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

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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? 

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I had been seeing this book everywhere and my friend Shazzie was also reading it, but tbh I never had plans to pick it up. Then Libro.fm gave me the audiobook advance copy and as I’m always looking for something new to listen to, I thought why not give it a try. And turns out it was quite good.

I went in with no expectations, so I was immediately taken in by these two characters who are antagonistic towards each other but also have their own personal issues. I can’t say I was always a fan of the banter here because it bordered on mean a few times, and I kept wondering how their dynamic will change to romantic at some point. But the author does a great job with the transition and I started enjoying the book more once their interactions became friendlier and intense. Mercy is someone who seems to have dedicated her life to her family and their business, without ever thinking about herself and while there were hiccups, I was glad to see her speak up for herself as well as realize what she wanted to change in her life. Hart on the other hand is also a workaholic but there’s this deep loneliness within him that tugged at my heart and it was awesome to see his transformation when he realized he doesn’t need to be so lonely.

I enjoyed the contrast between the way they communicated in letters and then in person because there is a level of understanding that develops between them in words but it’s also obvious that they are mostly presenting one side of themselves in the letters. It really was an interesting parallel to our social media lives which are sometimes way different than our actual lives. I also enjoyed that they were quite considerate and thoughtful with each other once they developed a relationship.

Other than these two, their individual relationships with others were also very well written. Mercy’s sisterly dynamic with Lilian was fun, her initially skeptical but quick acceptance of Zeddie’s career choice was sweet and I loved how they all tried to protect their father. I didn’t think Hart would warm up so quickly to his partner Pen but it was such a lovely father-son kinda dynamic and I adored their scenes together. Alma and Diane were also good friends to Hart and I liked how they called him out when he was being mopey.

The other interesting part of the book was the very intriguing world that the author created with its gods and their mythology, the death rituals, the zombie like drudges etc. It was fleshed out enough that it gave us context and rounded off our characters’ personalities but the author still managed to keep the focus more on the relationships and romance, with fantasy just feeling like a necessary backdrop.

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Overall, I thought this was a fun book with its serious moments and exploration of grief and loneliness and the audiobook narrated by Michael Gallagher and Rachanee Lumayno kept me hooked all the way through. Do check it out when you are in the mood for something lighthearted and not fantasy heavy.

5 star

PS: Thank you to Hachette Audio and Libro.fm for providing me with this advance listening copy, and also Orbit Books for sending me an eARC. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.

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