The Prison Healer (& the Gilded Cage)

Recommendation: I mean, you could find worse series. I still wouldn’t endorse this though

Where to read: Dumb summer

Read with: Cheap as fuck vodka

In brief: One tries to support local authors where possible but this is far from good. Perhaps judgment should be reserved until the final book has been released but the second in the series was so disappointing I don’t really expect a third instalment will improve the situation.

**Spoiler alert but let’s be honest, you’re not going to read this anyway**

This was one of those books I tend to pick up when work is stupidly busy and I don’t have the mental energy for anything substantive. As such, I had no expectations about its literary quality but I did expect a semi-sensible plot.

The first book is actually based on a moderately entertaining premise – rather than each footing the bill for a maximum security prison, the kingdoms of whatever-the-continent-is-called collaborate in maintaining a prison (Zalindov) where they can all dump their worst offenders (side note, this multinationalist impulse does not appear to have manifested itself anywhere else). Our protagonist (Kiva Meridian) is the only vaguely competent medic in the place so enjoys a comparatively protected position as the prison healer until “The Rebel Queen” is dragged in on the brink of death and she volunteers to take her place in a series of trials by magic (unclear how or why those are a thing).

There are then a series of almost blindingly predictable “plot twists” which illustrate brilliantly the absurdity of focalising your book through the character who knows the important knowledge at the heart of the twist. For example, Dumbledore revealing to Harry that he is a horcrux works as a twist/reveal because we and Harry find it out at the same time. Kiva telling us she is the “Rebel Princess” right at the end of the book when we have spent the last 400 pages in her head, on the other hand, is cheap and falls horribly flat. It also sacrifices all the suspense that might have been achieved had the reader fully understood the stakes for Kiva in saving her mother and getting involved with her hereditary enemy (yes, I know).

The second book is worse – turgid, tortured and truly infuriating as dear Kiva switches her brain off entirely and drags the reader in with her. I understand that the “protagonist learns they have fallen victim to propaganda and has to re-evaluate their entire world view” story line is fairly standard in the genre but this is a profoundly uninspired rendition. As things stand heading into the final book, Kiva is heading back to the titular prison and being forced into a drug addiction because this is basically misery porn. I give it 20 pages before she is rescued…

To give Noni credit where it is due, the writing is perfectly serviceable and some of the characters are genuinely likeable. It’s just a shame the main character is such a bore, the love interest is a cardboard cut out and the plot is so belaboured I should have stopped reading 30 pages into the first book.

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