The Enchanted

By Rene Denfeld

Source: Received from the publisher via Edelweiss

Received from the publisher via Edelweiss, for free, for review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Publication Date: March 4, 2014

Published by Harper

My Rating: four-stars

The Enchanted

Summary and cover image 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 think I was drawn to this book because I studied Criminology in university ages ago and have always been interested in the study of and stories about prisons and prisoners, particularly those on death row.

This was a very quick, absorbing read. The story is narrated by an inmate on death row at an old prison. From what I gathered , our narrator does not speak. Whether he can, I wasn’t really sure. It’s also not explicitly clear what he did that had him sent to the prison in the first place, at least not for the majority of the story, but we do learn what caused his move to death row.

Mixed in with his story is the story of a character referred to only as the lady, and her interactions with others who are in the prison, including the priest, the warden, and the death row inmates she’s been hired to try and somehow assist by investigating and trying to commute their sentences. When we meet the lady, she is working on an inmate named York’s case. She’s been hired by York’s lawyers, but York wants to die. Nevertheless, she investigates, meeting a relative of his, digging into his past, learning what she can.

The story touches on so many interesting aspects, like the corruption of some prison guards, the executions and disposal of bodies, the differences between this old prison and shiny new ‘super max’ institutions, the treatment of those with mental illnesses inside prisons, and more. All the while, the author does not shy away from the horrors of prison both for those living there and those who work there, for new inmates and lifers. The story was moving and horrifying at the same time. What can happen in a person’s life to lead them down such a path? What impact can a terrible upbringing have, a childhood full of unthinkable acts? Why do some lives go one way and some go another?

This was a really moving book and I was moved to tears on more than one occasion, which is rare for me. This was a dark, heavy book but somehow uplifting at the same time. I would love to hear from others who’ve read this one, and I definitely recommend it.

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