THE PRISON HEALER by Lynette Noni.
Hodder & Stoughton. h/back. £14.99.
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.
As the prison healer, Kiva does more than just heal Zalindov’s many inmates. She also greets any new arrivals to the prison, branding them with the distinctive ‘Z’ and doing whatever else she must to survive. She is as hated as she is needed, a traitor, yet Kiva did what she must to survive. 10 years in Zalindov is a very long time. Unbeknownst to guards or warden, unbeknownst to themselves, the new arrivals bring Kiva messages from home. 10 years she has survived. 10 years she has waited for her family to rescue her. The last note had been three months ago. Still, she waited.
Zalindov prison serves all of the Kingdoms of Wenderall. Another cart brings another message and another inmate to Kiva. Not all survive the long and arduous journey, but this one had; his injuries would heal. He struck her as a little different to the rest, and not just because of his unusual eyes. Now Kiva would be responsible for marking him and instructing him in all of Zalindov’s terrible truths. She would be responsible for making sure he survived. Another burden on her young shoulders. Little does Kiva know that he will not be the only unusual new arrival she will see in her tenth year.
The Prison Healer is a heartwarming, young adult fantasy, heavy on traditional tropes and favouring emotional connection over the element of surprise. Whilst the narrative does seem to be chasing a quick win in some respects, it also manages to endear the reader enough to forgive all in favour of an easy-to-read and just-contemporarily-dark-enough tale of love, loss, magic and of course, a battle for the crown hanging over it all.The prison setting is a unique touch and grants a welcome level of tension throughout.
The point of view stays with Kiva from the start, and the details of her background and why she ended up in Zalindov are revealed significantly slowly, weaving in among the rebel plot, the sickness, the new arrivals, the secret messages, the many misuses of power and the various other plot elements which combine to flesh out the narrative. The ending is rather explosive in its scene-setting for the next book in the series.
This reviewer’s copy of The Prison Healer included a translation key for Kiva’s secret correspondence, enabling the reader to decode messages before reading the translated version in the text, a device one very much hopes will continue into the published book. The map of Zalindov, too, is excellent and helps to locate the reader in the story and firmly in Kiva’s corner. However, the worldbuilding perhaps needed more detail; there is a reliance on implied threat and implied living conditions.