Review: To Best the Boys
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.
I absolutely adored this book. It was smart, creative and funny, with an out-of-the-box, forward-thinking lead protagonist and a beautifully descriptive world. I appreciated it for its refreshing representation of women not just through breaking a glass ceiling, but of women who have absolutely everything pitted against them, including enduring societies expectations and breaking boundaries when it hasn’t been done before. To place these characters in this time setting and add a light fantasy element made it a delight to read. At times, it felt poetic and I was mesmerized by some of the characters, in particular, Lute. I loved him so much.
It was easy to follow along with Rhen and the others in the labyrinth and visualize everything that was going on — a little too well sometimes. I enjoyed the magical and fantastic elements that were included with the world-building and appreciated that it wasn’t over-the-top. Rhen bested the boys, and this line — “…… the future societal changes that may result from your female children believing it is within their power and right to become whoever and whatever they desire — and in doing so, to change the course of history.” — totally encompassed and summarized all 300+ pages of this book.
I’ll end this rant with one of my absolute favorite lines from the book, because, *swoon*:
“Because you are the wild sea and unkempt storms and constellations in a world where I am the anchor for everyone I know.”
I received this book through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.