The Prison Healer
30 Mar. 2021
Paperback / softback
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.
InformationBook Type: Senior High
Age Group: 15 years +
Traffic Lights: Green/Amber
Class Novel: Yes
Good Reads Rating: 5/5
Literary Rating: 5/5
Kiva, now 17-years-old, has been locked up in Zalindov prison for the past ten years and alone for nine of them, since her father passed away.
The only thing that has kept her going is the hope of being reunited with the rest of her family, a hope kept alive by secret encoded notes that occasionally make their way into her hands, telling her the same thing over and over: “We are safe. Stay alive. We will come.”
To keep going, she will do almost anything, including carving the prison mark (a ‘Z’) into the flesh of new arrivals, a job greatly at odds with her role as prison healer.
The only person she has allowed to get close to her is 11-year-old Tipp, whose mother died of an infection after the guards stopped her from visiting the infirmary until it was too late for Kiva to save her.
When a new prisoner arrives with whip marks on his back, Kiva does what she always does—treats his wounds and carves the mark. She’s shocked when the infirmary guard appoints her to give him his orientation to the prison and tries to warn Jaren that nothing can prepare him for what he will experience. Zalindov will test him in every way possible, and the odds of survival are well and truly against him.
Warden Rooke rules the prison on behalf of all eight surrounding kingdoms, meaning he is primarily left to his own devices. So long as he looks after their ‘criminals’, they don’t really care how he does it. Kiva serves as his informant, another choice she has made in order to survive. Consequently the rebels within the prison (who support the long-lost queen and her quest for vengeance for all she has lost), don’t trust her and would just as cheerfully knife her as look at her.
When a blind, middle-aged woman is carried into her infirmary, Kiva is shocked to discover she is Tilda Corentine, the Rebel Queen. The woman has been sentenced to The Trial by Ordeal, four elemental tasks that purportedly will prove if she is innocent or guilty and determine whether she will be set free. When another note arrives from her family, the message has changed: “Don’t let her die. We are coming.” After the long years of Kiva’s waiting, they were coming for the Rebel Queen. But the Rebel Queen can’t confirm or deny who she is—she is so ill with a fever that just won’t break no matter what Kiva tries, that it soon becomes clear she has no chance of taking part in the Ordeal and surviving. To make matters worse, the prison rebels threaten to kill Tipp if the Rebel Queen dies.
Kiva sees no option but to take her place. If she passes all four trials, both she and the Rebel Queen will go free. If she fails, they will both die—in which case Tipp would also be killed. Jaren, who has persisted in seeking her friendship, is horrified by the choice she has made.
Despite this, her quest to successfully complete the Ordeal brings to light unlikely allies and their help gets her through the first three tests, much to the Warden’s disgust. He insists that no-one helps her with the last test, the Ordeal by Water. But Jaren can’t bear to watch her die, and his endeavour to save her ultimately reveals the incredible secret he has been keeping—a secret only trumped by Kiva’s own …
A brilliant read, gritty without being graphic, and with a twist in its tail that many readers won’t see coming. Another excellent book by Lynette Noni, albeit very different to her Medoran Chronicles—this is a book for older readers and won’t be suitable for for advanced primary readers, as the Medoran Chronicles is.
family secrets, grief, loss, imprisonment, rebels, royalty, hope, survival, friendship, heritage
1. The guards are brutal and there are a number of references to their use and abuse of the female prisoners–Kiva has been abused and threatened but they stopped short of rape. None of this is described—only referred to. Women often come to Kiva for herbs to stop them falling pregnant, just in case. 2. There’s no gender separation in the prison, just unspoken rules about respect, which the prisoners generally adhere to, despite the guards not enforcing it. 3. Jaren’s mother (the ruling queen) has a drug problem, and Jaren has scars on his body from belt buckles and other implements she has hit him with when under the influence. 4. Kiva tells Jaren that no matter why someone is in the prison, she must help them because it is not her job to judge them, it is her job to heal them. She briefly mentions having to help a man who chopped up his own children and claimed he was selling pork offcuts to the local tavern when it was really human flesh. 5. Language: bitch x 7, bastard x 1, the rebels call Kiva ‘healer whore’ x 7, as they mistakenly believe she sleeps with the guards for favours. 6. Princess Mirren has a girlfriend. Jaren and Kiva kiss. 7. A stomach virus breaks out in the prison, and Kiva ultimately discovers that Warden Rooke has been poisoning the prisoners to thin out the population. It is a tactic he first tried nine years ago—a tactic that resulted in the death of Kira’s father. 8. Harlow, one of the most brutal of the prison guards, has to see Kira because of a venereal rash. She makes sure the treatment she gives him will ‘sting and burn his nether regions’ instead of healing them. 9. Cresta, head of the prison rebels, hates Kiva because Kiva saved her life when she tried to slit her wrists in the first weeks of her incarceration instead of allowing her to die as she wanted to. 10. The guards are ‘having a party’ with some of the female prisoners, when one of the women dies of an overdose. The guard couldn’t care less, except for the fact that he now doesn’t have a woman to fondle. He insists Kiva takes her place, but the infirmary guard saves her. Jaren goes to see her afterwards, and stays and holds her in his arms while she cries about the events that happened and eventually sleeps. 11. Jaren notices scars on Kiva, and she explains that she used to self-harm (as a response to the horror of carving the prisoners’ skin). However, she realised it was an addiction, and self-destructive. She was gradually able to break free of it.
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