To Best the Boys by Mary Weber ~ Review

My Review:

For 54 years in the province of Caldon, the town of Pinsbury Port has received an annual invitation for their university aged sons to compete in a treacherous labyrinth of wits in hopes of winning a scholarship to Stemwick University sponsored by the elusive Mr. Holm.

Rhen Tellur is tired of helplessly watching a mysterious mutating disease drain the life of her mother and that of those she loves. She is tired of the Uppers disdain and indifferent to the seriousness of the plague. Rhen is gifted with a knack for numbers and the sciences, but in a world where gender roles are strictly defined, going to university or studying the arts and sciences is forbidden. Rhen decides to take matters into her own hands with her best friend, Seleni, by her side, she steps into the maze.

Set in a fictional realm that is like something out of a Jules Verne novel with a heightened element of illusion and strict social adherence to stereotypical gender roles and expectations. Intriguing, with a fascinating premise, the story begins by setting the scene, but it isn't until about 1/3 of the way through the book that it really takes off. When I hit the 1/3 mark I couldn't put it down.

Strong themes of friendship, courage, and coming of age run through this story, and I especially liked the friendship between Rhen and Seleni. But I was disappointed that while published by Thomas Nelson it gave no indication of being a Christian read, despite being technically "clean" depending on the age of the audience--comments about a female character's body are made, males make suggestive comments, and women are talked about as if they are conquests. I feel that this book would have been a better fit with HarperCollins' Blink imprint, which is more of a clean teen reads division of their brand.

I admired Rhen for her devotion to her family, she is level-headed in tense situations and is willing to stand apart from the crowd. Seleni is her best friend and confidant, she doesn't want to fight the societal norms, but rather be there through thick and thin for her friend. Seleni and Beryll are one of my favorite things about this book. I enjoyed the imaginative setting and camaraderie between some of the contestants. Fraught with tension and adventure, the pages kept flying by. This was an enjoyable high stakes adventure, with a strong heroine with the courage to blaze her own path.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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