The Prison Healer by Lynette Noni
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publishing Info: eARC from Hodder & Stoughton
Star Rating: 2/5
Back Cover Summary:
Seventeen-year-old Kiva Meridan is a survivor. For ten years, she has worked as the healer in the notorious death prison, Zalindov, making herself indispensable. Kept afloat by messages of hope from her family, Kiva has one goal and one goal only: stay alive.
Then one day the infamous Rebel Queen arrives at the prison on death’s door and Kiva receives a new message: Don’t let her die. We are coming.
The queen is sentenced to 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. Aware the sickly queen has little chance of making it through the Trials alive, Kiva volunteers to take her place. If she succeeds, both she and the queen will be granted their freedom.
But no one has ever survived.
And 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.
Thank you so much to Hodder & Stoughton and NetGalley for the eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
The Prison Healer is the first book by Lynette Noni I’ve read and I was excited to dive into this intriguing sounding novel. The description and concept of a story set entirely in a prison caught my attention, so I was very happy to be approved for an eARC and get the opportunity to read The Prison Healer early. Unfortunately, the opening chapters didn’t capture my attention and I almost DNFed quite early on. I kept on reading and the last quarter or so of the book had me much more riveted, so I was glad I didn’t give up on it. Until that twist on the final page, which left me feeling incredibly exasperated. More on that later.
The beginning of this review will be spoiler-free, with a section at the end containing major spoilers so I can properly explain why this twist ending was so frustrating. I’ll clearly signpost when the spoilers start so you can avoid them if you wish to.
The idea of a book set entirely in a deadly prison is very intriguing. Setting is really important in books located in entirely one location like this, the setting has to be considered as another character. Unfortunately, the setting didn’t have any personality. I wanted to be completely immersed in this dark and dangerous place, but I didn’t feel anything. There was no atmosphere or tension. We’re told people hardly ever leave this prison alive, that Kiva is unique for having managed to survive ten years. Almost everything we know about the prison we’re told, not shown. Because there was no atmosphere, it felt flat. In the latter half we did get to see the darker side to the prison, but for most of the book I didn’t feel afraid for the main character, I didn’t feel the tension that should come from a deadly prison setting.
The highlights of this book were the trials as these were the parts where I felt some suspense. The sections in between the trials, however, felt a little slow and didn’t keep me engaged. However, one of the best parts of this book was the friendship between Kiva and Tipp and how much she cared about him. I also liked how Kiva’s friendship with Naari slowly grew over the course of the book. At the beginning Kiva is quite closed off, but she slowly lets people in.
With the very last page, my feelings on this book plummeted dramatically. The twist is in some ways predictable for this sort of book, but I didn’t see it coming because there was no set up for it. And the twist related to the POV character, whose perspective we’d been seeing the whole story through. I felt a little cheated, to be honest, because crucial information about Kiva is kept secret from the reader so there can be a twist ending. But that twist just didn’t work for me. I actually stared open-mouthed at my Kindle because I was so stunned and baffled. Because of this revelation, almost everything Kiva thought and felt in the whole book made no sense. Even if you argue she’s an unreliable narrator, I don’t think it really works. I’m not completely against the final chapter twist – it could have worked if it had been handled differently, if I wasn’t left feeling so disconnected from the main character.
*This next section of my review will contain major spoilers for two major twists*
*Have you looked away yet*
*I’ll give you a bit more time…*
On the last page of the book, we find out that Kiva is actually a princess and the daughter of the Rebel Queen. The reason this was so frustrating to me was because I felt like I didn’t know Kiva at all. This book is told in third person but it’s a fairly close POV so we get to see a lot of Kiva’s thoughts. Considering the bombshell of the final page, all the thoughts and feelings from Kiva in the book no longer make total sense. It felt like I’d been lied to by the main character for the entire book, like her real thoughts and feelings had been hidden, so I was left feeling totally disconnected from her. If we’d had some hints that Kiva was hiding something, if we’d had some insight into her thoughts, that she has a secret that would have deadly consequences if anyone found out, that would have been intriguing, and also meant the twist end wouldn’t have come out of nowhere.
Once I read the final page, it also instantly made sense to me why the book had felt a little flat and all the emotional beats felt off, which could have been resolved by telling the reader Kiva’s identity from the start. Now that is a book I would have loved to read – a secret princess stuck in a prison for 10 years, hoping her family will rescue her, and having to keep her magic and her identity a secret. Then the Rebel Queen is brought to the prison – her mother. If we knew who she was and her relationship to Tilda, it would have given this story so much more emotional impact. We would have seen Kiva reunited with her mother, who she hasn’t seen for 10 years but still loves, but she’s sick and dying, and Kiva can’t give away that Tilda means something to her personally. But we didn’t get any of that. There was so much potential for emotional stakes which were missed.
The main reason for Kiva taking Tilda’s place in the trials is set up as being because Cresta threatened to kill Tipp if Kiva couldn’t keep the Rebel Queen alive. But looking back with the knowledge of Kiva’s identity, surely another motivation which we don’t see is that the queen is her mother.
Then there’s the other major twist, which comes in the second half of the book – that Jaren is actually a prince. If we knew who Kiva was, this would have provided so much conflict and tension, because he’s a prince on the opposing side of the civil war to Kiva. It would have left Kiva feeling conflicted between her feelings for Jaren and her part in the rebels’ plan to overthrow his family.
The ending also changed my feelings on Kiva herself completely. I felt deceived and frustrated. She seemed like this good person, albeit a bit standoffish, who wants to help people and be a good healer throughout the book, but then at the end she comes across as this princess who intends to rise and overthrow Jaren’s family. It just felt… off… for her character. And made me feel like perhaps everything I knew about Kiva’s character was a lie.
*End of spoilers*
The Prison Healer has such an interesting concept, but one big choice threw the whole thing off kilter and spoiled the book for me. Something about this book just felt off while I was reading it from the start and I just didn’t connect with it unfortunately. If the story had been told in a slightly different way, I think I’d have loved it a lot more. I’ve seen a some really positive reviews, so maybe others enjoyed the twist ending. I wish I could end this review on a more positive note, but unfortunately this book just didn’t work for me.