Featured Review: The Prison Healer (Lynette Noni)
About This Book:
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.
*Review Contributed by Olivia Farr, Staff Reviewer*
THE PRISON HEALER is a stunning and captivating YA fantasy read. This book takes place in a prison, Zalindov, which operates as its own entity between kingdoms, for the worst of prisoners, generally murderers and rebels. No one gets out once they are in, and most do not live long. Kiva has been in the prison for 10 years, since she was 7 years old. After her father died in the prison, she eventually took on the role of the prison healer, working the infirmary for other inmates whose work assignments or prison guards have injured.
Kiva has kept her head down and done with what she has needed to do to survive, including not making attachments to the other inmates (with the exception of Tipp another child who ended up there due to circumstances) and informing on them to the warden who rules the prison like a king. Things are changing for Kiva, beginning with a new inmate that she cannot seem to shake, a guard who seems to have morals, and then with the rebel queen arriving in need of care.
When Kiva gets a missive telling her to keep the queen alive and threats from the rebels in the prison reinforce this need, Kiva has an impossible task - the queen is on death's door and about to face a trial by ordeal, a set of tests that no one survives. When Kiva volunteers in her place, she knows that her days may be numbered - unless, she can somehow survive these impossible trials and claim freedom on the other side.
What I loved: The writing in this book completely enchanted me. I was captivated by Kiva's story and the trials she undergoes, as an inmate at the mercy of the prison system, as part of the ordeals, and as she tries to stop a plague ravaging the prison system. She is a highly compelling character who keeps her cards close to her chest, even to the reader who is experiencing it all from her perspective. As the key characters convalesce in the story, they all become near and dear to the reader's heart, as they have to Kiva. This definitely leads to some feelings and tears during the story. I also super-loved the way that everything slowly develops. The ending held so many shocking reveals that I was left reeling, and I loved the unexpected twists.
The book also includes some intriguing themes about prisons, the way they are run, the power dynamics within them, and the problems with systems around them. I found it very thought-provoking and would definitely love to discuss in a book club or group format. Other themes around royalty, rebellion, power, addiction, and morality around healing/survival were also really interesting. There is a lot happening in the kingdoms, and Kiva cannot help but see it in the prisons and become involved as she treats the rebel queen. The right to rule and determination of a ruler is a minor but intriguing theme through these royal figures (also through the prince and princess that come to see the first trial) that I am curious to see developed in future books.
Rebellion here has serious consequences, and as a theme throughout history when power becomes oppressive, it's also interesting to discuss. In this book, morality is gray, as Kiva does what she must to survive and this does not always agree with others' moral codes. She also feels a duty as a healer, even when the odds are stacked against her and patients may not seem worth saving to some. How she copes with these thoughts and her job were also intriguing subplots that would merit discussion. This would really be a fascinating choice for a book club.
Final verdict: Atmospheric, shocking, and immersive, THE PRISON HEALER is a must-read YA fantasy that combines compelling characters, intriguing themes, and surprising plot twists into a stunning read. Highly recommend for fans of THE RED QUEEN, LEGEND, and THRONE OF GLASS.
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