To Best The Boys by Mary Weber – Review

I read this book whilst taking part in the readalong run by Fairy Loot. It was due to take place over the course of 4 days, which seemed simple enough. Until I got to day 3. I reached the end of the allocated chapters for the day and realised there was no way in hell I was putting the book down. I was enjoying it far too much and just had to find out what happened, so I pushed on and finished the book then and there.

Blurb

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.

Welcome to the labyrinth.
TBTB


Review

Before I even begin with reviewing the story itself, I have to discuss the dedications page. I love reading these pages in books; aside from the usual thanking or dedicating loved ones at the beginning of the book, so many authors put in wonderful quotes, anecdotes, and jokes. To Best The Boys has shot up to the top of my list of favourites, with this lovely little paragraph:

For the girl who’s been told to quiet down,
calm down, sit down, or just leave
it to the men – this is for you.
And to those who told you such things?
Watch. Us. Rise

How wonderful is that?!

*Ahem* Anyway. Onto the actual content of the book!

Rhen Tellur quickly became one of my favourite heroines. In a world where men rule, get the best of education, and women are expected to fall into place playing the perfect little housewives, Rhen unashamedly refuses to conform. Dedicated to helping her Father discover a cure to a deadly disease that is ravaging the town, Rhen throws herself into scientific studies and experiments, forever toeing the line and getting into trouble as she steals important tissue samples from dead bodies by sneaking into the undertakers.

Showing her intellectual prowess, Rhen is able to hold her own within the Labyrinth, solving the various problems and progressing along with the boys. Outside of the contest, her interest in science was frowned upon, brushed aside as silliness, but now under the guise of being ‘one of the boys’, Rhen’s knowledge is treated as an advantage, even going as far as being a saviour at some points.

Anything that encourages women/girls to realise they can be whatever they want to be wins my vote every time, and this book does it in such a special way. Whilst Rhen rejects the cosy housewife option and pursues an education instead, her cousin Seleni is more than happy pursuing her chosen beau and preparing for a life as a doting wife, and both of these are represented as equally acceptable choices.

This book also shows such a broad spectrum of character types and family set ups, spread throughout both the rich and poor ends of the town. From single parents to learning difficulties, there is a large variety of characters and they are all so very well written in their respective situations. It also tackles the tough topic of inappropriate comments and women being treated as objects – Both Rhen and Seleni being subjected to inappropriate comments at points within the book, and several male characters seemingly only concerned with what they can get from a girl. Luckily some of the better (in my opinion) male characters within the book get a good chance to set those other guys straight, and it makes for entertaining reading.

Now this is a YA book, and honestly where would a YA book be without it’s romance element? The romance within this story is well plotted out, with Rhen and her love interesting having a pre-existing friendship from the beginning, which I always prefer to the cliche of two characters just falling together midway through a book. The small portions of romance that are slotted in between the action are cute; enough hints that there’s something going on but not enough to take away from the main path of the story.

As a small side note, the whole labyrinth contest is regarded as a highly anticipated event within the town, with a large amount of the population turning up to spectate and have a feast whilst they wait. Throughout the book, some wonderful sweet treats referred to as Labyrinth Cakes are mentioned. I was very happy to discover a recipe for these cakes tucked away at the back of the book – A recipe I fully intend on trying out in the near future to see if they are as tasty as they sound. If it goes well, I will have to update you all! (If it goes badly, I will be disposing of the evidence and never mention the fabled goodies ever again!)

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