Blog Tour Review: The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

I received this book for free from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Blog Tour Review: The Enchanted by Rene DenfeldThe Enchanted by Rene Denfeld
Published by Harper on March 4, 2014
Genres: Magical Realism, Mystery
Pages: 256
Format: ARC
Source: TLC Book Tours
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two-half-stars

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.

Clearly, I didn’t pay enough attention when I read this blurb. I think I got so far as the gorgeous cover with the horses and the first paragraph about the darkness and pretty writing. I was hooked. However, The Enchanted, if you’re not dumb like me and actually read blurbs, is about the denizens of an old prison, in the wing of those sentenced to death for their crimes. While I’m not entirely uninterested, I don’t exactly seek out books about prison. I wouldn’t have picked this up with full knowledge of its contents, but at the same time I kinda liked it, I think, so I’m not too annoyed with my past self for being lazy.

Though I’ve read both authors the blurb compares Denfeld to, I’m not certain whether I agree. What I DO agree with is the lyricism and imagination. Denfeld’s prose is lovely, a stark contrast to the terrifyingly grim setting and even more upsetting revelations of what brought the inmates to death row. This part was definitely the most interesting aspect to me, and is what would make me try another Denfeld novel, even if it doesn’t sound like my thing necessarily.

The Enchanted is definitely intellectually curious, and I’m honestly not sure what to make of it. I would make a macabre, but fruitful book club book, because I’d really love to discuss what the heck happened at a few parts with someone. The Enchanted lies in that borderland between fantasy and realistic fiction, where you have to question somewhat whether all the fantastical bits are metaphor or if there are grains of actual magic in this world. I enjoy the struggle to find truth, but I don’t enjoy being as stymied as I am now. I feel like I’m missing some pieces of the puzzle.

Denfeld uses a very interesting narrative style, which exacerbates the tension between reality and fantasy. The narrator is one of the men on death row, and he knows things he couldn’t possibly know. He’s locked up all the time, but he knows all about the lady’s research. It works, I’m tempted to say, but like so much else in this novel, I’m really not entirely sure how I feel about it.

The mystery surrounding one of the other inmates, Ford, definitely interested me. The lady works for lawyers who try, until the execution, to get death row inmates moved to life sentences. Denfeld revels in both the questionable ethics of this. Morality in this book is a complex thing. The lens through which we view everything is compellingly odd too, because the reader doesn’t necessarily have any idea what any of the men did, aside from some assumptions which could be baseless. What I think I find most compelling is the way that the “good” characters are actually the least individual. The death row inmates and people who helped set them on their ath are most real to the narrator; only have the actual names. The others are known by their profession or physical qualities.

The part I demonstrably did not like was the romance. It’s not really a huge aspect, but that’s where the whole “redemptive” bit that the blurb goes on and on about comes from. I guess I kind of see where they’re coming from with that, but I have a really black and white sense of justice, so a couple of broken people finding love (if this unreliable narrator is to be believed) doesn’t really make me feel much cheerier. It was just such a strange romance to me, partially because you know in essence so little about the two involved and whether they’d actually be a good match.

I will leave you as I started, unsure how I feel about the book. There were aspects I liked, some I didn’t, things that confused me, and things I didn’t care about. I think this will awe some and be unpalatable to others. I’m right in the middle, but I appreciate the originality and dark beauty of the book.

Favorite Quote:

“I don’t know this inmate. But I imagine he knows magic, if he is reading books. The book itself doesn’t matter. It’s that he found another world in it.”

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

Any excuse to look at Wentworth Miller, right?

Any excuse to look at Wentworth Miller, right?

4 responses to “Blog Tour Review: The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld”

  1. Bonnie says:

    Dark beauty, indeed. Really enjoyed this authors writing I am also very unsure how to feel about the storyline as a whole. I always find myself intrigued by stories claiming to be of the magical realism genre but I honestly haven’t found a magical realism author outside of SAA that I enjoy.
    Bonnie recently posted…Something To Look Forward To – Week of March 24th, 2014My Profile

  2. I am on this blog tour too and I’m also not sure how I feel about the story itself. The writing was wonderful. There were a couple of parts where I was “was does that mean?” but maybe I’m just a bit slow. It makes me feel better that you didn’t know what to think either though.
    Dana (Little Lovely Books) recently posted…Release Day Blast – If Only by AJ PineMy Profile

  3. I LOVE that quote you included … it’s so true!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

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