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Book Review

'The Undertaking of Heart and Mercy' Is the Perfect Cozy Fantasy

As an avid romance reader, I’ve grown tired of the standard booktok formula and was looking for something fresh, yet lighthearted enough to suit the easygoing beach vacation vibes I was looking for. The typical steel-and-sorcery style fantasy romances I tend to gravitate towards (like Fourth Wing and Blood and Steel) just weren’t cutting it. I wanted to sip a margarita by the ocean and giggle, not fight against the imminent destruction of this world and the next.

In my search for the perfect vacation read, I remembered a book I picked up last year - The Memory Puller. I loved the cozy romance, set in a fantasy world with an intriguing mystery waiting to be unveiled. It was so different from anything I’d read before, and while it may not have been a groundbreaker in the genre, it was my first taste of cozy fantasy and I wanted more. When I brought this up to a lovely worker in the airport bookstore, she pulled The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy for me, assuring me that I’d love it. And she was absolutely right! (Side note: If you’re ever in the GRR airport, you MUST visit the bookstore.)

What is ‘The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy’ about?

The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy is a rom-com set in a fantastical universe where the New Gods created a world-between-worlds, Tanria, condemning the Old Gods to a life in purgatory for bringing pain and suffering to their creations. But once the Old Gods begged for mercy and sailed along the Salt Sea to the stars, Tanria was nothing more than a wasteland…until a man created a portal, allowing mortals to visit the strange land of the Old Gods.

Like the wild west, Tanria is a land of opportunity. Strange animals and minerals, rare and ripe for the taking, funnel through the underground market, luring spinsters and dreamers to venture through back-alley portals and explore the world of treasures. But like the wild west, it’s not an easy endeavor. Terrible, zombie-like Drudges prowl the lands, searching for new human vessels once their current body decays. These Drudges only know survival, and they will kill anyone to claim their body as their own.

Hart is a Marshal, patrolling the wild lands of Tanria in search of Drudges and illegal visitors. As part of his job, he delivers the dead to the Undertakers bordering Tanria so that their bodies can be sent to their loved ones, or sent along the Salt Sea. One particular undertaker, Mercy Birdsall, has been a pain in his ass for the last four years. But the new laws and confounding increase in keyless deaths means he has to visit her establishment whether he wants to or not. For the record, Mercy isn’t any more thrilled than he is.

What I Liked

  • It’s ‘You’ve Got Mail,’ but with a talking bunny!

  • Miss Bannen somehow made a funeral home romantic, and I love her for that.

  • The cozy fantasy vibes are immaculate. Just the right amount of mystery and to keep it interesting.

  • I love Mercy’s family so much. I want them to adopt me.

This story unfolds through a series of letters, sent by Hart and delivered by the ridiculous (yet loveable) otherworldly messengers to Mercy Birdsall. They form an anonymous friendship, sharing secrets with each other that they’ve never told anyone before, or maybe even to themselves. I loved the slow burn between these two, watching them grow individually, held afloat by the words of a mysterious and comforting pen pal. Mercy is brave and so incredibly kind, and Hart is far softer than he ever wanted to admit. But it’s loneliness that brings them together, or rather the feeling that they don’t want to be lonely anymore. Something that I think a lot of us can relate to.

The story had me laughing out loud, swooning and jumping up and down. The world is so immersive and unique, it felt like watching a Meg Ryan rom-com set in an Alice in Wonderland acid trip. Inventine and whimsical, the mundane became a treat. It’s one of those stories that I could only imagine in the vibrant brushstrokes of a Studio Ghibli film. And I never thought a funeral home could be romantic, but that’s just another reason that Megan Bannen is a genius.

I also loved the mystery that unfolds. In fact, there are several mysteries surrounding the main characters. I think Brennan bit off just the right amount, tying Hart and Mercy’s personal journey’s together in a satisfying and heartwarming conclusion, urging us to question what it means to “live a little.” What do we want our lives to look like? What really matters? And who do we want to live it with?

As someone who often struggles with loneliness and the existential question of what it means to truly live, I found Mercy and Hart’s journeys incredibly relatable. It’s scary opening up to someone and showing them who you really are, because you have to be honest with yourself first. What do I want? Who am I? As lighthearted as the story was, I still found myself sitting with my thoughts after I closed the book, wondering how I can take a page from their letters and learn to live as my true, authentic self, and create a life that I’m proud of.

What I Wished For

  • Don’t hate me, but I can’t think of anything! No notes.

Typically I have at least a few suggestions or gripes, at least minor ones, but I honestly can’t think of anything that I’d change in this story. Some aspects were quick, but that’s the nature of the genre. The chemistry between Mercy and Hart is very sweet and I truly felt like they were perfect for each other. The worldbuilding flourished and far exceeded my expectations, so different than anything I’ve experienced before. And the banter and wit woven throughout the prose was everything I could have hoped for.

If you’re looking for inventive and romantic cozy fantasy, if you’ve ever felt lonely or alone, or if you want to laugh and cry, then this is the book for you. Seriously, one of my favorite reads of 2024.


Ready to read? Get the book today!

The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy

Megan Bannen

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