Monday, April 8, 2019

To Best the Boys by Mary Weber-- Science, Monsters, Magic, Historical

To Best the Boys

All eligible boys are invited to compete for a scholarship to Stemwick University-- that is, if they're up for it.  The contest is run by the mysterious Mr. Holm at his magical & dangerous manor, and boys compete (sometimes to the death) for a chance at winning.

Rhen Tellur sees both sides of Pinsbury Port.  She lives in the poor village, but she's invited into the world of the wealthy through her aunt and uncle's status.  She's desperate to find a cure to a deadly disease which is sweeping through her side of town-- especially after her mother comes down with it.

Rhen's dream of being a scientist, even though it's not something women do in this society, is put into high gear while watching her mother suffer.  If she can win the competition and beat all the boys, can they really deny her the scholarship??  She doesn't know for sure, but she has to try...

This is not my usual sort of book.  I don't read a lot of Fantasy or books set in Historical times, but I knew I was going to make an exception for this book because I was in the mood for a good old-fashioned YA competition book.  These types of books were being published on the regular about 5 years ago, but now??  I barely ever see them!

I would call this Light Fantasy.  There are some fantastical elements--some sea creatures, ghosts, and magic-- but we more hear about them rather than see them first hand.  For the most part, this feels like it's set in the 1700-1800's, with the exception that they seem to know about germ theory.  They wear the clothes, have the technology, and have the caste system of that time period, but I think it's supposed to be a different world because of the monsters and such?  You know, I'm really not sure.

Anyway, this book was about a teenager named Rhen Tellur-- a girl who lives in a traditional society, but wants to go to college and become a scientist.  Every year the town of Pinsbury Port holds a scholarship competition for all eligible boys.  It's dangerous and mysterious and certainly not something a lady would be invited to participate in.  This year is different though.... this year a deadly disease is spreading through the poor sections of town, and Rhen's mother is one of the affected.  Rhen decides she needs to follow her dreams and prove that a woman can go to college-- and what better way to show them all than by winning the all-boys competition???

This book was a tale of 2 halves for me.  The first half was PERFECTION.  I was getting Stalking Jack the Ripper vibes, and I was SO intrigued with the Historical Fantasy setting.  The set-up to Rhen going into the labyrinth was EVERYTHING.

THEN: she goes into the labyrinth and everything went downhill for me.  The contest felt rushed.  The obstacles that they came across didn't feel very well thought out or intricate.  It was also frustrating how they worked in a group.  If there's only one winner, why were they so determined to stay together and help each other??  I didn't get it.  The person who wins just sort of stumbles along until it's over and they're the last man/or woman standing.  I wanted that person to win unequivocally and I didn't get that.  MEH.

I hated writing the previous paragraph, just so you know.  After being ADDICTED to this book in the first half, I wanted that quest to be epic!!  I wanted the 2 girls disguising themselves to be believable (it wasn't, they literally wear hats and people are like WHO ARE THESE 2 BOYS???).  I wanted the second half to be as spellbinding as the first half.

In the end, I'm not sad that I read this book.  I really liked reading about Rhen and her father and their scientific research.  I liked reading about Pinsbury Port and hearing about all the magic that was bubbling just under the surface.

Also, I think my favorite part of the whole book was the relationship that Rhen had with her cousin Seleni.  And I liked that even though Rhen wanted more out of life than what society was trying to give her, it was still okay that Seleni wanted traditional things.  I felt that.  As much as it feels good to progress what it means to be a woman, it's good to be reminded that it's still okay for women to be happy with and want to live in traditional roles.  We can have it all-- or not.  The point is, we get a choice!

OVERALL: If you like kick-ass heroines, historical fantasy worlds, a touch of supernatural, and SCIENCE-- I say give this one a whirl.  The labyrinth/competition felt rushed, but the build-up to it was fantastic.

Date Published: 3/19/2019
How I got this book: Thanks to Thomas Nelson for providing me with a copy to read and honestly review.
Publisher: HarperCollins/Thomas Nelson

Add it to your To-Read List!!

My Rating: 4/5

Character: Rhen Tellur
Book: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

  • The dedication that Maddie & Verity have to engineering/aviation would appeal to Rhen.  Also, 2 girls doing something few did during their time period would be inspiring.


  1. I sort of love that there's science in the book. It's an easy way to my heart.

    1. It's definitely sciencey!!! It was refreshing to read about and I don't even like science all that much :)

  2. I've been seeing this one around and the blurb, cover and title have had me intrigued!! It sucks that things were rushed and not thought out, especially for a fantasy novel. I don't know if I would pick it up because of that. That alone will put me off a lot. But great review, Michelle!
    Genesis @ Latte Nights Reviews

    1. Yeah-- this book would be 100% perfection if the quest was more intricate. Maybe it was just my personal taste, but I wanted something super clever.

  3. I think I'll check it out still! I am all about the fantasy and science. Too bad the latter half didn't hold up for you though!

    1. Yeah :( It was sad. The first half is so good though and it made up for it.

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