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.
Why has it taken me this long to read a book by Mary Weber? I’m now a confirmed fan, and To Best the Boys was an absolute delight to read.
You can’t help falling in love with Rhen. She’s exceptionally intelligent, compassionate, driven, and is more comfortable in the presence of dead bodies than at an opulent party. She’s also dyslexic, and has found ways to succeed in spite of it. Although society expects her to be content with ‘wifely duties’, she sees a different future for herself, and takes risky steps to make it happen. It’s important to mention that when Rhen’s cousin, Seleni, says being a wife and mother is what she wants, her choice isn’t disparaged – it’s the path that’s right for her. And that’s what this book is about – knowing what’s right for you, and not compromising your dreams to fit someone else’s expectations.
It’s also about outsmarting the labyrinth. Riddles, creatures, death, dangerous feats – all lie within, and you’ll be holding your breath through some tension-filled moments. Besides all of that, ghosts and sirens are also dangerous elements in this world, inhabiting the streets and sea at night.
I have to mention Rhen’s relationships with her parents, Seleni, and her other friends – all are honest, loving, and done so well. Everyone needs their support people.
To Best the Boys is an exciting adventure with a splash of a mystery, and I’d highly recommend it to young women interested in STEM. And as a bonus, there’s a mouth-watering recipe for Labyrinth Cookies! A joy to read from beginning to end.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the digital ARC.