Originally posted on Leah’s Books.
Thank you to Orbit and libro.fm for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
CONTENT WARNING: mention of death of a parent, grief, gore, mild violence, death
The House in the Cerulean Sea meets You’ve Got Mail in this quirky, refreshing Fantasy with a rom-com worthy twist.
Hart Ralston 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 Birdsall 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 the most—Mercy. As the dangers from Tanria grow closer, so do the unlikely pen pals. But can their blossoming romance survive the fated discovery that their pen pals are their worst nightmares—each other?
I went into this read knowing absolutely nothing about it, except that a friend of mine who I trust said that it was fantastic, and to just keep reading it even if I wasn’t sure about it at first. Since I had received both a physical ARC and an ALC, I switched back and forth between both, which was ideal, since I could listen to this when I wasn’t able to read, such as when driving or cooking dinner, and I was thrilled. Let’s just say I loved this book.
It’s quirky and hilarious, and doesn’t fit neatly into one genre. It’s got some aspects of fantasy, and they’re great, allowing me to get used to the world slowly throughout the book without ever using a single info dump. It’s kind of a western, but not quite, since marshals basically hunt zombies. And it’s definitely got elements of rom-com, and I can’t even count how many times I busted out laughing while reading or listening to this book. The story makes use of some of my favorite tropes—enemies to lovers, slow-burn, grumpy and sunshine, and just the right amount of angst without being overwhelming.
Hart is the grumpy marshal, struggling with loneliness and frustration, yet devoting his energy to making the world a better place. He’s quietly funny, and I couldn’t help but like him. When he’s forced to work with a young, enthusiastic new marshal named Penrose Duckers, he’s initially reluctant but comes around slowly. Side note, I absolutely loved Duckers. He’s such a great character, and was a strong candidate for my favorite character. Anyway, Duckers would consistently bring out the best in Hart, and slowly drew him out of his grumpy shell. Probably the first time I burst into laughter was when Duckers did something and Hart had this thought:
“Good gods,” he thought, “I’m turning into a fucking feelings factory.”
Mercy is the strong and capable backbone of her family. I especially enjoyed the fact that she’s a plus-sized character. She’s holding down the undertaker business that her family owns, and is hit with one issue after another. Each of her family members brings her a secret and asks her to keep it from the others. In addition, she’s facing some overwhelming circumstances, which would be enough to push anyone over the edge, but on top of everything, Hart isn’t exactly a soothing presence in her life.
Everything changes when they each start writing to their anonymous pen pal. Each of them starts to open up about deeper emotions, rather than focusing on surface things, made easier by the fact that it’s an anonymous person that they’re writing to. But once they decide to meet, the entire dynamic shifts. Eventually, I loved how Hart and Mercy connect, and how their relationship develops. There’s even humor in their banter.
“‘Oh good, I was afraid you were one of those horrible men who don’t have a sweet tooth and never eat desserts.’ ‘I am horrible, but I like cake.’”
There’s so much witty banter, sarcasm, and humor throughout the story. The fantasy world that’s involved in this story is well-developed and creative, complete with a religious system, beliefs, rituals, creation story, gods, the presence of demigods, and even days of the week. There are Black and queer characters well-represented in the story, and I honestly just fell in love with this quirky and magnificent book. In addition, the narrators of the audiobook, Michael Gallagher and Rachanee Lumayno, did a fabulous job with the story and the characters, and I loved every minute of both versions. This is one that I’ll definitely be returning to again and again.