I received an advance copy of this novel from the publisher, Orbit Books, in exchange for an honest review.
I was drawn to The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by a two-pronged attack of adorable cover art and interesting comparisons. I was told that this book had Howl’s Moving Castle vibes, and I can only see that if I squint, and only as regards that personalities of the main characters. I was also informed that it was basically You’ve Got Mail but in a fantasy world, and I get this comparison even though I’ve never actually watched that movie. (Yes, yes. I know. I promise to rectify that eventually.) While romance hasn’t been my genre of choice this year because I read so much of it last year, I decided to give this a go anyway simply because I thought the premise sounded fun. And I’m so glad that I did, because The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy was a snarky delight of a rom-com housed in a fascinating fantasy world.
Mercy Birdsall is doing her best to hold her family’s undertaking business together. One of the only things keeping them afloat right now is a government grant that gives them a stipend any time they take a keyless corpse that was recently reanimated before being put (back) down by a marshal. Unfortunately, one of those marshals is Hart Ralston. Hart and Mercy hated each other at first site, and the venom flies freely every time Hart brings in a body to Mercy’s funeral home. After a particularly nasty run-in, Hart pens an anonymous letter to an ethereal “Friend,” simply out of a need to feel like someone cared enough to listen. Never in his wildest dreams did he imagine the letter actually being delivered to a real person, someone else who was just as desperate for a connection. Can you guess who that “friend” is? Obviously, both drama and hilarity ensue from here, leading to a romance as hilarious as it is tender.
While I did eventually become invested in the romantic lives of our main characters, I was initially much more interested in their occupations. I found Mercy’s work as an undertaker fascinating, especially given the radical differences between funeral rites and the afterlife in her world as compared to our own. I was also interested in Hart’s job as a marshal and how that compared to traveling marshals in the American West in the late 1800s. The letters between the two struck me as cute but quaint, and bordering on cheesy. But by the middle of the book, I was rooting for them with my whole heart.
Both characters had some quirks that made me roll my eyes, but not as much as I did at Mercy’s family. For a family that’s supposedly so close, there was a weird amount of miscommunication and secret-keeping, and it drove me nuts. I felt like those lines of the plot were added in almost exclusively to up the drama factor, but that’s just my opinion.
The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy is a fun, frothy, addictive ride with plenty of substance and heart. I very much enjoyed my time with it, and am already pressing it into the hands of others. It made me interested in seeing out more cozy fantasy with rom-com elements, and obviously I now desperately need to watch You’ve Got Mail. If you’re on the hunt for a light escape from reality that still has some serious stakes, this is story you’re looking for.
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