THE PRISON HEALER, by Lynette Noni, HMH Books for Young Readers, April 13, 2021, Hardcover, $18.99 (young adult, ages 14 and up)
Lynette Noni’s The Prison Healer is a gritty YA fantasy that follows life in a notorious death prison.
Seventeen-year-old Kiva Meridan has spent the last ten years fighting for survival in 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 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. —Synopsis provided by HMH Books for Young Readers
The Prison Healer is a book that sticks with you. A week after finishing it, bits and pieces are still replaying in my mind. The twist at the end, in particular, really sticks with you.
Author Lynette Noni’s world building is different than most. The world begins small, like Kiva’s own story, limited to the infirmary. It’s very insular, and you know there’s more, but Noni only gives you a peak. As the story progresses, the world and magic system follow the same path. And by the end, you realize the story is only just beginning.
I found this approach refreshing, as fantasy authors often spend too much time setting the scene and forgetting about their characters. Noni strikes the right balance here, with a driving prose that kept me glued to the pages.
However, there are elements that some readers could find unsavory or triggering. The book takes place in a prison camp, which means there are some real sleazy characters. Rape and self-harm are mentioned, although not discussed in great detail. Physical and mental abuse at the hands of other prisoners and guards comes up as part of daily life. Noni does a good job balancing this and keeping things appropriate for older young adults. She uses only the occasional curse word, and there is no sexual dialog.
The Prison Healer is the first book in a planned trilogy with the second book, The Gilded Cage, set to release in October. It’s a great option for readers who don’t want to read “high fantasy” but enjoy getting their toes wet.
© 2021, Cracking the Cover. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise noted, all books — digital and physical — have been provided for free by publishers in exchange for honest and unbiased reviews. All thoughts and opinions are those of the reviewer.