Publication Date: August 23, 2022
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?
This was… underwhelming.
I requested it because I love fantasy, romance, grump/sunshine, epistolary romance, enemies-to-lovers, and You’ve Got Mail. So it really *should* have ticked ALL the boxes for me.
Instead I found myself feeling lukewarm about the characters at best and the story just didn’t hold my interest. Also the whole dealing with zombies and dead bodies (with associated fluids and scrabbling through intestines for appendixes) thing was … gross.
The first stumbling block for me was worldbuilding. A quarter of the way through the book I know very little about the world it takes place in. A few terms tossed in but never explained, a vague hand-wavey ‘super complicated portals thing that no one understands except that one guy who invented them’, references to old gods and new gods and demigods, and a brief ‘lesson recitation’ for background on the zombies themselves. (I forget the in-book term for them, which tells you a lot about how invested I am.)
I don’t understand *why* everyone thinks Hart is such a jerk. I don’t understand the beef he and Mercy have with each other. I don’t understand… basically anything.
Also, the physical descriptions and fantasies Mercy and Hart (unknowingly) have about one another are far too graphic and lewd for my taste. And I’m still at the ‘we can’t stand each other’ stage before they get physical. (disclaimer: I’m ace and very much don’t like extended on-page sex. Yes, there technically hasn’t been any yet but it’s clear that there *will be* and based on the vibes I’m getting so far it will not be my cup of tea AT ALL.)
The story is also … very much a You’ve Got Mail retelling with zombies. I knew there were similarities and that it was perhaps inspired by the movie but parts of it are way too close to the original for it to feel fresh or new or anything but heavily inspired (only grosser because that’s apparently what the original needed?).
There *are* some things that the story does well. The day-to-day lives of Hart and Mercy and their relationships to their families / friends / coworkers are really well done. Hart’s apprentice he’s forced to take on is endearing and I like that he brings out the softer side of Hart. The animal couriers are amusing. Parts of it are really funny.
But. That’s not enough to make up for the parts I found dull, boring, confusing, or distasteful. I feel like this will miss the mark for many fantasy and romance readers. For romance readers, the world is too confusing. For fantasy readers, there aren’t enough details about the world and it’s too romance-heavy.
The narration was all right. Nothing stood out, and a few of the voices used for the characters felt off to me. It certainly wasn’t terrible, however, and if I’d liked the book more I would have found it to be perfectly fine. I’d definitely try a different book read by the same narrators.
*Thanks to NetGalley, Orbit Books, and Hachette Audio for providing an e-arc and audio arc for review.