Book Review: The Prison Healer, by Lynette Noni
Updated: 11 hours ago
I was very ready to love this one. A combination of blazing reviews and gushing testimonials from my friends and the bookish community led me to believe that this was one of the best YA books I'd ever read.
This was mostly true: it did justice to the tropes by giving me a kick-ass protagonist with a lot of growing to do, access to a wider world of maps and politics, lovable sidekicks and exciting action.
Maddy holds a copy of The Prison Healer, by Lynette Noni. Image: Madeleine Corbel, 2021.
Though many of the YA classics have spoiled me, cursing our generation to constantly compare any new material to the old, I still respected the hell out of this book.
The tasks that formed that backbone of the story weren't actually the main events in the book. They didn't need to be – there was so much else to captivate the reader and propel them through the words. This task-like structure reminded me a little of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: the three tasks are important, and create some compelling action to keep us keen. Ultimately, however, the mystery and intrigue that grips us occurs in the orbiting events. Characters, word building and political freedom fights are the juicy bits.
I knew from the first couple of chapters that I would keep reading, and I knew for sure on the final page that I would be following the rest of the series, no matter how many consecutive stories would be published. I might regret that vow later (just like my resolution to read all of the Throne of Glass and Shadowhunter novels), but for now ... I'm a keen bean.
There's so much to look forward to: the growing rebellion outside the prison; the developing friendships and life-and-death bonds that a distrusting protagonist is learning to form and nurture; and the strange sickness spreading throughout the prison (a very unsettling subplot that hurt the soul during a very real pandemic)! I was super engrossed, and I couldn't put it down.
This book made me think a lot about genre, and the roles that conventions and formula play in creating a 'good' book – whatever that means.
Does a familiar narrative structure (such as this one, with the tasks and comforting world-building tropes) make the book a grind? Is it cheesy to expect a blossoming romance subplot? Is it annoying to have to work our way through multitudes of books in a series just to reach a conclusion?
Or are these conventions there so that we know what to expect when we buy the book? Does the cover design, the character development, the tropes, the action all point towards YA fantasy so clearly that it makes the reading process more enjoyable?
I think it might be a combination of the two. It's bloody important, marketing wise, to have a clear audience and direction in mind when you publish a book. The sign-posts that lead to genre identification have to be super clear, otherwise your book won't sell. But as a reader of YA fantasy, I'm always on the look-out for an original story that still gives me all of the tropes that I've come to love. And there were a lot of moments in this book that didn't feel original – but can I criticise the book for that?
I love a book that makes me think about broader concepts. I also love a book that's really enjoyable to read, so I'll be continuing the series and rushing to pick up YA fantasy books from my local bookstores because these repeated tropes keep me reading.
As always, thanks a bunch for reading with me,