Monday, February 23, 2015

Audiobook Review: The Enchanted

The Enchanted (2014)
Written by Rene Denfeld
Narrated by Jim Frangione
Run Time: 7 hours 4 minutes
Publisher: Harper Audio

A death-row prison may be the last place one would find "enchanted," but in Denfeld's novel, the prison is a mix of horrible reality and an escape for one prisoner as he contemplates death in his cell. A prison with golden horses and little men with tiny hammers may sound like they're more at home in a fantasy novel, but they play prominent roles in this one. That is, if you believe the narrator, an inmate kept in the darkest and most isolated part of the prison, isn't just making up a fantasy of his own.

Other characters include the Lady, an investigator who assists defense attorneys in trying to overturn death sentences, a fallen priest who starts to better understand the prisoners he has under his care as well as growing affections for the Lady, and a warden whose wife suffers from terminal cancer.

This is a hard book to review, because it depends on what you take into it. Some readers will get irritated by the lack of firm place (the place where the prison is located is never explicitly said, so it leaves a lot to the imagination) or the few named characters. However, as the book progressed, I realized that the book couldn't have much definition to it in order for it to work. Readers in book clubs will want to discuss whether the narrator is going mad and seeing these fantastical figures in his mind or whether this prison exists in a fantasy world or some other explanation. I found myself a few times still thinking about the imagery of the golden horses with molten manes well after the fact and not what was going on in the story.

The other thing that the book depends on is whatever your opinion is of the death penalty. Whether you're for or against it isn't the issue, but the book challenges those pre-conceived assertions from both sides, from the Lady's efforts to overturn an inmate's sentence to the reminders of the horrific crimes that these inmates did to get to death row. The narrator is likable and an avid reader, but then again, can someone be likable if they did such a horrendous crime?

The imagery is superb and the driving force of the novel. I really liked some of the characters, namely the Lady and the warden. Both of these characters have conflicted home lives and want to do the right thing, even if their job requires them to partake in the horrific.

Jim Frangione delivers a very good audio performance with a hard-scrabble tone. He manages to embody the narrator who, after seeing the horrors and wonder of life inside the prison walls, can alternate from sounding gruff to tender and back again.

Rating: 4/5 stars. It can be difficult to read at times and make readers question some of the fantastical elements long after they've turned the page, but the characters and descriptions kept me engaged and wanting to see more enchantment.

The Enchanted is available in hardcover, ebook and audio formats. A paperback version is set for publication this week.

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