The Prison Healer
by Lynette Noni
Publisher: Clarion Books
Series: The Prison Healer #1
Length: 416 Pages
Published: 13th April 2021
Genre: Fantasy | Romance
Age Range: Young Adult
For a full list of potential content and trigger warnings follow the link here on BookTriggerWarnings.com
From bestselling author Lynette Noni comes a dark, thrilling YA fantasy perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas, and Sabaa Tahir.
Seventeen-year-old Kiva Meridan has spent the last ten years fighting for survival in the notorious death prison, Zalindov, working as the prison healer.
When the Rebel Queen is captured, Kiva is charged with keeping the terminally ill woman alive long enough for her to undergo the Trial by Ordeal: a series of elemental challenges against the torments of air, fire, water, and earth, assigned to only the most dangerous of criminals.
Then a coded message from Kiva’s family arrives, containing a single order: “Don’t let her die. We are coming.” Aware that the Trials will kill the sickly queen, Kiva risks her own life to volunteer in her place. If she succeeds, both she and the queen will be granted their freedom.
But no one has ever survived.
With an incurable plague sweeping Zalindov, a mysterious new inmate fighting for Kiva’s heart, and a prison rebellion brewing, Kiva can’t escape the terrible feeling that her trials have only just begun.
For ten long years, Kiva has fought to survive as a prisoner of Zalindov. Working as the healer within the notorious death prison, she has been able to find some small measure of protection from the wrath of the guards, and from the other prisoners, who see her as the Warden’s pawn. But when the Rebel Queen is captured, and brought to Zalindov, a message arrives from Kiva’s family outside the prison, finally promising rescue if she can do just one thing: keep the Rebel Queen alive. Knowing that the sick woman will never survive, Kiva has no choice but to take her place in a series of deadly, elemental Ordeals. If she survives both Kiva and the Rebel Queen will be freed, but no criminal has ever survived. With a deadly plague sweeping through Zalindov, inciting rebellion among the prisoners, Kiva realizes that the Ordeals may be the least of her worries.
The Prison Healer is a fantastic and masterfully crafted story of tension, suspense, death defying odds, and shocking twists that left me absolutely stunned at every turn. In Zalindov, everyone has secrets, including the narration! The revelations ranged from tragic backstories and dangerous confessions, to the prose hiding vital and shocking details in the most innocent of lines. I was caught off guard almost every time, and everything built to an ending that literally made me gasp in shock.
“Never apologize for loving someone. Even when it hurts. Especially when it hurts.”― Lynette Noni, The Prison Healer
The setting was by far my favourite part. Despite taking place in a single location, The Prison Healer manages to create an entire world that’s brimming with magic and yet nearly dystopian in it’s approach to criminal justice. Zalindov is made to kill its inhabitants – through the brutal conditions, horrific forced labor, or the ‘mercy’ of the guards. I found it absolutely horrifying, and yet it was also incredibly fascinating, building up the rest of the world with a thousand little details within the walls of a prison.
The characters as well are all fantastic, and felt real and distinct while also working really well off each other in the few happy moments Zalindov allows. Even the heroine, Kiva – whom I expected to find irritating with her lone-wolf attitude and trying to avoid attachments personality – was balanced out as the rest of the cast essentially annoyed her with their friendship until she relented. More than that, the desperate nature of her resolve, hoping against hope for rescue for ten years, made her struggle all the more heartbreaking, and every challenge she faced became an absolute rollercoaster of emotions. And I love rollercoasters.
“So you’re right, you don’t need me fighting your battles. But if you’ll let me, I’d like to be standing beside you as you fight them.”― Lynette Noni, The Prison Healer
If I had to critique something, I will say that the writing does have a tendency to exposition dump. It’s particularly heavy-handed at the beginning, with some on-the-nose dialogue and narration purely for the readers’ benefit. It makes sense to have it here, considering this is our introduction to this world, and it’s not enough to make your eyes roll, but you’ll definitely be aware of it.
With that said, the exposition is really interesting, and it becomes less obvious as the story develops. The addition of magic was a great little detail, both as an element of mystery and away to expand on the world. As a system, it’s on the soft side, which isn’t usually my preference, but I found it worked really well, serving as the cherry on top that is the hopelessly, impossible situation Kiva has to face. There’s already a sequel out with a third due out next year, and I’ll definitely be looking forward to staying up late with those too.
In conclusion: The Prison Healer is amazing. I stayed up until almost 3:00AM finishing this book, and felt like a zombie at work the next day. And it was so worth it. I desperately want to talk about it with someone so please, for my sanity if nothing else, read this book and tell me what you think in the comments!
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