Review: The Enchanted

The Enchanted, Rene Denfeld


Published: By Harper on March 5, 2014

256 pages.


From Goodreads…

A wondrous and redemptive debut novel, set in a stark world where evil and magic coincide, The Enchanted combines the empathy and lyricism of Alice Sebold with the dark, imaginative power of Stephen King

“This is an enchanted place. Others don’t see it, but I do.”

The enchanted place is an ancient stone prison, viewed through the eyes of a death row inmate who finds escape in his books and in re-imagining life around him, weaving a fantastical story of the people he observes and the world he inhabits. Fearful and reclusive, he senses what others cannot. Though bars confine him every minute of every day, he marries magical visions of golden horses running beneath the prison, heat flowing like molten metal from their backs, with the devastating violence of prison life.

Two outsiders venture here: a fallen priest, and the Lady, an investigator who searches for buried information from prisoners’ pasts that can save those soon-to-be-executed. Digging into the background of a killer named York, she uncovers wrenching truths that challenge familiar notions of victim and criminal, innocence and guilt, honor and corruption-ultimately revealing shocking secrets of her own.

Beautiful and transcendent, The Enchanted reminds us of how our humanity connects us all, and how beauty and love exist even amidst the most nightmarish reality.

I was shocked when I finished this book.  Shocked that a book about the harsh reality of prison could be so beautiful.  This book is haunting me in a way I cannot remember another touching me right now.  I hope I have the right words to describe how I felt because I feel completely inadequate.

“This is an enchanted place. Others don’t see it, but I do.”

Our narrator is an unnamed Death Row inmate. He doesn’t speak and does everything he can to keep from being seen by the other inmates and the guards, as well as the Fallen Priest and the Lady who work on the Row.  He only interacts with the Warden, and that is as little as possible.  He does not leave his cell, yet he sees so much more than just the walls around him.

The Lady visits Death Row as an investigator into cases coming up for execution.  An inmate named York has requested to die so she begins looking into York himself and how he came to the Row-not the crimes that he is absolutely guilty of.

We’re watching the Lady discover this heartbreaking childhood, while we know she’s also the product of her own equally disturbing experiences.  What makes the difference from becoming York and becoming the Lady?  What should she do with her findings when this man wants to die, and she knows that given the chance to leave prison he won’t stop the same heinous crimes he has already committed?

We meet the Warden and the White Haired Boy and my heart broke for both of them.  I found the Fallen Priest to be pitiable, but he also gave me hope, because despite his feelings of despair, he still had hope.

This book makes you consider the worst of humanity, and they are not just the prisoners.  Yet despite the horrors both explicit and those hinted at in the story,  The Enchanted is hopeful and there is beauty in the magic inside the prison. There is beauty in our prisoner, and so he can see the golden horses and find the enchantment, even though he is capable of horrors never fully explained.  There is still good in the individuals that might be lost to the prison and some find their way out.   While I found myself cringing in anticipation while reading some scenes of this book and moved by the sadness, I was ultimately enchanted and hopeful when I finished.

The Enchanted will be released by Harper on March 5, 2014-read it, think about it and let me know if you were as moved as I have been.

5 stars

Thank you to Harper for this advanced copy for review.

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