TITLE: The Enchanted
AUTHOR: Rene Denfeld
GENRE: Magical Realism, Mystery, Adult, Literary Fiction
RATING: 4/5 Stars
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.
What I Liked:
- Denfeld's writing style was extraordinarily captivating. While reading, it's not often that my mind is so bowled over by the visual imagery that I feel like I'm actually there. But in this case, I could almost feel the dank, dark prison closing in on me and it was a strangely good feeling to be transported into a book's world (even if it is a horrific one) in such a way. My favourite moments were when the narrator would leave behind the violence and the cruelty for a moment, and talk about the molten horses that stampeded beneath the prison, or the little men with hammers inside the walls. Blending the fantastical with reality in such a natural way was truly remarkable.
- Denfeld obviously knew her stuff when it came to building the world of the prison. The corruption within them, the violence and abuse, the legal system, even the way they looked and where everything was. A lot of research must have gone into that, and I always commend authors who research before they write. Se also touched upon a lot of sensitive issues in the book: sexual abuse, violence, mental illness, etc. and I felt like she handled them with the right amount of care, while remaining honest and brutal when required.
What I Disliked:
- The characters didn't really grab me emotionally. Sure, I liked them. Some I even felt a little sorry for, or angry at. But considering some of the terrible things that happened in this book, I didn't connect with them enough to totally sympathise with them. The two characters that I believe I was meant to root for the most, the Priest and the Lady, I felt were actually the least interesting to read. I was much more fascinated by the book's narrator actually.
There were some amazing moments in this very quotable book. I felt like it actually taught me something, and the world-building absolutely blew me away. It had a well-structured plot too which I wasn't entirely expecting, so that was a nice addition. The characters weren't very attention-grabbing and my feelings towards them didn't change a whole lot throughout the book. As well as that, there were a few mysteries that ran throughout the book (the narrator's terrible crime, the lady's soul-crushing secret) that I never felt I received the full explanation to which was a little disappointing. Overall though, the fantastical elements to this book mixed with the harsh realities of prison life made for a great read.