I've seen and heard tons of buzz about The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen, so when I was approved for an ARC via NetGalley, I was thrilled!
I just finished it, and I'm even more thrilled.
The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy takes place in an alternate world from what we're used to, one in which mailmen are nimkilim, animals that walk and talk as humans do, the human soul resides in the appendix, oh, and if you die with your appendix in tact, lost souls can reanimate you. Ya know, fun things.
Our main characters are Hart Reston, Tanrian Marshal and total babe, and Mercy Birdsall undertaker (and also total babe). Hart's job is to keep these zombies (or, as they call them, drudges) at bay, killing them and destroying the appendix of the poor corpse they've possessed, then deliver the body to an undertaker for blessings, incantations, preparation for burial, and sending the body off to the Salt Sea.
There's one problem with Hart and Mercy and their related jobs: they have to see each other regularly, and they've hated each other from day one. Enemies to lovers, anyone?
I've seen a lot of people compare this book to the feeling that Howl's Moving Castle gives, and that may be true, but as a self proclaimed You've Got Mail fangirl, this book made my heart pitter patter with all the Shopgirl x NY152 vibes. "If you don't like Kathleen Kelly, you're not gonna like this girl." But if you DO like You've Got Mail, you'll LOVE this book.
I'll admit it took a few chapters to pull me into the story, mostly because the world building was a bit challenging. The terrain and surroundings of the world are never really described in detail, so it's hard to know exactly what everything looks like. I pictured Eternity, the town Mercy calls home, to be kind of a wild-west desert style place, with sandy cliffs overlooking the sea, while Tanria was more of a plush forest--but I could be completely off of what the author intended. I even tried searching Pinterest for The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy aesthetic boards to get into the world a little more, but didn't find any. Thankfully, the story picked up fairly quickly and I was hooked! (Also, it's explained that for those, like me, who have lost their appendix, a temple votary has to preserve the soul in a spirit vessel inked on their skin...so I guess I need to get on that ASAP lest my soul be lost forever!)
I don't think I've ever mentioned it on the podcast, but much of my childhood was spent in and around funeral homes. My dad owned a removal and transport service, so if someone passed in one state, but wanted to be buried somewhere else, he'd see them to their destination safely. My sister and I went with him A LOT. We'd play tag and hide-and-seek in pitch-dark funeral homes while my dad helped the staff unload a casket from our van in the middle of the night, played Barbies on said caskets during long drives, and it was nothing to get off the bus after school and find a stretcher with a person and sheet over them in the (cooled) garage--with my dad inside grabbing snacks before we hit the road to deliver them. (He pulled them out of the van because even in death--no one should be left inside a hot car.) Oh, and he was also a sheriff's deputy, so when I was in middle school, we had a cop car and a hearse in the driveway, and no boyfriends for Mandy that year.
All of that is to say that growing up in what many would consider some very macabre settings, this book felt a lot like going home, for me. While I'm squeamish and could never be someone who participates in embalming, and while I'm someone who is terrified of ghosts, I have never been, nor will I ever be, afraid of a vessel someone has left behind after they leave this life--so I felt a kinship to Mercy in that regard.
I laughed, I cried (A LOT), and I lived for Duckers, who was so reminiscent of Ansel Diggory from Serpent and Dove that it made my Hart-ache (see what I did there?!) in the best way every time we were with him.
Last but certainly not least: this is totally a book for dog lovers. It sounds odd, but just...trust me and read it. If you're a dog lover, you'll feel it.
Love and Zeddie's Baked Goods,