I can't recall a book I've consumed so ravenously or recommended so fiercely as The Enchanted. Given the subject matter — death row, its inhabitants, its agents, its reach, and the woman trying to stay its hand — I expected something grim, unsettling, hard to stomach. What I got was all those things and something I wasn't expecting: lovely. Denfeld has a remarkable grasp on language, and she uses it here to stunning effect. When I wasn't reading this book, I was craving it, and when I reached the end, I cried. Because it was beautiful, but also because it was over. Recommended By Tove H., Powells.com
The Enchanted is darkly exquisite. Denfeld's prose is transcendent, mythical, and timeless. This is a story about death-row inmates and some of the people who work with them. It is also a story that will change how you think about those people. What struck me most was the mythic tenderness Denfeld awards to her characters, and to all of us who venture into The Enchanted. Recommended By Mary Jo S., Powells.com
An absolutely stunning first novel, Denfeld's exquisite, mythically flavored prose propels us through the difficult terrain of prison life. The lady, the priest, a mysterious unnamed prisoner, and a gently rotting stone prison share a common existence, yet nothing about them is common. These characters will haunt you long after the last page has been turned. Recommended By Mary Jo S., Powells.com
Rene Denfeld's The Enchanted is a book like no other. Set in a crumbling prison, the characters are the prisoners on death row, the grieving warden, the corrupt guard, the lady trying to stay the execution, the fallen priest, the white-haired boy, the horrified mother, and the inside drug lords. Almost no one has a name, and of those that do, their names seem to cause some inner shudder; they are so evil. But, not completely. Underneath their crimes are crimes against them; and the sorrow and pain circle around and around.
The prison is enchanted with the golden horses who run on a rampage underneath the prison; molten flames flying off their manes. Yet, also enchanting it are the horrible flibber gibbets who gobble up the heat of the newly dead and the terrifying small men with tiny hammers in the wall. Beauty and horror walk hand-in-hand here.
The Enchanted is narrated by a nameless, omniscient death row inmate, who sees far and wide and deep as well. Through him we learn the stories that led the inmates to prison, as well as the unbearable reality that is prison. "The cell coagulates with an acrid smell that the boy doesn't know but instantly recognizes. It is the smell of terror, and it is coming from him. Something like barbed wire constricts his heart, and it is impossible to breathe. He knows now why he is here."
The Enchanted is absolutely chilling, yet with Denfeld's spare, quiet prose, it is one of the most gorgeous and stunning things I have ever read. Living in this book for a week, I felt broken open, shattered, and crushed by both the unspeakable horror and the unbelievable beauty. The Enchanted is ripe with themes on crime, punishment, survival, and love; Denfeld will break your heart, but she will also knit it back together for you. If you only read one book this year, make it this one. Recommended By Dianah H., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
The lady, an investigator who excels at uncovering information to save her clients from execution . . .
The fallen priest, beaten down by his guilt over a terrible sin and its tragic consequences . . .
The warden, a kind man within a cruel system . . .
The mute prisoner, sensing what others cannot in what he calls "this enchanted place" . . .
The enchanted place is an ancient stone prison. Two outsiders walk here: a woman known only as the lady, and a fallen priest. The lady comes to the prison when she has a job to do. She's skilled at finding the secrets that get men off death row. This gift threatens her career — and complicates her life — when she takes on the case of York, a killer whose date of execution looms. York is different from the lady's former clients: he wants to die. Going against the condemned man's wishes, the lady begins her work. What she uncovers about York's birth and upbringing rings chillingly familiar. In York's shocking and shameful childhood, the lady sees the shadows of her own.
The lady is watched by a death row inmate who finds escape in the books he reads from the prison library and by reimagining the world he inhabits — a world of majestic golden horses that stampede underground and of tiny men who hammer away inside stone walls. He is not named, nor do we know his crime. But he listens. He listens to York's story. He sees the lady fall in love with the priest and wonders how such warmth is possible in these crumbling corridors. As tensions in "this enchanted place" build, he sees the corruption and the danger. And he waits as the hour of his own destiny approaches.
The Enchanted is a magical novel about redemption, the poetry that can exist within the unfathomable, and the human capacity to transcend and survive even the most nightmarish reality. Beautiful and unexpected, this is a memorable story.
“Rene Denfeld is a genius. In The Enchanted, she has imagined one of the grimmest settings in the world — a dank and filthy death row in a corrupt prison — and given us one of the most beautiful, heart-rending, and riveting novels I have ever read.” Donald Ray Pollock, author of The Devil All The Time
“A striking one-of-a-kind prison novel...[with] rich, haunting prose....A stunning first novel from an already accomplished writer.” Publishers Weekly
“The Enchanted wrapped its beautiful and terrible fingers around me from the first page and refused to let go after the last. A wondrous book that finds transcendence in the most unlikely of places....So dark yet so exquisite.” Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus
“The Enchanted is unlike anything I've ever read....Contagious and seductive. The reader comes to see through Denfeld's strange lens, and to savor the richness of the view long after the final page has turned.” Katherine Dunn, author of Geek Love
“[An] impressive debut....Read this magical book, and prepare to be spellbound.” Library Journal (starred review)
“Evocative....Denfeld's humanizing of the potential for horror that is within all of us and her insistence that the reader see the beauty in the darkest corners of life sizzles through her sharp prose, which both makes us flinch and invites us to imagine.” Booklist
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 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, honesty 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.
About the Author
Rene Denfeld is an author, journalist, and a death penalty investigator. She has written for the New York Times Magazine, the Oregonian, and the Philadelphia Inquirer, and is the author of four books, including the international bestseller The New Victorians: A Young Woman's Challenge to the Old Feminist Order.