The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen
August 23, 2022 by Orbit Books
Review by: Melinda
This book was such an incredible and weird delight to read, I loved it so much. But it has a plot that’s hard to pitch well. Mercy is an undertaker, and Hart kills zombies and is required to take their bodies to specific funeral homes. The two hate each other from their very first meeting, which was a complete disaster. They both are intensely lonely and end up writing letters, into the void basically, and in a You’ve Got Mail – esque way, the letters create an anonymous relationship between the two. They begin to fall for each other, and without a clue they actively dislike the other in person… I think that captures everything.
The book has strong fantasy vibes with a rich world – I struggle right now with complex worldbuilding, and had zero issues with this one. This world has zombies, and gods, and a complex mythology around death. There are various creatures and different spaces Hart goes to that Mercy can’t. And to be honest I didn’t completely understand everything in this world, as there are parts the author includes but doesn’t explain such as equimares (an animal) and autoducks (vehicle), because they’re small pieces of the world and readers don’t need to understand every tiny piece.
Like any good romance should, the heart and center of the book is Hart and Mercy’s burgeoning relationship. Hart is just this grumpy person who has been doing this thankless job killing zombies for what feels like forever. He’s been solo for such a long time and wants to be left alone. His previous partner on the job has passed away, and he’s isolated himself even more from people he considered friends. Mercy works at her family’s Undertaking business, where she’s essentially keeping the entire company afloat. She’s keeping secrets for everyone in her family, but doing nothing for herself, and growing resentful in the meantime.
These two have so much in common, yet seem so far apart in their intense dislike for each other. They’re both incredibly lonely, even while being surrounded by people – dead or alive, in both cases. I’m a sucker for epistolary romance, and this book exemplifies why. We get their layers slowly peeled back with each letter, showing how much they have in common, yet still keeping them apart for a portion of the book. And the transition from letters to actual in person interaction was both a disaster and one of my favorite parts of the book. I loved how the author dealt with Hart’s discovery of who he’s been writing to this whole time. I’m not a fan of deception, but he does keep it from Mercy for a bit longer – and it worked for me. Both characters are tenderhearted with a hard outer shell and I was so invested in each phase of their relationship evolution.
This book is one that is also about death though, so take care in reading. I don’t think it takes the subject lightly at all. It approaches death compassionately and in various ways, as death is extremely meaningful in the book.
The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy is quirky and weird and unique. The best comp I can come up with is one that other reviewers have used – the TV show Pushing Daisies. Both this book and that show felt different when reading/watching. I loved everything about this book from beginning to end – and I definitely cried, which is rare for me.
CW: death in various ways