The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy

Book Reviews / Friday, September 23rd, 2022

By: Megan Bannen
Genre: Romantic Fantasy
Publisher: Orbit Books

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“Oh. It’s you,” She said, the words and the unenthusiastic tone that went with them dropping of her tongue like a dead weight…
“Most people start with hello.”
“Hello, Hart-ache,” she sighed.
“Hello, Merciless.” He gave her a thin, venomous smile as he took in her oddly disheveled appearance.”

Megan Bannen, The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy

The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy, by Megan Bannen, was simply a pure joy to read. The main characters, Mercy Birdsall and Hart Ralston, loathe each other. However, the barbs and insults they trade underlies a palpable sense of attraction, one which neither will admit too. Hart is a Tanrian Marshall and demigod, tasked with patrolling a magical world called Tanria located on the Island of Bushong. Mercy temporarily runs the family business of undertakers, Birdsall and Son. The world building was wonderful and unique, with witty and sarcastic magical creatures, and a burdening problem of reanimated corpses, Drudges. There are other characters as well, Mercy’s family, Hart’s boss, and his new partner, who are equally as delightful to read about. I also love that there is LBGTQIA+ representation. I can’t say enough good things about The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy, an enemy to lover’s romance, with plots twists and turns, and an abundance of love and humor in Ms. Bannen’s beautiful prose. I am enjoying my venture into romantic fantasy and this book certainly makes the top of the list.

Hart and Mercy are written with such chemistry it absolutely leaps off the pages. When Mercy first met Hart, she noticed his eyes, which were a giveaway that he was a demigod, something she took an instant dislike too. On the other hand, when Hart first saw her, she was a ray of sunshine in a pretty yellow dress. The sun left when he knew she would only see him as a demigod, the son of a divine parent. Hart also has a dislike for undertakers, seeing them as nothing more than people willing to take advantage of someone’s death and make a profit. They never really take the time to learn about each other. That is until the day, a lonely Hart, pens an anonymous letter addressed only to a “Friend” and it is delivered to Mercy. Not knowing who it is, and she herself being overworked by running the business and feeling isolated, responds to the letter. They unknowingly bare their souls to each other and continue their letters. I loved how Ms. Bannen used these heartfelt letters to show how much these two lonely souls really had in common:

There. I said it…
I’m lonely. So this woman who very clearly does not like me reminds me that there are very few people left in this world who do. And my circumstances are such that I don’t know how to solve that problem.
Maybe that’s why I keep putting myself in her crosshairs. Maybe there’s a strange comfort that at least one person feels something for me, even if that feeling can best be described as hate.”

Megan Bannen, The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy

Their letters continue, giving enough information about loneliness and isolation, but never specifics about who they are and where they work. They are cathartic for both of them, having someone else that knows the pain they feel inside. Through them, all the reader wants is for Hart and Mercy to put aside their “hate” and finally realize how they feel. This was the perfect enemies to lover’s story.

The other characters completed the story and were fun to read. Mercy has a wonderful family that she loves very much, but wishes they would assist her in the business. Zeddie, her bother, is the only son, therefore he should run the business since it is Birdsall and Son. Zeddie has other plans, as he does not want to be an undertaker. Watching him trying to hold his composure while Mercy is handling the deceased was just one of the many funny moments in the book. Mercy is also a strong female protagonist. She runs the business, but she also loves what she does. When we think about undertakers, most people would conjure up a grim, but necessary job. Mercy loves what she does, and it’s these moments that make this book so special:

“The one thing that might surprise people is the discovery that I take joy in my current occupation…it’s the sort of career that is typically considered disgusting…But my job is also a service and a kindness. It allows me to do good things for others and bring them comfort. How many people can truly say that about their line of work?”
Megan Bannen, The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy

Mercy’s family are loud and lovable. You feel right at home with her dad, her brother, and her sister Lilian and her husband. Hart has no family, but he has a new young partner, Pen Duckers, and he was once close to his boss Alma and her wife, Diane. Zeddie and Pen take an instant liking to each other, which was sweetly developed in the book. While on the outside, Hart is brusque and aloof, inside he is lonely. The letters bring him out of his shell, as it does for Mercy, and thus they grow together. They are all characters that you just want to spend time with and know you will have fun.

The world building was so unique. On the Island of Bushong, part of the larger Federated Islands, Mercy and Hart live in one of the “border towns” of Tanria, called Eternity. Tanria is a strange, mist shrouded place that Hart, Ducker, and other marshals patrol for the safe-keeping of the towns. It was created by the Old Gods and it is both beautiful and terrifying. People are sneaking into Tanria, stealing what’s there. Many are getting killed and reanimated if their soul is not set free. They become Drudges, and the only way to kill them is through the appendix, which releases the soul. And here we thought the appendix just might be a vestigial organ, but it is where the human soul is. The Drudges and the bodies brought out of Tanria to the undertakers, set the backdrop for the mystery surrounding what happening. It was a marvelous creation by Ms. Bannen, and was woven seamlessly into the romantic build-up.

The pacing and prose of this book were beautifully done. Ms. Bannen writes humor, romance, and fantasy and puts them together perfectly in The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy. There was never a moment that I was not totally engrossed in this novel. On one page I was laughing out loud from the barbs the characters were making, and on the next page, my heart was breaking for Mercy and Hart. There were so many aspects of this book to love. Mercy was a strong female protagonist, and she is portrayed as having a “normal” body, for lack of a better term. She is tall, strong, and as she says, “bigger than nearly every other woman on the Island of Bushong, and taller than most men, too.” I think it’s fairly safe to say that Mercy is a relatable character in both how hard she works and how she looks. She is beautiful as she is, and that was completely refreshing. The loneliness that Hart feels is also something many of us can relate too. He suffered many losses and processing them is difficult. Through the letters, and his ultimate romance with Mercy, he can heal. The other characters are just as amazing, fun and lovable. They felt like family. Ms. Bannen has written perfection in The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy. I can’t recommend this book enough.

Overall Thoughts

It’s safe to say that I absolutely loved Megan Bannen’s The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy. Ms. Bannen has written a fabulous enemy to lover’s romantic fantasy. Mercy Birdsall, with her wonderful, loud and fun family, still feels isolated. Hart Ralston, a Tanrian Marshall, has no family and is very lonely. Unfortunately, Mercy and Hart hate each other. With humor, heart, and love, she crafts a story of how these two people, who loathed each other, find love in so many shared common bonds. There is love throughout this book. The love of family, the love of friends, and the shared love between two people. It is also an amazing fantasy with unique magic and world building. Tanria, a creation of the Old Gods, which is both a dangerous and beautiful place, though not everyone should enter. It’s where Hart and his partner Duckers patrol. Mercy, her family, and the Marshalls live in Eternity, a border town of Tanria. Since it so old, modern technology will not work, and there are crazy, wise cracking immortal beings that travel from Tanria to the outside world. These side characters were laugh out loud funny, and were so endearing. I loved the LBGTQIA+ representation, with Mercy’s brother, Zeddie, and Pen Duckers in a relationship, as well as Hart’s superior and close friend, Alma, married to her wife, Diane. Through it all is a burgeoning problem of the dead in Tanria being reanimated into “Drudges”. The only way to truly kill them is through the appendix, which releases the soul trapped by the Drudge. It all came together to make a romantic fantasy that was sheer perfection. It was a joy to read and I wish it didn’t end. This is a must read for fans of romantic fanatasy. If you typically don’t read romantic fantasy, I urge you try The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy. I know you will love it as much as I did.

Summary (from NetGalley)
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?

You can find out more about Meggan Bannen on her website at:
Purchase The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy on Amazon
My thanks to Orbit Books for providing me with an ARC copy of the book.
My thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eBook.

​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. 

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