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.
Review: 4 Stars
For some reason I thought that this book was going to be slow paced and boring, so I put off reading it for quite a while. Finally a friend of mine wanted to buddy read it, so I decided to give it a chance. To Best the Boys was so much better than I ever expected it to be. I loved the time period of fancy balls and gentlemen callers and I liked the characters even more. Where it did take a while for the book to get to the labyrinth challenge I found the timing to be perfect because I knew the characters and their individual reasons for attempting something so dangerous. I am so glad that I gave this book a chance.
Rhen was really fun to read about as she was a bit outspoken and a forward thinker in a time period that wasn’t ready for her. But what I loved about her the most was her huge heart. She had a bit of a caretaker personality, but not to the extent of people pleasing because she chased her own dreams despite societal ideals. She pushed boundaries and stayed true to herself even through the most trying times.
This book also had one of the best romances that I have read in a long time. Lute was an absolute gentleman and sweetheart despite his ‘lower’ societal status. I loved the way that he treated Rhen throughout the entire story. He was the knight in shining armor to her damsel in distress, yet still respected her and her dreams. He was a really good man and I found that her attraction to him translated well onto the page.
This was my first read of Mary Weber’s work and I have to admit that I am impressed. She managed to capture political and societal issues of the story, yet keep the pace moving the entire time. I did find myself getting a bit impatient for the labyrinth challenge to finally begin, but when I reflect back I think that the beginning was so necessary for character development. The labyrinth itself wasn’t as challenging as I expected and focused more on teamwork than individual strengths, but it was also kind of perfect for this story. The book seemed to focus on moral lines and challengers both crossed and upheld them, showing who they truly were at their core.
Overall I would say that I was impressed, although I did go into this book with low expectations. While this story was quite a bit different than I had expected, I really enjoyed it. To Best the Boys at its core is about chasing dreams and pushing boundaries while staying true to one’s values. I am so glad I took a chance on a book that I thought would be dull and I would love to check out other books Mary Weber has written. I actually got a review copy of Storm Siren years ago that I never read that I can’t wait to read now.