The Prison Healer by Lynette Noni is a young adult fantasy that is both exciting and nerve-wracking. Kiva has been the Prison Healer for almost 10 years, and it’s time to escape.
TW: This blog post mentions self-harm and drug addiction briefly. as these are topics of the book. Additional TW’s for the book include miscarriage, sexual assault, psychological torture, and death
Kiva and her father were sent to Zalindov, a notorious death prison, when only a child. Her father was a well-known healer before their imprisonment and is set to work immediately. However, a plague kills him, and at a young age, Kiva has to take over his job as the prison healer. A decade has passed since she was first placed in prison, and she has done everything to survive. Kept her head down, been the informer for the warden, and tried to stay out of everyone’s way. However, a new prisoner has arrived, and things are changing.
“And so, Kiva would just have to live with the consequences. Or die from them.”
Jarren arrives in the prison, and between him and the new female guard, it seems Kiva’s general disposition towards being left alone is being ignored. They are always in her infirmary and still in her business. Jarren is handsome, of course, but what’s the point of romance when you’re in a deadly prison. Things get further shaken up when the Rebel Queen arrives in the prison and must be kept alive to participate in the Ordeal by Trial. It is an elemental trial, in which the prisoner is tested by the four elements. If they survive, then they can go free. If they die, then the prosecution did its job. Kiva is told to keep her alive, but the Rebel Queen is dying and worse still – the plague that killed her father is back.
“If she could go free, then maybe one day they could too. She was their hope, their faith in a different, brighter future.”
I had my initial hesitations with this book. When the love interest was introduced well before the plot had been developed, a few red flags were raised. However, Kiva did not lose too much of her true self in the love interest, which I was grateful for. As the story progressed, I was more and more interested in the world and wanted more information. The main story is placed entirely in prison, and so we only hear parts of how the world outside of it works. Kiva even touches on this, mentioning that she has no idea how the rebels’ actions affect the kingdom at the moment.
“They were doomed to fail before they even started.”
This book touches on some risque topics in a very gentle way. While the book is dark and morbid, parts of it were handled in a way that could only be described as respectful. Kiva had a long history of self-harm, and the book even discusses how this becomes an addiction. Jarren discusses drug addiction from a loved one’s perspective. These topics are difficult to handle in a respectful and well-researched way, but Noni managed to do so. As someone who can relate heavily to both perspectives, I was really appreciative of this.
“Never apologize for loving someone. Even when it hurts. Especially when it hurts.”
Initially, I considered this a four-star read. The book’s pacing could have been better, and the world-building could have been a little denser. As is often the case with dark fantasy books, the romance wasn’t entirely necessary and at times made me bored. The plot twist at the end of this book is all together where the five-star rating comes from. Generally, I wouldn’t allow the epilogue to be worthy of an entire star, but I have made an exception in this case.
“Kiva didn’t think he was broken. After everything she’d learned about him, she thought he just might be one of the strongest people she knew. And that terrified her.”
Thank you to Edelweiss and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.