Rhen Tellur is hellbent on being a scientist. She loves the thrill of the experiment and the puzzle of the discovery–but for Rhen, it’s even more personal than that. In her world, women are second-class citizens considered capable only of running men’s households and bearing their children. And that’s an idea Rhen definitely doesn’t love. She’ll do anything for the chance to pursue her education and further her love of learning. And her cousin Seleni will do anything to help her–especially when Rhen’s mom contracts the deadly disease that’s been plaguing the city’s poor. Rhen knows that if she only had access to the latest scientific advancements and information, she could help. But the only way to get access is to attend Stemwick University…an all-male school, of course. Even if the school did allow women, Rhen’s chances would be hopeless. Only the rich elite of Pinsbury Point can afford such an opportunity.
Each year, every family receives a letter. Extended to all men of entry-level age is an invitation to compete for a full scholarship to Stemwick. All they have to do to get it? Enter the school’s deadly labyrinth… and be the last one standing when the competition is over. For Rhen, it will mean dressing like a boy and pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes, but it’s a chance.
Rhen knows that to enter the maze is to risk her life. Even if she makes it to the end, there’s no guarantee they’ll give her the scholarship. But she’ll do it anyway–to save her mother, and the rest of the rotting poor, from an even worse fate. And maybe, just maybe, she’ll prove to everyone how ridiculous the rules were in the first place. All she has to do is survive…
TO BEST THE BOYS (Thomas Nelson, March 2019) features lush world-building, a spunky, dynamic heroine with a mile-a-minute mind and voice reminiscent of Felicity Montague of Mackenzi Lee’s Petticoats & Piracy, and a plot as nail-bitingly intense as Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games.
Initially a little slow to start, but I was hooked in the buildup to entering the maze and after that point could barely put the book down! For me, one of the most gratifying aspects of the book is that it centers on the relationship between two women. Though Rhen and Seleni in many ways could not be more different, the bond between them was unbreakable and stayed center stage. As much as I appreciated this, however, I did also want more of the romantic plot. As it was, it felt a little under-realized–I also would have really loved to see more page time between Lute and Rhen. (Also more Beryll!)
All told, this book is witty, charming, fast, and fun. Weber leads her readers on a suspenseful, high-stakes adventure while presenting a pretty unforgiving metaphor for the dangers awaiting young people as they prepare to confront the world. If you love smart, brassy girls and sweet, cinnamon roll boys, you’ll enjoy Mary Weber’s TO BEST THE BOYS.
*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.*