The Prison Healer, Lynette Noni – Book Review

Hello Humans! Today I’m reviewing a YA fantasy that felt rather nostalgic despite being a new release…

ELEMENTAL TRIALS I MEAN…

Goodreads Summary:

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.

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The first thing I noticed about this book was the dedication to Sarah J Maas, the next thing that caught my eye was the main character describing her own hair as ‘as black as night’. As someone who has a bit of a soft spot for kind of…cliché YA I was pretty sure that I was in for at the very least a fun and entertaining time.

I ended up coming out of this book with more thoughts and opinions than I perhaps thought I would have.

At it’s core this is a kind of tropey YA book, which I think is pretty evident from the description. I have to give the book credit for actually showing the elemental trials and not having them happen off page – which has happened on more than one occasion and always annoys me. Kiva was a strong character and I enjoyed her perspective on things, she didn’t feel too ‘heavenly’ or ‘heroic’ just the right balance of things.

The choice to set things in a prison was what really drove this book into a slightly different place – and a complex one at that. Obviously this is a fantasy prison but for the most part the concept of imprisonment is fairly similar in whatever setting you use it, you’re always going to have genuine criminals and people there because the system is corrupt with guards who exert power over said prisoners. For me, it’s hard to fully surrender to the ‘this is a fantasy’ angle because my brain is going ‘well it is pretty much this unethical in the real world’. That’s not necessarily a problem in and of itself and might even be a good starting point for discussions of those issues with young adults who might not otherwise be thinking about those things…

…but it is a wee bit jarring when juxtaposed with the tropey YA elemental trials and magic stuff happening…

I will also add that there is a nigh on constant threat of violence (including violence of a sexual nature) within this story. Readers who are sensitive to those themes may want to go in with care.

One thing that I did think worked well was the choice to have Kiva stand in for the rebel queen without it being ‘I must defend my sister’ which is something of an overplayed dynamic in YA fantasy. I thought it was fascinating to see an ‘ordinary’ person have to find their way through these trials and, while I won’t spoil it, I thought that Kiva’s reasoning for doing so felt believable. You don’t get that awkward ‘I feel like you’re doing too much good this feels unrealistic’ that you sometimes get in similar stories.

I definitely found this story compelling and I would read another book in the series. In the end I came out with a lot to think on but I’m not sure that was the books intention so I’m not sure how much credit to give! I’ll be interested to see whether this series falls into that familiar YA fantasy pitfall of having had a really clear setting and structure in the first book and not necessarily having those elements later on? I would say it would be a good read for anyone who wants to scratch the tropey YA itch, but don’t go in expecting just a silly fun time because there are some much darker story elements in there.

My rating: 3/5 stars

I received a free digital copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley – all opinions are my own.

The Prison Healer is out now!

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