This ARC was provided to me by the publisher at my request. The following review reflects my unbiased opinion of the story and is no way influenced. Thank you to the publisher, Thomas Nelson Publishing.
To Best the Boys
Author: Mary Weber
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Release Date: March 19, 2019
Rating: 4 Stars
Synopsis: Every year for the past fifty-four years, the residents of Pinsbury Port receive a mysterious letter inviting all eligible-aged boys to compete for an esteemed scholarship to the all-male Stemwick University. Every year, the poorer residents look to see that 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 are trained in wifely duties and men are encouraged into 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’s ready for a girl who doesn’t know her place. And not everyone survives the maze.
To Best the Boys is the kind of book that I want to give to every young girl I see. The themes of empowerment woven through this story are wonderfully timed and thoughtfully executed. We follow Rhen Tellur, a scientifically minded young woman, who lives in a town where girls are expected to learn only to be good wives and boys are the only ones allowed to attend college. After her concerns about the deadly, crippling disease that is plaguing the poor parts of her town are once again dismissed by the rich elitist men of parliament, Rhen decides to take matters into her own hands. She disguises herself as a boy and enters the yearly competition thrown by a mysterious Mr. Holm for a full-ride scholarship to the all-male Stemwick University.
This story was oddly fast and slow paced, but it is intriguing enough that I finished it in less than a day. The build up to the competition took a little over half the book, but it was necessary for setting up the tension and stakes. Even though the world building was a little light for my usual tastes, I LOVED what I did learn of the town and its inhabitants. There was some solid characterization and growth for the main and secondary characters, especially considering the book is only 311 pages. I think my favorite character was actually Seleni. She really shines and she says some truly empowering things about being a strong woman AND a strong wife. Another thing I really liked about this story was it wasn’t the traditional “put a sword in a girl’s hand to make her strong”. I love strong sword wielding women, but I also like women who win the day with their minds.
If you are looking for a fast, empowering fantasy read, look no further than To Best the Boys.