Title: To Best the Boys
Author: Mary Weber
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Published: March 19, 2019
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
The task is simple: don a disguise. Survive the Labyrinth. Best the boys.
In a thrilling new fantasy from the bestselling author of the Storm Siren Trilogy, one girl makes a stand against society and enters a world made exclusively for boys.
Every year for the past fifty-four years, the residents of Pinsbury Port have received a mysterious letter inviting all eligible-aged boys to compete for an esteemed scholarship to the all-male Stemwick University. The poorer residents look to see if 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 train in wifely duties and men pursue 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 is ready for a girl who doesn’t know her place. And not everyone survives the deadly maze.
I wanted to read this book because of the feminist vibes and labyrinth as I find them cool. So, this book is about how a girl named Rhen bests the boys in a maze competition for annual scholarhsip, held by Mr. Holm in which only boys are allowed to participate. So our MC Rhen and her cousin don a disguise and enter the competition which had claimed lives of 5 contestants so far. Sounds interesting, right? I thought so too.
✔Headstrong, inspiring feminist MC.
✔Friendship between Rhen and her cousin Seleni
✔Rep of dyslexia, autism and down’s syndrome
Now let me tell you what I didn’t like about this book:
✖I wish it was more show, don’t tell but sadly it was the other way around. I was promised magical labyrinth and magical creatures and I kept waiting for them to make significant appearance instead I was only told the characters hear the screeches of sea sirens and pregnant mountain basilisks. There was not enough magic. It felt like I was promised velvety Magnum ice cream but they handed me sugar-free candy! 😫
✖The much awaited competition starts after 50% of the book and lasts only for few pages. So unsatisfying.
✖The labyrinth was supposed to be fierce and deadly but it turned out quite the opposite. There was no intense competition between the contestants to keep me on the edge and waiting for the next thrilling moment because there were no thrilling moments. It was all mundane.
✖The star plus drama type disguise. Rhen chopped off her hair and Seleni pinned up her hair and covered them with a hat. They also lowered their voice when they talked to other contestants so they won’t be recognized by the very same boys they grew up with. Sounds familiar? 😉
✖The male characters were supper dull, boring and annoying. Seleni’s fiance, Beryll, was a chicken and Rhen’s suitor was an hypocrite (read punchable). Rhen’s crush Lute was nice and caring though but he didn’t ● click with me.
✖There was a lot of gross talk about bloated corpses, stolen blood samples etc.
✖This story could have been completed in 70-100 pages, at most.
✖(Spoiler in this para) The ending was unjustified and did not make sense at all. Mr. Holm was actually a woman who magically takes on different appearances. May be we should have been told a lil bit about what in Merlin’s beard that sort of magic was, if it really was magic at all? And if she could transform herself with magic then why couldn’t Rhen and Seleni?
Why there was an entrance test again after the winner was announced?
The cover is gorgeous. We see lush green labyrinth and a girl trying to find her way out. For some reason, it reminds me of Jennifer Connely’s movie Labyrinth and the game show, The Crystal Maze, which I used to watch when I was a kid.
I liked the feminist theme of the story but not how it was executed. May be my expectations were too high. You may like this book if you like a light fantasy read and a strong and inspiring feminist MC.