Cover of The Prison Healer: A gate and lock with a flower growing out of it.

About the Book

Title: The Prison Healer (The Prison Healer #1)
Published: 2021
Series: The Prison Healer
Swoonworthy Scale: 5

Cover Story: Ya Basic
BFF Charm: Destiny’s Child
Talky Talk: Surface-Level Fantasy
Bonus Factor: Secrets & Lies
Anti-Bonus Factors: Mysterious Illness, Awful Grown-ups
Relationship Status: Second Date

Content Warning: Discussion of sexual assault (nothing explicit), death, a character gets whipped

Cover Story: Ya Basic

I don’t know why, y’all, but this cover brings to mind a chastity belt (maybe the lock combined with the flower??). There’s nothing abhorrent to my eyes, I’m just…bored. Nothing about this would get me to pick up the book if I hadn’t read the synopsis.

The Deal:

For ten years, Kiva Meridan has lived, worked, and suffered in Zalindov prison for the crime of being around when her father was captured. She occupies the roles of healer and Warden’s informant on the imprisoned rebels, and tries to keep her head down while she waits for her remaining family to rescue her. See, every so often they’ll pass her a note telling her to be patient; they’re coming.

Kiva’s daily routine is shattered as Jaren, a mysterious new prisoner arrives and seems intent on becoming her friend. Then the unthinkable happens: the elusive Rebel Queen—whose forces have been sowing dissent and violence against the Crown for years—arrives at Zalindov, captured and half-dead. Instead of a life sentence, she’s been tasked to complete the Trial by Ordeal: 4 elemental tests that no one without magic can survive. When Kiva gets word from her family that they are coming and must keep the Rebel Queen alive, she realizes she’s about to face the most impossible task.

BFF Charm: Destiny’s Child

Kiva hides her bleeding heart behind a prickly demeanor, which I adore in a book BFF. Of course you’d be buttoned up too if you were living in a prison like Zalindov, where every move you make is being monitored and a little light torture for funsies at the hands of a bored prison guard was a regular occurrence. I appreciated that Kiva was decent at her core (despite herself, she cares for a young boy, Tripp, who is a ball of pure sunshine) but also understood that to survive you sometimes have to do the pragmatic thing and suck up to the right person or play into the unearned reputation someone thinks you have. Sometimes being too good and honorable can get you killed.

Swoonworthy Scale: 5

Kiva has kept her head down and avoided attachments for ten years, but she’s a hot-blooded seventeen year old, and Jaren is probably the finest—and most charming—prisoner who has come through her infirmary. What’s that they say though? The course of true love never did run smooth. Jaren is more taken with Kiva right off, but for the most part the text understands that our characters are hanging out in a prison and it’s decidedly unromantic. Also there are a lot of secrets that need to be aired and two more books, so strap in.

Talky Talk: Surface-Level Fantasy

This book is pure fantasy-lite, in that there are a lot of broad strokes vis a vis an elemental magic system, made-up countries, and in-world folklore, but frustratingly little in the way of deep, actual details. So be warned: the focus is character and plot versus world-building. (Perhaps we’ll get more in the coming books.) The writing is serviceable and straightforward and, at times, meandered more than it needed to, but after struggling a bit with some other recent reads, this was an easy story to sink into. If you’re an avid YA reader, I think you’ll guess most of the big plot points before they pop up, but that didn’t turn me off enough to stop reading.

The only part of the author’s style that drove me batty was her tendency to recap the plot “up to now” for me as if I were an amnesiac who forgot she just read the last chapter. I had to start skipping entire paragraphs whenever Kiva began to ruminate alone. It always makes me feel like the author isn’t giving me, the reader, enough credit to put together their story’s (not-exactly-Sherlockian) twists and turns. I was prepared to chalk it up to a debut author faux pas, but then I realized Noni has a bunch of books under her belt so…I guess she just wants to be really clear.

Bonus Factor: Secrets & Lies

Someone whispering in a person's ear

Obvi, I don’t want to give away any of said secrets, so this is a bonus factor that I can’t really discuss. I know; I’m super helpful. But if you like a story with dramatic flair…

Anti-Bonus Factor: Mysterious Illness

Vials of medicine

I’ll admit I was expecting a bit more out of the plotline about the mysterious stomach virus that was killing prisoners left and right. Just like with the general world-building, plot points like this had all the makings of good intrigue but unfortunately stayed kind of spongey and undercooked.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Awful Grown-ups

Boxtrolls characters

Seriously, screw the Warden and his demented prison guards. And, like, I know Kiva is super hopeful that her family is going to break her out of prison, but—my dudes! It’s been TEN FREAKING YEARS and all she gets are the occasional 5-10 word note smuggled in by the stable hand. Rude!

Relationship Status: Second Date

I’m intrigued enough for a second date, Book. I get the feeling after that ending you’ve got a lot more up your sleeve, so feel free to go ahead and wow me. Just be aware—I have a good memory, so no need to recapitulate.

Literary Matchmaking

The Winner’s Curse (The Winner’s Trilogy #1)

Just like in this book, not everyone is who they seem to be in The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski.

The Orphan Queen (The Orphan Queen #1)

You may spot familiar beats in Jodi Meadows’ Orphan Queen as a rag-tag group of rebels try to fight back against those who stole a kingdom.

The Queen of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling #1)

In Erika Johansen’s The Queen of the Tearling, the main character has won the right to rule her kingdom–but now she has to keep it.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from HMH Books for Young Readers. I received neither money nor peanut butter cups in exchange for this review. The Prison Healer is available now.

Stephanie (she/her) is an avid reader who moonlights at a college and calls Orlando home. Stephanie loves watching television, reading DIY blogs, planning awesome parties, Halloween decorating, and playing live-action escape games.