I received this book free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld
Published by Harper on March 4th 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Literary Fiction
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
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.
“This is an enchanted place. Others don’t see it, but I do.”
Underneath the ancient stone prison lies a space called the dungeon. Men that go there are never to return until their bodies are carried out after their execution. A man named York is kept their until his final days, which will be soon he has decided. The Lady is assigned to York’s case to search for lost information that will hopefully save him from his demise. The prison is a dark and violent place yet from one prisoners eyes, the narrator, it is transformed into an enchanted place that only he is able to see.
The Enchanted was an incredibly unsettling story. It’s about the monsters of society, the horror of humanity and its incredibly visceral and at times a bit too gratuitous for my liking. I understood going into this that it involved a prison and its inmates so I knew it wasn’t going to be a peaceful tale, but I loved the idea of the magical realism aspects with the golden horses that charge through the prison. Except that aspect failed to deliver for me. To me, when you incorporate magical realism into a story it needs to be woven into the story as a whole rather than bits and pieces interspersed sporadically throughout. It just made those bits and pieces feel ill-fitting and out of place.
‘I knew that I would never again see the beautiful soft-tufted night birds outside the window, never again sit in the library with the slanting sun through the bars. And that was okay, because I brought those ideas with me, stored in my heart.’
The haunting prose with lines of immense depth was incredibly well-done and was the only redeeming factor of this story. It’s not Stephen King-esque in the least bit but is still memorable. The information on prisons and life as a death-row inmate is incredibly detailed yet that apparently comes from the authors personal experience working as an investigator in death penalty cases. She explores the prison culture of this specific prison with its corrupted guards and all the dreadful things that go on when they turn a blind eye.
The story is told for the most part from the point of view of an unnamed (till the end) death row inmate who acts as an omniscient narrator. The role of omniscient narrator was inconceivable though when you consider this is a man relegated to a cell and wouldn’t have the ability for the information he’s divulging.We’re given information about his dark past, of the Lady, of York, of a priest who is employed by the prison, of the Warden and various other characters as well. I felt this left the story with a scattered sort of feel and would have been better off if York was left as the sole main character. The overwhelming amount of information of each individuals past was only spent on what made them flawed and essentially failed to distinguish them. Everybody has their own dark past yet that doesn’t have to define them is what I have surmised to be the moral of this story.
This is definitely an impressive first novel that I would have loved to love if not for the disquieting subject matter that I felt was overly and intentionally grim.