To Best the Boys by Mary Weber

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The task is simple: Don a disguise. Survive the labyrinth . . . Best the boys.

Every year for the past fifty-four years, the residents of Pinsbury Port have received a mysterious letter inviting all eligible-aged boys to compete for an esteemed scholarship to the all-male Stemwick University. The poorer residents look to see if their names are on the list. The wealthier look to see how likely their sons are to survive. And Rhen Tellur opens it to see if she can derive which substances the ink and parchment are created from, using her father’s microscope.

In the province of Caldon, where women train in wifely duties and men pursue collegiate education, sixteen-year-old Rhen Tellur wants nothing more than to become a scientist. As the poor of her seaside town fall prey to a deadly disease, she and her father work desperately to find a cure. But when her mum succumbs to it as well? Rhen decides to take the future into her own hands—through the annual all-male scholarship competition.

With her cousin, Seleni, by her side, the girls don disguises and enter Mr. Holm’s labyrinth, to best the boys and claim the scholarship prize. Except not everyone is ready for a girl who doesn’t know her place. And not everyone survives the deadly maze.

Welcome to the labyrinth. (taken from Amazon)

An ode to strong females (and cadavers), I loved this book more in concept than reality. I blame myself: it was probably not the best time to read a book involving a mysterious deadly illness. However, while there were some things that just didn’t work for me, there were several things that did.

Rhen was an interesting character. She was intelligent and strong-willed. I liked that she was knowledgeable in medical areas. She did have a “I’m smarter than you” attitude toward other people that I found annoying (even if it was true). Her inner dialogue also often felt like a political speech. Unfortunately, Rhen often seemed more like a viewpoint than a person. I loved her best friend, Seleni, though. Seleni was a well-rounded character. She liked all things feminine, looked forward to getting married and raising a family – and still kicked butt. A person can be both “domestic” and hardcore, and it was refreshing to see that in a book.

I have to mention that Rhen had two loving parents. Two! No Disney widow/widower nonsense, thank you very much. I really liked that as well. That’s not something often found in YA fantasy, so kudos to the author for that.

Of course, there was the romance angle. Blah. I was not a huge fan of the whole love-triangle thing between Rhen and her two fellas. I am old and crotchety and just don’t have much interest in any of that. Thankfully, while it was distracting, it was not the entirety of the book.

Something that surprised me about the book was how long the set up was. The story is supposed to follow the competition, but a good chunk of it took place before the labyrinth. By the time the competition part started, I had kind of forgotten the point. In fact, I was a little bit bummed over how mysterious it…wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, the potential was there, it just didn’t quite deliver.

I was also a little confused as to why Rhen pretended to be male. The loophole that she discovered which allowed her to enter the competition made it so the deception was completely unnecessary. If someone can answer that one for me, please do because I feel like I just missed that part of the explanation.

Basically, this is my long winded way of saying that I liked the book but am not over the moon about it. What about you? Have you read it?

4 thoughts on “To Best the Boys by Mary Weber

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