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?
I buddy read this with Jordyn from Birdie’s Book Nook & you can find her review here! Hart Ralston is a ranger, someone who patrols the outer regions for Drudges, ensuring they never stray too close to the towns risking the living, breathing population. Mercy Birdsall is an undertaker, someone in charge of sending the freshly dead on their way to whatever comes after. Both lead lonely lives, though though drastically different circumstances, so one day Hart decides to write a letter to a friend and post it. He figures with no actual address it will get lost in the mail. Instead it get’s sent to his worst enemy Mercy. Neither know who their new ‘friends’ are, but they quickly strike up a friendship, desperate for someone to understand their wants and needs in life. With drudges seemingly on the uptake and hearts at stake will Mercy and Hart be able to reconcile their differences, or will their first impressions be too hard to get over.
Mercy Birdsall is determined, feisty and not afraid of a fight. Ever since her mother died she has become a kind of second parent to her younger brother and sister, looking after them growing up and helping her dad out with the undertaking business, something she loves with all her being, even if it’s not a job that associated with ‘women’. She’s the sunshine girl, always happy and has a smile for everyone… well everyone except Hartache that is. Hart Ralston is grumpy, standoffish and likes to work alone. He’s still reeling from the loss of his mentor and the only father he’s ever known thanks to his real father being a god who abandoned him at birth. He’s got a hard outer shell, but you just have to chip away to get to the soft centre inside.
Bannen introduces us to a wide cast of side characters from Mercy’s slightly quirky family to Duckers, Hart’s new partner on the job. These all help add depth to our main characters, as well as putting them in some uncomfortable and humorous situations. Though the main relationship we see develop is that of Hart and Mercy, we also see them interact with others and I thoroughly enjoyed all the little interactions, especially those between Mercy and her brother who was supposed to take over the family business but runs away at the slightest sight of a dead body. But my favourite by far was Duckers and Hart. Hart starts off absolutely not wanting a new partner, but through Duckers he gets to work through a lot of the trauma from his mentor dying, as well as learning to open up to others and let them in.
The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy is one of those books that’s almost impossible to sum up. Part romance, part western, part mystery… with a healthy does of zombies thrown in for good measure. In the world Bannen creates magic is real, demi-gods exist and if someone dies without passing on, their soul tries to find the nearest ‘meat suit’ to inhabit, thus creating Drudges (zombies). Through the story, Bannen weaves a mystery alongside our romance plot, one that slowly works itself into your consciousness until you get wholly gripped by it. I adored this sub plot and thought it interweaved with the main romance so incredibly well, how Hart and Mercy got dragged into it & how they were pivotal to solving and fixing the problem. I would have liked a little more world building, but I think that’s just me being overly greedy because when I find a fantasy world I like I want ALL the information.
The romance, because lets be honest… that’s what were all here for… was exquisite. Enemies to lovers, grump/sunshine, as well as a queer side romance that I adored. Through Hart and Mercy, Bannen shows the importance of first impressions and how second chances can make all the difference, but it was also just hilarious and witty in parts. They could not stand one another, calling them’ Merciless’ and ‘Hartache’ as nicknames, but all that underlying tension just meant that when they gave into it, it went off with a bang… literally. It was delicious and steamy and filled with tension and I thrived for the scenes when they were able to interact.
I had heard Bannen liked to take her readers on a sort of emotional whirlwind and this was certainly no different,. Thanks to the added mystery we get an extra depth to the story that adds more tension as well as some heavy emotional scenes. As I said above, the world she creates was magical and I would LOVE to read more books set in it, even if we don’t get more Hart and Mercy. This is one romance book that is gonna stay with me for a while, thanks to the sheer quirkiness of it and I will certainly be checking out Bannen’s backlist.