Review: The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

Genre: magical realism, literary fiction Age Level: adult Series: N/A
Genre: magical realism, literary fiction
Age Level: adult
Series: N/A

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.


This is a hard book to read and not for the reasons you might think. You might think, like I did before starting, that this book is depressing or dark. Perhaps it is slightly so; the subject matter demands it, but it surprisingly filled with hope and even a pinch of happiness. What makes it hard to read is the subject matter and the strain the novel places on your moral compass.

Is it up to us to decide who gets to live and who gets to die? Is it justified to take the life of someone who stole the lives of others? Should criminals be treated as such or are they still humans that need a level of respect? It is an understatement to say that there is a lot of gray area for there is nothing but grey areas. I can’t even say I strongly believe one way or the other.

The Enchanted speaks of the reasons people become monsters and the childhoods that twist a person’s mind into someone who does the devils work. And it isn’t an excuse either, just an explanation paired with a proposition- what if we can prevent these childhoods? What if we can save these children and save them from becoming broken? What then? Another elephant in the room is mental health awareness, and the need for an outreach program to prevent people with disabilities from falling through the cracks.  And what of the prisoners themselves, though is an asylum really any better than a prison?

I remember reading an article somewhere that discussed the correlation between prison conditions and repeat offenders. The gist was that if prisoners were treated better, they would be better able to reintegrate back into society and becoming a function citizen. On the flip side, if they were treated to bad conditions, they would have no choice but to continue to live a life of crime. After reading The Enchanted, I understand where the writer was coming from. The role of a prison should be to lock away people who are a danger to society and punish those who have broken the law – not turn thieves into murderers through corruption and rape.

The characters are the type that stick with you for you come to know them intimately through the eyes of the narrator. They are not even necessarily good which makes it harder to draw the line between the people in the cells and those without. Even people’s stories begin to blur together into one unified tale. Your moral compass sticks again when it comes to the voice behind the story. You see so much humanity in him, in his love of books and the magical world he spins for himself and in the beauty he sees in everything and everyone. Yet he is a despicable person in that he has done terribly horrible things and understands that prison is where he belongs.

I recommend this unforgettable tale of things awful yet beautiful.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear from you!


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