Synopsis: “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.”
What a beautiful, uplifting novel!
The book starts off with our main character Rhen, in a morgue dissecting a dead body! If that doesn’t set the mood of this book my dudes. Rhen is 16 and the daughter of a scientist father and upper-class mom turned lower-class when she married. Women in this sea-side town are meant for one thing and that is to be a wife and do wifely duties. But that is not the life Rhen wants. When her mother contracts a deadly virus that is sweeping through her town, Rhen and her father are furiously searching to find a cure before it takes their beloved wife and mother. But with time creeping up on them and no cure in sight, Rhen decides to enter into The Competition- an all-male scholarship competition in hopes of winning and furthering her education and finding a cure for the horrid disease.
“Society’s more likely to embrace cross-stitch as a sport than toss out its long-standing history of gender roles.”
Rhen and Seleni, Rhen’s cousin, decide to put on disguises to make them appear as boys and enter into the famed but deadly competition. Put on by the elusive Mr. Holms, the game tests a person’s strengths and weaknesses and the girls find themselves fighting for their right to be there at every twist and turn the labyrinth throws at them.
” ‘Any young men you specifically hope will win, Rhen?’ the old cat biddies ask. ‘No.’ Because Seleni and I aren’t men.”
To Best the Boys was an amazing girl power novel! I inhaled this story in pretty much a sitting and was so invested in Rhens story I was a bit disoriented when I was finished with it. Not only do we have girl power, but there’s also a fantastic romance( OMG LUTE I LOVE YOU) and plenty of fantasy elements-ghouls, sirens, and BASILISKS oh my! Also, villians! and magic!
“Whoever said the female is the weaker of a species never tested that theory against the draw of a woman’s love.”
This was a beautiful journey of finding your place in a world that keeps pushing you down and developing the courage needed to stand up for your rights. I give it 5 stars.
*I received this book for free from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.*