The Prison Healer / Lynette Noni / Book Review


In the ten years since she arrived at Zalindov, Kiva has learned how to survive. She has rules, and she holds to them: keep her head down, don't make any attachments, and most importantly, hold onto hope. Hope is key. Zalindov may be the world's most brutal prison, but as long as she believes her family is still out there and coming for her, Kiva can survive.

Kiva works as the prison's healer, a position given to her five years ago after the unfortunate demise of the last healer. She may be only seventeen, but she knows her breaths are numbered. Only the occasional coded note, slipped into the pockets of new inmates, keeps her going.

But when a new inmate arrives unconscious and deathly ill, everything changes. The Rebel Queen herself is thrust into Kiva's care, and she's been scheduled to face the infamously deadly Trial by Ordeal. Along with the queen comes a new message: Kiva must keep the Rebel Queen alive until her family comes. With the Queen on her deathbed and a mysterious illness overwhelming Kiva's quarantine ward, she starts to lose hope. So she does the only think she can think of to buy her family--and herself--more time. She declares herself the queen's Champion, bound to the Queen's fate. Kiva must face the deadly Ordeals in the queen's stead.



Third Person A lot of YA--especially YA fantasy--features a very voicey first-person narrator, which is great. That type of narration definitely has its merits--when well done. But because of its ubiquitousness, finding a well-executed third person narration is both exciting and a good break from the norm. Lynette Noni creates a narrative that is easy to fall into and evocative, and the sense of character and style is just as forthcoming. Because of this narrative choice, this book has a sort of traditional fantasy feel--in a very good way.

Unsettling Setting There are no glitzy palaces or seedy taverns in this book. A prison creates the backdrop for the plot: a stark healer's ward, cold showers, and the ever-present eyes of guards. All of the uncanny pieces of this unusual setting fall into place to create a backdrop that is unique, chilling, and just as much a part of the story as the characters are. In fantasy--a genre that tends toward broad and sweeping landscapes--having such a confined space for the setting only adds a layer of discomfort and claustrophobia to the characters and their plight. Noni's world-building is beautifully dark and immersive.

Elemental Magic Elemental magic isn't that common in fantasy, and where it is found, it isn't often well done. In Noni's book, this powerful magic is as exciting and unexpected as it is cruel and full of limitations. From gusting winds to fire protection, this magic makes its mark. Each of the Ordeals that the Rebel Queen--and subsequently Kiva--must face features one of the four "elements" in the royal line of magic. I only wish that there was more magic in this book than there ultimately was.


I won't give any spoilers here, of course. I don't want to ruin the surprise for anyone who doesn't guess it themselves. But for me, unfortunately, from the very beginning, I had a feeling about where things were going--the underlying truth beneath the iceberg tip that Noni was revealing. I still found this book great fun, and I had no problem settling in and going along for the ride. But the twists and turns weren't as surprising as I think they're meant to be. Obvious Twists

Now, this one might just be a personal peeve of mine at this point, but a lot of fantasy (this book included) doesn't really deal with the religious implications of the world--and yet includes a vague, pointless religion nonetheless. Little nods toward some vague sort of religious system seem to be good enough--like the ubiquitous (and here-present) "gods-damned." Not every fantasy world needs to have gods behind it. Why must every fantasy world have a plot-unimportant polytheistic religion going on, I am left to suppose, in the distant background? There's no need to throw a supposed pantheon of gods into the mix just as a nod toward some fantasy standard. Make it important or leave it out--it wouldn't really make a difference here to cut it entirely. Vague Religion

Noni's book is well-written. The plot is interesting. The characters are fun to follow. Even so, there were a few sections that seemed to drag a bit between the major plot points. This didn't stop me from continuing on. It didn't really diminish my enjoyment of the read. But if I found it a little difficult to slog through, others will definitely be craving more action in between. Lagging Sections



Those who enjoyed the death-prison-deadly-competition combination of Sarah J. Maas's Throne of Glass should dive into Kiva's desperate scenario as well. Anyone who got fired up by the rebellion of Sam Taylor's We Are the Fire should take a seat for this slow-brewing world of rebels and riots.


Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Date: April 13, 2021
Series: The Prison Healer
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Note: I was provided with an ARC by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions here are my own.


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