damn the pagans and the Yehuli alike. As the son of a reviled foreign queen, Gáspár understands what it’s like to be an outcast, and he and Évike make a tenuous pact to stop his brother.

As their mission takes them from the bitter northern tundra to the smog-choked capital, their mutual loathing slowly turns to affection, bound by a shared history of alienation and oppression. However, trust can easily turn to betrayal, and as Évike reconnects with her estranged father and discovers her own hidden magic, she and Gáspár need to decide whose side they’re on, and what they’re willing to give up for a nation that never cared for them at all. 

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Book Review: The Bridge Kingdom by Danielle L. Jensen

Goodreads: The Bridge Kingdom (The Bridge Kingdom #1)
Published: 09 June 2020
Genre: Fantasy Romance (Romantasy)

Panda Rating:

(5 pandas)

A warrior princess trained in isolation, Lara is driven by two certainties. The first is that King Aren of the Bridge Kingdom is her enemy. And the second is that she’ll be the one to bring him to his knees.

The only route through a storm-ravaged world, the Bridge Kingdom enriches itself and deprives its rivals, including Lara’s homeland. So when she’s sent as a bride under the guise of peace, Lara is prepared to do whatever it takes to fracture its impenetrable defenses. And the defenses of its king.

Yet as she infiltrates her new home and gains a deeper understanding of the war to possess the bridge, Lara begins to question whether she’s the hero or the villain. And as her feelings for Aren transform from frosty hostility to fierce passion, Lara must choose which kingdom she’ll save… and which kingdom she’ll destroy.

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Cover Reveal: Royal Captive by Heather Frost

Hello, friends! I’m excited to be sharing the cover reveal for Royal Captive, the third book in the Fate of Eyrinthia series by Heather Frost. I’m quite excited to see what happens next in this series and I can’t wait to get me hands on it when it’s out next year! And isn’t this cover just stunning!? 😍

Check out my reviews for Royal Spy and Royal Decoy!

Publication Date: 18 March 2022
Genre: Fantasy Romance (Romantasy)

A DECOY trapped in a dangerous lie
A SERJAH searching for the truth
A PRINCE caught in a deadly game
A WORLD choked by secrets

Abducted during a devastating ambush, Clare is now the captive of ruthless mercenaries. Dragged through the wilderness while grieving heart-rending loss, she must maintain the illusion that she is the princess. Because if she lets the mask slip, even for a moment, the Mortisians will have no reason to keep her alive.

After arresting traitors close to the crown, Desfan fights to rebuild his court, knowing that the imminent arrival of the Devendran princess will further upset the precarious balance in Mortise. But Desfan’s world is rocked when he discovers a rumor that rewrites the most devastating event in his life. He will stop at nothing to find the truth–no matter where it leads.

As Grayson struggles to find his footing in Mortise, he discovers new friends and enemies. His life is further complicated by the tenuous alliance with his spymaster brother. With secrets deepening around him, Grayson must decide where his loyalties truly lie. Through it all, his heart remains in Ryden with Mia. Unfortunately, his love for her is no secret, and the Black Hand is a coveted weapon . . .

Eyrinthia holds its breath as allies and enemies collide. Secrets. Lies. Betrayals. Nothing will be the same.

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ARC Review: Once More Upon a Time by Roshani Chokshi

Special thanks to Sourcebooks Casablanca for providing an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review!

Goodreads: Once More Upon a Time
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Published: 05 October 2021
Genre: Romance Fantasy

Panda Rating:

(4 pandas)

Once upon a dream, there was a prince named Ambrose
and a princess named Imelda who loved each other…
But alas, no more.
“What a witch takes, a witch does not give back!”
their friends and family warn.
They resign themselves to this loveless fate…
A year and a day pass.
And then their story truly begins…

Embark on a perilous journey with Imelda and Ambrose as they brave magical landscapes and enchanted creatures on their quest to reclaim their heart’s desire… But first they must remember what that is..

This was another wonderful (and super fast) buddy read with Julie @ One Book More! 😍 Chokshi is an author I’ve been meaning to check out for a while now and this small taste has convinced me I’ll enjoy her work!


TL;DR: Once More Upon a Time was a great novella that has great fairytale vibes! Despite being so short, it feels like a fully formed story with a fantastical setting, a journey full of magical creatures and adventure, and a good dose of romance. This has a sweet HEA that brings the story around full circle and I loved it! 😍

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Goodreads Monday – The Bridge Kingdom by Danielle L. Jensen

Welcome back to Goodreads Monday! It’s been a very hot minute since I did one but I figured I might as well get back into it! This weekly meme was started by @Lauren’s Page Turners and it invites you to pick a book from your TBR and explain why you want to read it. Easy enough, right? Feel free to join in if you want to! I’ll be using a random number generator to pick my books from my insanely long GR Want-to-read list.*

*Sorry if a book has been featured twice. I need to make better note of which ones I’ve done already!

This week’s featured book is The Bridge Kingdom by Danielle L. Jensen. It’s a YA** romantasy that came out in 2020 and has an average rating of 4.11 with several thousand reviews/ratings on Goodreads. It’s the first book in The Bridge Kingdom series (1 of 5).

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Cover Reveal: Fire & Ash by Heather Frost

Hello, friends! I’m so excited to be sharing the cover reveal for Fire & Ash by Heather Frost! Fire & Ash is a novella set in the world of the Royal Decoy series. While it is a prequel story, it is best enjoyed after reading Royal Spy.

I’m so excited to check this one out because it’s about Desfan, one of the newest characters we meet in book two of her series and one of my favourites! I can’t wait to learn more about his back story 😍

Check out my reviews for Royal Spy and Royal Decoy!

Goodreads: Fire & Ash (Fate of Eyrinthia 0.5)
Publication Date: 28 October 2021
Genre: Fantasy Romance (Romantasy)

First the flames . . .

When Desfan Cassian, the future ruler of Mortise, skips his fifteenth birthday celebration so he can gamble in the slums, he knows his father won’t be pleased. Then again, the serjan hasn’t been happy with him in years. And while Desfan anticipates a reprimand for his latest transgression, he doesn’t expect to be thrown out of the palace and exiled onto a patrol ship for the next year.

Then from the ashes . . .

Furious to be trapped on the same sea that stole his family four years ago, Desfan is fully prepared to hate his new life. After all, the Phoenix is run by a strict captain, and Desfan’s annoying new bodyguard, Karim, is his constant shadow. But when Desfan learns that a group of dangerous pirates may have been behind the deaths of his mother and sisters, he’s suddenly committed to hunting down the truth—no matter the risk.

He will rise.

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First Lines Friday – 02 April

Happy Friday book lovers! We’re back with another First Lines Friday, a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines? Here are the rules:

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

First lines:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a brilliant idea, conceived and executed by a clever young woman, must be claimed by a man.”

Do you recognize the book these first lines come from?

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First Lines Friday – 26 March

Happy Friday book lovers! We’re back with another First Lines Friday, a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines? Here are the rules:

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

First lines:

“There’s blood on my hands, blood between my toes, blood speckled in my hair. It’s splashed across my chest, and to my horror, I can taste a few droplets on my lips.
There’s far too much of it staining the kitchen’s polished floors. No one can survive that much blood loss, not even the monster at my feet.”

Do you recognize the book these first lines come from?

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