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
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 reimagining 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 amid the most nightmarish reality.