This is an enchanted place. Other's don't see it but I do.
From his cell, the narrator of The Enchanted tells us the story of the inmates, guards and other inhabitants of the ancient stone prison where he is being held on death row. Through his sometimes almost supernatural sight, he tells us of the Lady, an investigator hired by lawyers to try and get death row inmates out of their death sentences, the Fallen Priest, who struggles to make sense of the tragedy that caused his fall from grace, the warden whose wife is fighting a losing battle against cancer, and York, a brutal killer with a heartbreaking past of his own. As his own execution draws closer, the narrator draws all of these characters together in the enchanted place where wild horses run...
An Amazon pick of the month, The Enchanted has received quite a lot of attention in the past couple of months. After reading the blurb, and hearing the comparisons to such great books as The Green Mile, I added it to my To-Read list, unsure quite what to expect but looking forward to discovering what it was all about. What I found was a heart-wrenching literary fantasy, definitely worthy of the positive vibes that have been rippling through the blogosphere recently.
Told by a nameless narrator - whose identity is hinted at throughout but not fully revealed until the very end - The Enchanted brings together a number of disparate characters, all of them with dark secrets in their pasts, all of them struggling to make sense of the world around them and such concepts as justice, forgiveness and morality in a place where morals are a commodity and not a necessity. As our narrator skips between the characters, we get a fully rounded glimpse into the enchanted place that is this prison: a dark place where guards turn a blind eye to murder and rape in return for drug-money kickbacks, but also an enchanted place where the slightest act of goodwill can shine like a star gone suddenly nova.
Combining fantastical elements with a harrowing examination of the penal system and an investigative subplot surrounding the Lady and her attempts to see York escape the death penalty, the novel is able to constantly surprise and astonish, drawing out revelations about characters that turn monsters into victims without shying away from the dark truths. While examining something as sensitive as the death sentence and the way we treat men and women in prison, The Enchanted never goes for the easy answer or the simple emotion, forcing the reader to make their own minds up or at least go away from the book asking themselves questions.
Denfeld's writing combines short, sharp sentences with a poetic turn of phrase at times that culminates in a final scene that I defy anyone to read without at least a lump in their throat. Told mainly in the first person, the story moves skillfully between the characters, giving them all space to breath and develop despite the short length. While there are a few truly villainous characters (one each especially amongst the guards and the prisoners), most of them are far from simply cardboard cutouts - every single one of them has a story to tell.
The ending is bitter sweet, depending on the characters, but most of the story questions posed by the novel are answered while the more philosophical conundrums are left - as I said above - to the reader to make sense of. The fantastical elements, while present, are left in the background and again it is left up to the reader to decide how much of them are real and how much of them are wish fulfillment on the part of the narrator.
Harrowing and yet uplifting, dark and yet full of hope, The Enchanted is one of my books of the year so far and I imagine that it will be somewhere in my top ten by the end. Filled with real people and brimming over with beautiful, dark imagery, the book is a thought provoking novel that doesn't forget that the first job of any novel is to tell a story. I will most definitely be looking out for Rene Denfeld's next work. I gave The Enchanted 5 flibber-gibbets out of 5.
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From the Blogosphere:
The Lost Entwife
My Shelf Confessions
Fantasy Book Critic
From the Author's Mouth:
Interview at Foyles.co.uk