The Prison Healer
PublisherHodder Paperbacks
Date Published10 May 2022
Price£ 8.99

The Prison Healer

by Lynette Noni

Kiva Meridan is an inmate in the notorious prison fortress of Zalindov. When the Rebel Queen is brought to Zalindov to stand Trial by Ordeal, it becomes Kiva’s job as a healer to keep her alive long enough to enter the Trials.


The vast prison fortress of Zalindov is a cruel and hostile place. Prisoners are routinely abused by guards, there is little light in their lives and certainly no hope of release. Seventeen-year-old Kiva Meridan does her best to help those unfortunate enough to be incarcerated there. She works in the primitive infirmary as a healer and has done for the past ten years. Her only aims are to stay alive, and to help others do the same. Things are harder now – if that’s even possible in such a grim place – with a deadly plague sweeping through the prison population. No one knows where it came from, or what’s causing it. For anyone who catches the disease, death is their only hope of release, and for the inmates, death is kinder than the prospect of staying alive.

The world outside Zalindov’s walls is in turmoil, with warring factions striving for dominance. Kiva’s only contact with those outside comes in the former of coded notes, slipped to her in secret, telling her that she’s not been forgotten, keeping her hopes alive that one day she might be able to escape other than by the release of death.

The arrival in Zalindov of the notorious Rebel Queen only complicates things further for Kiva. The governor orders her to keep the woman alive at all costs, even though she’s already more than half dead. The Rebel Queen must stay alive long enough to die in the infamous Trial by Ordeal, conducted under the eye of royal observers, Prince Deverick and Princess Mirryn, there to see justice done. Despite Kiva’s best efforts, there’s no way the woman is fit to enter the four ordeals, let alone stand a chance of surviving them.

When Kiva puts herself forward to undertake the Ordeals as the Rebel Queen’s champion, her chances of leaving Zalindov alive plummet.

The Prison Healer, the first of a YA fantasy trilogy by Australian author Lynette Noni was a surprisingly easy sell for me, even though I’ve made almost no forays into fantasy for decades. The closed world of a forbidding, brutal prison fortress made it easy for me to accept the scanty exterior world-building, which is usually where I find fantasy falls down. I liked the pragmatic gutsy Kiva from the start, when the world inside the prison was brought cruelly to life when she was shown using a knife to carve the letter Z into the hand of a young boy. Naturally, that aspect of her job doesn’t make Kiva popular with the other inmates and she has few friends or allies inside Zalindov.

The ordeals that Kiva must endure are brutal and chilling, particularly her incarceration inside the prison’s crematorium – while it’s turned on! Help comes from some unexpected quarters, including Jaren, a new prisoner who is determined to befriend Kiva, despite her attempts to push him away, and Naarvi, one of the few female guards. Kiva must survive the ordeals not just for herself but for her friend Tipp, an irrepressible 11-year-old boy who Kiva is determined to protect.

A strong storyline and well-drawn characters combine with the dark setting to produce a very entertaining opener to a trilogy that will allow the author time to expand the political world outside Zalindov, with its warring factions and ever-shifting alliances, and in this respect, when the world-building did come, I was wholly receptive to it. Kiva’s place in all this becomes clear in a late twist that left me very much wanting more of Lynette Noni’s dark vision of a world where politics combines with elemental power into a very effective and entrancing adventure alongside a hint of developing romance.

Reviewed 29 April 2023 by Linda Wilson