The Prison Healer

HMH. Apr. 2021. 416p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780358434559.
Gr 8 Up–Kiva Meridan has spent most of her life as a prisoner of Zalindov, where the rulers of Wenderall’s eight kingdoms send the worst of the worst. Imprisoned as a child with her father, she became the prison’s healer and an informant to the ruthless warden, Rooke, who runs the facility. The uneasy rhythm of Kiva’s life changes when the Rebel Queen is caught and sentenced to Trial by Ordeal, a punishment meted out to the most dangerous criminals. If the woman survives, she is innocent and will be let free—but no one has ever survived, and certainly not someone as deathly ill as the blind Rebel Queen. Kiva volunteers to take her place after receiving a coded message from her family: “Don’t let her die. We are coming.” Kiva is a largely unsympathetic character, and her romance with inmate Jaren is uncomfortable, mainly because she repeatedly tells him she isn’t interested. There are a variety of red flags, including the casual treatment of guards assaulting and raping prisoners. Several side characters and plots feature uncomfortable ableism: a guard’s magical prosthetic that functions better than her hand, the Rebel Queen’s blindness and how her story concludes, the stigmatization of a guard with an STI, and a variety of ableist metaphors. Jaren has “honeyed” skin and blue eyes, Kiva has green eyes, and Rooke and some of the guards have dark skin.
VERDICT An easy pass in favor of readalikes by Sabaa Tahir, Sarah J. Maas, and Tahereh Mafi.

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