THE UNDERTAKING OF HART AND MERCY
A dead sweet romance
RELEASED 25 AUGUST 336 pages | Paperback/ebook
Author Megan Bannen
Publisher Orbit Books
What do you get if you take a grab-bag of the most popular YA fantasy tropes and use them to write a story about a couple of lonely thirtysomethings instead? Well, if you’re lucky, you might just get something like The Undertaking Of Hart And Mercy.
Ralston Hart is a marshal, tasked with making sure the shambling undead “drudges” don’t cross the boundaries of the netherworld to wreak havoc in the real world. Mercy Birdsall is an undertaker, whose job includes elaborate rituals that ensure the dead who pass through her morgue won’t rise again. The two of them hate one another on sight, but when they accidentally begin an anonymous correspondence, they’re drawn together…
Megan Bannen’s worldbuilding is fascinating: Hart and Mercy inhabit the kind of small town that’ll feel familiar no matter where you’re from, except that there are talking animals wandering about. Despite the odd conversational infodump, the unveiling of her world’s secrets feels organic. It’s colourful and imaginative, but in a macabre, spooky kind of way; it’s complex and detailed without ever making the reader feel overwhelmed by a dizzying array of facts.
Equally as slow-burning – and just as delightful – is the romance. Hart and Mercy are both adults, so they have their fair share of baggage (not least, in Hart’s case, the possibility that he’s an immortal demigod). There’s angst aplenty, but beyond the supernatural trappings, many of the obstacles in true love’s path are based on the kind of concerns many of us have or will have to deal with. It’s a genuine pleasure to watch these characters overcome all of that to find joy.
Ultimately, this is an anxiety blanket disguised as a novel: warm and soft, with just enough weight to make it feel like a comforting hug. Sarah Dobbs
Bannen named locations after towns in Kansas. Her dad grew up in Bushong, and her Grandma was from Herington.