The task is simple: Don a disguise. Survive the labyrinth . . . Best the 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.
Praise for To Best the Boys:
“Atmospheric, romantic, inspiring.” —KRISTEN CICCARELLI, internationally bestselling author of The Last Namsara
"Smart, determined, and ready to take on the world: Rhen Tellur is an outstanding heroine with every reason to win a competition historically intended for boys." —Jodi Meadows, New York Times bestselling author of The Incarnate Trilogy and coauthor of My Lady Jane
A “Hunger Games/Handmaid’s Tale mash-up.” —BN Teen Blog
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Sold by:||HarperCollins Publishing|
|File size:||3 MB|
|Age Range:||13 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Mary Weber is the award-winning HarperCollins author of the bestselling young adult Storm Siren Trilogy, and The Sofi Snow duology. An avid school and conference speaker, Mary’s passion is helping others find their voice amid a world that often feels too loud. When she’s not plotting adventures involving tough girls who frequently take over the world, Mary sings 80s hairband songs to her three muggle children and ogles her husband who looks strikingly like Wolverine. They live in California which is perfect for stalking LA bands and the ocean. She gets nerdy at maryweber.com; Facebook: marychristineweber; Instagram: maryweberauthor; Twitter: @mchristineweber; and Goodreads.
Read an Excerpt
The problem with siphoning blood from a bloated cadaver is that sometimes its belly makes an involuntary twitch just as you're leaning over the discolored skin.
The problem with being the girl currently stealing the sticky blood is that while logic says there's an explanation for such phenomena, the rest of me says it must be one of two things.
Either the good king's clerics are out somewhere trying to raise the dead again ...
Or I've just discovered the town's first certifiable vampyre right here in the cloying cellar of the local undertaker's.
Either way, it hardly matters because — while a bloodsucker would be an interesting twist on my day — the cadaver just moved, and the fact that I'm not keeling over from heart failure right now is rather magnanimous of me. Instead, I stay alive and spring backward. "Of all the —" Only to ram into another cadaver-laden table behind me. The table creaks loudly inside the tiny room of our even tinier seaside town that sits on the border of a tiny green kingdom that believes itself the center of the Empyral world.
I freeze. Drat. I've bumped the table so hard the thing's starting to tilt away from my hindside (which the cadaver's face is now ungraciously pressed up against), and when I flip around, the whole thing's suddenly tipping, and the dead lady laid out on top is tipping with it.
I reach out to grab the slab. But deadweight and wood are heavier than you'd think, and the next second the table upends between my fingers and — No, no, no, no! — unceremoniously dumps the old gal's stiff body onto the sloped floor. Like a white oak dropping a tree branch in summer.
I stall and wait for the sound to fade. Except —
Oh you've got to be jesting.
The dead lady starts to roll.
With a lunge, I shove a hand out to grab the edge of the table she's headed for, but my blood-slicked gloves graze the wood just as the lady's body clips the base and promptly sends it rocking.
That table pitches and slams into the next.
And that one into the next.
And so on and so on, until five of the eight dead people in here have suddenly taken the phrase "from dust to dust" literally as they join the old gal on the ground in what looks like a dramatic retelling of The King's Fair Predator.
This, of course, is when Beryll starts to scream.
Not just scream, but the kind of bloodcurdling wail that's used by pregnant mountain basilisks just before they give birth, or by the sea sirens out hunting sailors. Both of which our town is famous for, because apparently being famous for things that can kill you is better than no fame at all. In fact, Mum says it's like our own version of township pride. What doesn't kill you makes you compelling.
Except for Beryll, who I doubt has ever been compelling in his life.
I swerve toward his yelping face to find it turning the color of heifer's milk beneath his high-cut bangs and lengthy nose.
Oh for the love of — "Beryll, be quiet!"
His gaze veers to mine with an expression promising I'm definitely going to the underworld and he's got a mind to help send me there. That, or he's about to lift his impeccably pressed knickers and scurry for the back door, outside of which my cousin, Seleni, is keeping watch in the village alley.
Unfortunately, he neither attacks or scurries.
He just keeps screaming.
With a groan, I grip my glass vial and scramble toward him beneath the low, curved ceiling that's already got the wretched air locked in too tight, and thrust my other hand over his mouth. "Beryll, shut up! You're gonna get us caught!"
He pulls away to shove his dainty handkerchief back over his lips, while his screeching stumbles into a strangled falsetto.
He locks his brown eyes on mine in the stuffy space that's lit like a halo by the two oil lanterns hanging from the rafters. "Miss Tellur. That thing's belly just moved. I think expressing nerves at such a time is completely acceptable, considering it's still ..." He tightens his fingers on the linen covering half his face. "Alive!"
"It's not alive," I hiss, my mind finally wrenching into gear. "The body's just bloated. The belly was reacting to my abdominal incision. But if you keep up your whining, we'll likely join him on these slabs!" I point the glass vial I'm still holding toward the narrow, oil-stained door in front of us, where the sexton's quarters lie beyond and a shiny copper bell hangs above, and hold my breath. That bell's made to ring if anyone enters or exits — mainly in case the dead in fact ever do rise. Whether it's the religious rapture or an outbreak of undead, the good folk of Pinsbury Port believe it'd be equally important to know which they're specifically missing out on.
Beryll's voice sharpens to a whistle. "What do you mean reacting? Dead things don't react!"
I shake my head, recalling Da's mention of such things. "Sometimes they move. It's the nerves or gastrointestinal system. Now for goodness' sake, Beryll — you wanted to come." I put a finger to my mouth. "So shush!"
He shushes, although I'm guessing it's only because he just got a good inhale of the extra-thick decomposition fumes.
I flick my gaze back to the sexton's door and count six heartbeats as I watch and wait. The spiritual man has yet to catch me. Still, he's heard my disturbances often enough to believe the room's haunted. Thinks it's our dead armies — the ones that still rise on the moor at night because some fool for- got to tell them the war ended two hundred years ago.
I wait a moment longer. No movement of the handle or metal bell. Then release my breath, ease my shoulders, and turn to Beryll, muttering, "Are you trying to get Seleni and me sent to the workhouse?"
"Of course not." He edges toward the rear door on which Seleni's now tapping sharply from the outside. The sounds of horse and carriage clipping by emerge, then fade. "And they wouldn't send you there anyway. Your cousin's father would bail her out and just convince the constable you're off your head. Best case, they'd post a sign on your parents' house to warn folks — and really, I'm not sure I'd blame them, Miss Tellur." He tugs at his shirt cuffs and waistcoat, then swallows as he turns an unusual shade of green.
I purse my lips. I start to tell him to pull himself together, but I abruptly end up bent over.
The atmosphere's just hit my stomach too.
I scramble my glove across my knitted scarf and yank it up over my nose to plug my nostrils tight and slow the rolling in my gut. The baking afternoon sun has heated this room to a steamy level — like the graveyard and underground catacombs last year when the storms flooded the marsh. The rank miasma nearly suffocated half the town and drew the sirens in with the smell of rotting flesh.
"Besides," Beryll says, still inching for the door. "The constables are about to have better things to worry about than people stealing organs and blood from the dead."
I glance up. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing. Can we just leave?"
I assess him with a frown. I assume he's referring to the competition tomorrow at Holm Castle — the one Beryll's participating in and that I've wanted to for as long as I can remember. But the fact that Mum and I can cut up a corpse or do an equation better than half the blokes my age means nothing when it comes to Caldon's long-standing tradition of gender roles.
I bite my tongue. Force my comments down. "Fine. Help me get these corpses back up, and then we'll go."
I hurry back to the toppled tables and bodies as Beryll peers at the dead man still on the upright slab behind me — the one who started this whole thing with his twitching stomach.
"Beryll!" I whisper. "Let's go."
He takes cautious steps in my direction. "In my defense, Miss Tellur, I'm unaccustomed to dead bodies, let alone ones that move. And I can only imagine how Seleni — Miss Lake — would react. I expect she'd be absolutely appalled."
I snort and stop at the first slab. In spite of Seleni's high civic standing, she joins me in this endeavor near monthly — and while she may be many things, appalled is rarely one of them. Mainly because Beryll is usually appalled enough for both of them. It's like the one emotion he allowed himself at birth upon discovering he'd had to travel through his mum's delivery canal. I highly doubt he's ever forgiven the woman.
I roll my eyes and glance down at the vial I'd been siphoning the body fluid into. Good. None of the precious liquid has spilled.
But the lid ...
I disregard the fallen table and the smell that's permeating every fiber of my scarf — and scan the dirty floor. Where's the vial lid?
"Rhen, hurry up in there." Seleni's delicate voice muffles through the rear door. "Beryll, tell Rhen to get a move on. We have my parents' party to prepare for."
"Miss Tellur ..."
I ignore them both and search the floor around the upright table with the dead man. Then around the lady's body still lying stiff with the others on the floor. The old woman's skin matches the storm-grey slate tiles, like the petrified hand of a knight I'd once unearthed.
"Miss Tellur —"
"I heard her, Beryll."
"Good, because I feel the need to inform you —" "I know, Beryll, but I've dropped the lid."
"Not your cousin. The corpse. Something's happening. The stomach's moving again, and —"
"Oh for heaven's sake, if you're that nerved out, just go stand by the —"
A gurgling sound emits from the table above my head.
I grab the glass lid that my boot's just bumped against and slowly rise, lifting my face eye level with the cadaver. One calculated look informs me what's making the noise. Beryll's right. It's not just another odd twitch of the nerves. The guy's bloated stomach is rippling.
I frown. No, not just rippling. It's ...
I plunge the lid onto the vial. "Beryll, get to the door."
"What? Why? Is he actually alive? I told you —"
I launch for him and pull us both toward the back entrance just as Beryll lets out a horrified whimper.CHAPTER 2
I grab the door handle and yank it open as a popping sound occurs from the dead man's body — right at the place I'd made the first inspecting incision. I must've cut too deep — too near the bowels — because the noise is accompanied by a sud- den bursting, and then a haze of gas and fluid erupts from the poor soul's left side like a decrepit volcano. It sends flecks flying across the room to spatter against our skin and hair and faces. With a hard shove I thrust Beryll out into the shimmering light of the dying afternoon — where we both slam into Seleni in her new lace skirt and take her sprawling to the ground with us.
"What in —? Rhen, I beg your —"
I don't speak, just jump up and pull the two of them with me while gulping in briny ocean air to exorcise the death stench, then turn and propel the undertaker's door shut behind us. Oops. I push too fast and the string attached to the bell clapper above the doorway — the string I always pull taut before entering or leaving in order to keep it from ringing — gets tugged, and the thing goes off with a clang.
The sound rings too sharp, too loud, in the narrow stone passage, spiraling up to echo across the rooftops to rouse the constables, and down into the old underground catacombs to wake the ghouls.
Seleni gasps and flips around as her beau, Beryll, turns the color of a late-harvest apple. "Rhen, what in King Francis's —?"
"Nothing. Just go!" I snag her arm and shove her toward Beryll, then click the door's footlock in place before I take off after them down the narrow cobblestone alley that is all filth and stone beneath our feet — and walls of rotting wood on either side of us — with a thin ribbon of sapphire sky peeking through the patchwork of eaves overhead.
The tall, two-story houses slip past, dark and creaky, as we sprint through the winding alleyways. My gloved left hand grips the sealed vial while my right hand tugs my flimsy cloak closer against the specter of cold that haunts every recess and shadow of our otherwise overbaked coastal town.
Behind us, the bell on the inner door starts ringing. The sexton.
"Getting sloppy, Rhen," I can almost hear Sam and Will say.
"Overhead!" Seleni squeals.
I look up, then slow down, just as a waterfall of swill lands on the path fifteen steps in front of us. It splatters the ground and walls and our boots as the woman in a shawl tossing it from her window doesn't even bother giving us a second glance.
With a leap and a skip, Seleni and I dance past the mess in the same pattern we did as children when we'd play hop frog along the Tinny River. We wait for Beryll to gingerly step around it before we turn the corner and pick up running the narrow labyrinth of more lanes.
Just above the midway street, which cuts widthwise through the entire sloping hill of cottages and alleys, we reach a clump of steps, which we clear in one jump, to arrive in the middle of the cobblestoned heart of Pinsbury Port. Namely, its teeming and smelly afternoon market.
Seller booths and mingling bodies rush into view, as does a tall, flamboyant flutist trying to earn coin as children dance and giggle. I slam my soles into the ground to avoid hitting them, except my body keeps flying — straight into a man walk- ing in front of the herbalist's booth.
"Look ou —" My strangled yelp retreats down my throat as my face plants into the back of the gentleman's broad frame, right between his massive shoulder blades, just as Beryll and Seleni skid up behind me.
The poor man lurches forward enough for my face to peel off his damp fisherman's coat. "Sorry, sir," I choke out. "I —"
He flips around with dark eyes and a darker countenance, and my words drop away like the damp autumn leaves scattered at our feet.
If I could evaporate into the sea-foam air I would. Instead, I stand there, stolen blood in hand, beneath the irritated gaze of Lute Wilkes, best fisherman of the port and school chum who was two grades my senior growing up, until a couple summers ago when I left to be educated at home and he to go support his family on his dead father's trawling boat. His full lips still have that pucker the girls liked to swoon over. The same one I wondered more than a few times if the tissue was actually formed that way, or if he was just perpetually in the mood to kiss things. I once imagined dissecting his face to find out.
A storm behind Lute's eyes suggests we interrupted something. His scowl flickers over my disheveled appearance — my cadaver-stained hands, wrinkled outer coat, and hair that at some point unraveled from its bun into a forest of wild bri- ars. His gaze slowly registers recognition before it moves on to Beryll and Seleni, who are doubled over, gasping.
Two seconds go by and he returns his attention to me. And just like that, his eyes do the nice thing that used to illuminate the earthen cider cellar behind Sarah Gethries's house — the one none of us were supposed to know about, but we all hung out there anyway.
I blink, and the skin on my wrists turns the color of sweet pomegranates. My bloody, gloved fingers suddenly feel very bloody, and my hair very briar-y. And all I can think of is that maybe the whole lip-swooning thing had a point after all because they are rather anatomically balanced.
"Rhen, what in pantaloons?" Seleni half laughs, half demands. "You set off the alarm!"
I swallow and nod at her but keep my eyes on Lute, who smells of salt-wood and morning tides and freedom. He's a bit more sun drenched than the last time I ran into him a few months ago when Roy Bellow called my da crazy and my mum an independent woman. At the time, Lute had been helping his mum and brother in the glassmaker's shop where I'd been "borrowing" a particular set of magnifying lenses. Lute frowned at Roy, but I'd already taken it upon myself to suggest that being crazy and independent were far better than being a suckling calf.
Which apparently isn't something one should say.
Roy has tried twice since then to corner me in an alley.
Lute tips his chin down, and a swag of black bangs falls forward as a sprinkle of sun rays catches his dark lashes and scatters thin shadows across his brown cheeks. Like firelight from an evening burn. He raises a single thick brow in a smart look, as if he's remembering the interaction, and slips into an easy smile. "Did you at least hide the body this time, Miss Tellur?" I bite my cheek and freeze. "Body? I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about, Mr. Wilkes."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Best The Boys"
Copyright © 2019 Mary Christine Weber.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
4 stars- I have read a few books by Mary Weber and I think she has a great, influential voice in YA lit that is relevant to today’s issues. Her books take you to different worlds that are full of magic and fantasy but deep down are quite similar to our own world in many ways. The characters struggles may seem vastly different from modern day teenagers but ultimately they are both striving for acceptance and to be “seen” for the unique individuals that God created them to be. This book was no different. In the author’s note, Mary Weber talked about how each of the characters in this story was based on a real family member or friend. Each character had flaws and strengths that were presented in a well thought out manner. Rhen was a quirky, misunderstood genius that understood dead people better than the living. She was a strong female protagonist doing her best to survive in a male dominated society. I loved that she had a big heart and an even bigger personality. Lute was also a strong character. His devotion to his family was admirable and his protectiveness of Rhen was even sweeter. We all need a Lute in our lives. From the second they entered the Labyrinth I was on the edge of my seat to see what would happen next. I felt invested in Rhen, Seleni, Lute and Beryll and wanted each of them to make it through. This story brought up many points for discussion that would be great for a teenage book club. I really liked the discussion questions at the back of the book. It’s so important to discuss a book such as this after reading it to really grasp the deeper meanings of the story. I really liked this book and would recommend it to the teenagers in my life. I received a copy of this book for free. I was not required to post a positive review and the views and opinions expressed are my own.
First let me say I normally don’t read this type of book and have tried a couple of previous titles by this author and couldn’t finish them. I was torn between 3.5 and 4 stars for this one but settled on 4 because I felt the writing was wonderful and the characters pulled me into their world. I especially loved the character of Mr. Holm, and the surprising reveal. The story is slow moving at first, but I enjoyed getting to know the characters and family ties and real life crisis. At the end I was actually hoping for a sequel because I wanted more. I received a complimentary copy from Thomas Nelson & Zondervan Fiction Guild. The honest review and opinions are my own and were not required.
This book has earned its place among my favorites. I love, love this story. It's about a young woman on the verge of adulthood who goes against society's norms by entering a contest: survive the labyrinth and receive a scholarship to a male-only university. She does so, hoping she can help her father find the cure to save her mother. When I first saw the book, I knew I needed it. I had intended to get it, but then my mom surprised me by pre-ordering it for my birthday. Unfortunately, it took me MONTHS to have the time to read it. And no doubt to prepare myself for the adventure it held within its pages. Told in first person, present tense, the story swept me away. The descriptions were tight and carried a punch. The characters were alive. I felt invited into the story as if one of the characters and I did not want it to end. I teared up multiple times. It spoke to me on a deeper level, and I'll leave it at that. Love this story. Thank you, Ms. Weber for sharing it with the world!
Inspiration and encouragement for young girls. You can make it own your own. Your dreams, hopes can be fulfilled without a male. To stand as you are without a disguise. Interesting how times have changed Given ARC by Thomas Nelson for my voluntary review and my honest opinion.
To Best the Boys is the kind of book that I want to give to every young girl I see. The themes of empowerment woven through this story are wonderfully timed and thoughtfully executed. We follow Rhen Tellur, a scientifically minded young woman, who lives in a town where girls are expected to learn only to be good wives and boys are the only ones allowed to attend college. After her concerns about the deadly, crippling disease that is plaguing the poor parts of her town are once again dismissed by the rich elitist men of parliament, Rhen decides to take matters into her own hands. She disguises herself as a boy and enters the yearly competition thrown by a mysterious Mr. Holm for a full-ride scholarship to the all-male Stemwick University. This story was oddly fast and slow paced, but it is intriguing enough that I finished it in less than a day. The build up to the competition took a little over half the book, but it was necessary for setting up the tension and stakes. Even though the world building was a little light for my usual tastes, I LOVED what I did learn of the town and its inhabitants. There was some solid characterization and growth for the main and secondary characters, especially considering the book is only 311 pages. I think my favorite character was actually Seleni. She really shines and she says some truly empowering things about being a strong woman AND a strong wife. Another thing I really liked about this story was it wasn’t the traditional “put a sword in a girl’s hand to make her strong”. I love strong sword wielding women, but I also like women who win the day with their minds. If you are looking for a fast, empowering fantasy read, look no further than To Best the Boys.
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, as well as the at times witty dialogue. 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.
When I initially read the synopsis of To Best the Boys, I found it to be intriguing. Girl enters an all boys dangerous labyrinth competition to win a scholarship by pretending to be a boy. I didn't realize that our heroine Rhen was actually an amazing scientist and that this world is one in which women are only really able to be wives and mothers. I really enjoyed the scientific aspects and would have loved even more. I'm so happy there were a few really good hearted characters like Lute and Seleni, and that they came from different ends of the spectrum, one a lowly fisherman, and the other a rich society girl. Rhen, Seleni, and Lute were all extremely likeable characters and I enjoyed spending time with them. I'm a little sad that this novel is a stand alone. I would have liked a sequel. *Thanks to NetGalley and Thomas Nelson Publishing for the advance copy!*
“And where are you from?” “Oh, from all over and nowhere and everywhere at once.” Every year for the last 54 years, all eligible boys of Pinsbury Point receive an invitation to compete in the mysterious Labyrinth for an esteemed scholarship to all-male, Stemwick University. I am a fan of Mary Weber’s books, and could tell before opening the pages this book may read differently that the Storm Siren trilogy. It has a more personal feeling to it, which I found true from her author’s note in which she confirms many of the characters are based on family members and friends who deal with various struggles. It is also clear she wants to represent girls in a positive light of strength and ability. She succeeds at both. To read this book, it seemed to break down into two stories - one, before the Labyrinth in which she is a scientist desperately seeking a cure for an illness that is mysteriously killing people. Her mother has contracted the illness and she is on a race to find a cure before she succumbs. The second half of the book depicts Rhen and her best friend Seleni dressing up like boys to enter the competition. Here is where it really takes off. While I appreciated the set up in the first part, I could have spent the majority of the book here. The twists and turns were evil and fun and creative and where my interest peaked. This part reminded me a little The Testing but with a hint of magic. While this book had a slow start for me, wishing we could get to the competition, when we finally did get to the Labyrinth it flew and was over before I knew it, leaving me wanting more in that world.
I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I really enjoyed this book! For me, the premise reminded me of a cross between Hunger Games and the Maze Runner. The main character Rhen, just wants to be able to pursue a career in science but in her society, it is the men who receive an education. Every year there is a competition held for all the boys to see who will receive a scholarship for one of the colleges, so Rhen and her cousin Seleni disguise themselves as men and enter the competition. This is a book that proves that anything boys can do, girls can do better. The book gets you hooked very early on and keeps you enthralled throughout all 352 pages. I really enjoyed this book!
To Best the Boys is the kind of book that I wish I could give to a younger version of myself. I was studying or working in male dominated fields for a while. I've been told more times than I can count to "just leave it to the men" or "women can't do that." I was lucky enough to have a strong support system but this is the book that I wish I had during those times. I absolutely loved this book. Rhen is an incredible character and her growth throughout the book was amazing. There were definitely some tears while I was reading certain parts of her story. Plus, although there's a romance, Rhen is still entirely her own person and pursues her own dreams. I also loved how respectful the relationships were in this book. And that both pursuing a degree and becoming a wife/mother were presented as equally valid choices for women. It is so rare to see that in fiction and I was beyond happy to see that representation here. I did wish certain plot points had been expanded a bit but, overall, everything was handled beautifully. To Best the Boys was a fun, adventure-filled book that has some excellent social commentary. This is the best kind of fantasy - a thoroughly enjoyable story that makes you think. I'll definitely be saving a copy to give to my niece one day. *Disclaimer: I received this book for free from the publisher. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
It's been a while since I've read into the wee hours of the morning on a week day - adulthood, work, responsibility, tiredness, you name it, the reasons (excuses?) are vast and boring - but that's exactly what I did while reading To Best the Boys by Mary Weber. In this magical book that is the perfect mix of delightful and impactful, Rhen Tellur wants many things. She wants to become a scientist. She wants to cure the mysterious disease that has begun killing her poor neighbors. She wants to save her mother. She wants the freedom to speak without being told it is unladylike, to dream up goals that are hers to accomplish without being told that she exists only to further her future husband’s career. She wants to best the boys at their own game. So, to win a chance at a college scholarship, she disguises herself as one of them and enters the yearly labyrinth race. I loved so many things about this book. The port town with its casual acceptance of background magic and magical creatures (like ghouls and sirens) reminded me of all of my favorite elements of the island of Thisby from The Scorpio Races—so, yes, Scorpio fans you will love this one! The labyrinth was so fascinating and so much more stressful than the escape room I did a few months ago. Would I survive the labyrinth? Um … I hope so? Rhen is smart and adorably awkward with her tendency to blurt random facts about the decomposition of creatures. Her courage to shatter expectations to fight for her dreams and the people she loves is amazing! And her journey as she wrestled with the conflict between chasing goals and knowing there are other things she has to do, or maybe should do, or that everyone expects her to do felt so real to me. What else makes this book wonderful? Oh, how about a dash of charming and lovable characters, along with a delightful smidge of romance that beautifully supported but did not supersede Rhen’s story (my favorite kind), all mixed into an engaging plot that was topped off with inspiring quotes that I wish I had taken time to write down … only I was too busy flipping pages to see what happened next. And as much as I wanted Rhen to succeed, there were times when I wondered if I was even more desperate to see a certain manipulative and controlling antagonist brought down! Those are my favorite antagonists because I can get really emotionally engaged in the struggle and can't wait to see their comeuppance. To Best the Boys is definitely a must read for fans of magical fantasy and all the girls and guys who long to dare to dream. So if you haven't ordered a copy yet, do it!
“I’ve always known the unexplainable is possible here.” I flew through this book! It was not what I expected at all and I loved it all the more because of that! The actual contest doesn’t take place until we’re over 50% of the the way through book, which was definitely unexpected. But this worked so well, because we as readers then have a better understanding and love of the characters who are entering it. We know all too well what’s at stake and really feel for them. The story mainly follows two heroines, Rhen and Seleni, who although cousins have been raised with very different lifestyles. Rhen in the Lower class, Seleni in the Upper. The friendship between these two was so strong - and rather then in spite of their differences, I believe it was strong because of their differences. They had so much respect for each other, and gave each other devoted support in their separate goals: “I’ve always wanted the life of a wife, and mother, and helpmate to my husband, and I know you may not think much of that, but it’s what I want. And I’d be proud of it.” It seems as though women who want to have a family life and be homemakers are being looked down on more and more in YA fiction, in favour of women who want big careers. The fact that Mary Webber wrote Seleni as a strong, independent female, who knew her mind and knew that raising a family was what she wanted, is so commendable and admirable! My hat goes off to you Miss Webber! Really though, all of the characters were so individual and well thought out. I loved Da and how he interacted with Rhen (and her Uncle, if I’m honest!) Holm too was such an intriguing and satisfying character. Rhen’s inner dialogue throughout the book was so beautiful and descriptive at times, painting such a vivid picture of the atmosphere: “My lungs and stomach fight the urge to run back outside. Where the air doesn’t feel like a shroud and my dread doesn’t sound so loud.” Really, there are so many quotes I could use. The final sentences in the book are plastered on my mind as so encouraging and inspiring. But because they contain spoilers, I’ll use this one instead: “You take this world and make it what it should be.” Also, the fact that this was in the acknowledgements: “Jesus. Because you are all this heart exists for.” It’s always such a joy to have Christian authors on the field. Especially ones who can write like this. I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
When I read the summary, I thought this would be Hunger Games-esque. I wasn't completely wrong. But this was a lot more than the competition itself. A lot of issues are portrayed in this fantasy novel - bigotry, patriarchy, disparity. You name it. There are two sections of the society, aptly named Upper and Lower. Rhen's frustration in being unable to convince her uncle and his Upper politician peers about the seriousness of her mother's disease was palpable. So was her helplessness in not being able to make use of her talent in a society which refused to acknowledge it. My favorite part of the book was probably when Rhen's cousin Seleni acknowledges that she wants Rhen to get what she desires - a chance to prove herself, but she herself only dreamed of marriage and children, and she says that both of their dreams, although opposite matter equally. That was such a poignant moment which acknowledges the importance of choices. Rhen and Seleni's relation was probably my favorite thing about this book. Their loyalty and devotion for each other spoke of a bond far meaningful than mere cousins. I liked Lute too but his romance with Rhen didn't draw me in. Other supporting characters were well-developed too. But it was only the issues explored in this book that made me give it 4-stars because they spoke to me more than anything else. The story was alright with some predictable plot points. Also, the magic bits were a bit confusing. Everything seemed to come together too conveniently at the end and I was unconvinced. It was an enjoyable read but I think a lot more could've been done with the story.
This book is absolutely delightful! I mean...the title and the synopsis alone made me jump to read it and I am happy to say I was not disappointed. Rhen is delightful beyond belief, the opening scene is kind of hilarious, and all the characters are so well thought out and developed. But before I give it all away, let's get to the review. The story starts off with Rhen trying to figure out a cure for her mother's illness. Her father and her have a lab in the basement of their house, testing different formulas and solutions to try and help the woman they love. But with time running out and their equipment being less than stellar, Rhen comes up with a different plan. Rhen sees the invitation to the annual event at Mr. Holm's castle where all the boys in the village are called to go through the Labyrinth. Whoever makes it to the end will win a scholarship to Stemwick Men's University. Rhen, knowing she is as smart, if not smarter, than any of the boys in the village decides to enter despite a girl never being allowed before. She figures that if she can win the scholarship, she will have access to a bigger lab and more tools so she will have a better chance of finding a cure for her mother's illness. In preparation to enter the contest, Rhen cuts off her hair and grabs some clothes from some dead guys to ensure she looks "enough" like a boy. (Rhen is not at all squeamish when it comes to the dead.) Little does she know, she will not be going alone. Her cousin, Seleni comes over the day of the Autumn Festival and the contest and finds Rhen with short hair. Being the cousin and best friend she is, she demands to know what's going on and once she hears Rhen's plan, decides she is going too. Her beau, Beryll is entered in the challenge and she wants to make sure he makes it out alive. What takes place next is a wild, magical, and fairly dangerous adventure as Rhen and Seleni try to make it through the challenging course. They use their smarts to get past each obstacle and do their best to not be recognized along the way. I could easily read To Best the Boys again and again. It is such an enjoyable read! Yes, there are moments when I teared up and yes, there are times when I was nervous for certain character's lives, but that's what made i but that's what made it so exciting and probably the reason it only took me a couple of days to finish it. Rhen is so smart and strong (but let's herself cry) and Seleni knows exactly what she wants and refuses to be judged for it. Beryll is hilarious without meaning to be but also willing to do just about anything for Rhen and Seleni. Lute is one of the best broody (but not too much), smoldering, chivalrous male love interests I've ever read and I think it's almost impossible not to fall in love with him at least a little bit. (As an almost 30-year-old, I would hug him and pat him on the head for being such a nice young man lol) To Best the Boys is a wild adventure through a maze of unknown dangers and I highly recommend grabbing a copy of this book and going along for the ride. I am giving it 4 out of 5 stars. If you like YA fantasy with badass girls, you will love this book! Thank you to NetGalley and Thomas Nelson for the free ARC in exchange for my honest review.
Mary Weber delivers a heart pounding, plot twisting novel that kept me up way past my bed time and into the early morning hours. The characters are flawed, relatable human beings with goals and dreams that we explore with them. Rhen and Seleni are two girls that I would undoubtingly follow without hesitation. The world Weber weaves keeps you on your toes, and devouring the story. The writing is top notch - delivering excellent pacing, once you've made it past the first few chapters - and the character's keep you rooting (or screaming) for them. I would recommend this to anyone who loves books involving puzzles or games that last to the death! 5/5 stars! For a full review, visit my blog www.secondhandpages.com
This is not your grandmother’s kind of girl power. To Best the Boys is one of those books that young girls, and young teen girls need today! It’s not some ridiculous novel that keeps shouting “girl power” at you. It’s the kind of story that SHOWS you girl power… and still shows human weakness and imperfection. Mary mentioned on social media the other day that she struggled with this novel more than a little bit. I tend to think that is part of what makes this such a compelling read. That struggle is embedded in every word on the page, shining through the characters’ words and actions! There’s also adventure, and danger, and MAGIC! Don’t miss it!
The thing that I really loved about this book was the characters that Weber created. I wanted to root for Rehn the whole time and found myself not wanting to put the book down because I needed to know what happened to her. I found her to be delightfully sassy and outspoken. I also enjoyed the cast of supporting characters, including the villainous tending ones. I also loved the labyrinth part of the story, although it seemed much to short a part of the book for my tastes. I wish the competition section had been longer to really build the setting. I feel like for once a book lacked some of the world building I like to see. Weber tells us there are monsters but we don’t see any of the effects of that in the story. The town doesn’t seem to need protection from them, there is no talk of their effect on jobs or lives. I think delving into that a bit more would have added more atmosphere to the book. Overall it was a really fun read that I would recommend to anyone looking for a girl power YA fantasy read that is quick. This book would also be suitable for middle grade readers.
This book was amazing! There was so much about it that was original, and yet so much of it that reminded me of other stories. Some things, like the clothing and also the interactions between the rich and poor, reminded me of Little House on the Prairie for some reason. And then there were parts with the competition that made me think of The Maze Runner. The romance was great, and the science was great, and all of the characters were interesting. So much of this fits into the type of climate of society and the world right now. There was even one scene where Rhen and her cousin Seleni, disguised as boys, hear the other boys discuss them, not knowing they're there since they think they are boys. And that bit reminded me somewhat of a scene in Twilight, from Rose's back story. There was also the one male character that as a reader I was unsure how much to trust them or if they would turn out to be good in the end. So I was surprised by one that turned out to not be good, to have double-crossed everyone, including his own partners in crime. And then the part at the end about they don't want a girl taking a test at the same place as the boys taking the test, because she would distract them? Wow, I totally rolled my eyes along with the girl character in that scene. A great book, I'll look forward to reading more by this author in the future, or going back to pick up the ones I missed.
I loved this book! It was equal parts whimsical and rebellious. Boys use the term "independent woman" as an insult but Rhen (and all women) take it as a compliment. The opening scenes are hilarious; I was hooked and couldn't put the book down. I read the whole thing in a single day. The main character, Rhen, is a budding scientist and she and her father are doing everything they can to keep Rhen's mother, who is ill, from dying. However, it is not Rhen's mother who is sick. The entire town is suffering from a mysterious illness. Currently, the poor population is taking the brunt of the incurable illness, but it is beginning to cross the boundaries into wealthy families as well. Rhen and her father use fairly advanced science in their ramshackle basement for a cure with pints of blood, stem cells, and DNA research. Rhen realizes they will never find the cure as long as they have to use subpar equipment in a poor basement. None of the universities or the town's elites put any money into the situation, blaming it on how dirty the poor are. Rhen's only hope - to enter the yearly tournament that awards one student a full scholarship to the most prestige men's college in the kingdoms. The rest of the book reads like Mulan meets the Tri-Wizard's tournament from Harry Potter. I laughed and cried. I cannot recommend it enough! The book was free from sex and too much violence as well as cursing, so there is not a trigger warning I would include with the book. With that said, I would recommend this book to teenagers and older especially to anyone who loves fantasy and those who love stories of rebellious women!
Like most of the book reviews I write, this book is by an author I've been wanting to read for FOREVER and just haven't gotten around to yet! As the release date for To Best the Boys is coming up, I figured I'd give it a shot, and EEEEEEE the hype for Mary Weber did not disappoint! The people who said that this book was like a combination of Caravel and The Scorpio Races were spot-on: it was a The Scorpio Races setting (especially the mostly realistic, but with ~special~ creatures bit), with the labyrinth bit being a lot like Caravel. And since I loved both those books, it stands to reason that I loved this one too! EEEEEEE I loved Rhen so much! She was a badass, smart, STEM girl during a time where it was expected for girls to just,,,cook and have babies, and she KNEW things and wanted to learn things and wanted to go to university but still had crushes and wanted to love a boy and EEE CAN I BE HER PLEASE. Her relationship with her parents was also 12/10!!! They love each other so much, and they love her so much, and she loves them so much and ADKSDFKLRVC I mean honestly the fact that they're both alive is laudable in and of itself loLLL Her cousin Seleni was another important character in the story: she was also brave and daring but she /liked/ frills and dresses and /wanted/ to have babies and DIDN'T want to go to uni, and the story made the distinction that both of them were OKAY! And the boys!!! Lute and Beryll (but mostly Lute, of course) were such great gentlemen, and Lute IS JUST PRECIOUS, okay?? Also Vincent is a literal piece of garbage #ooF. I really really enjoyed how the relationships were already there, so it wasn't like "oh, they met in the maze and now they're kissing" it's more like "oh, we've liked each other foREVER and like OOPS WE KISSED" and if you've ever read any of my reviews, you'll know that I LOVE THAT!!! Another thing I really liked about this book was the distinction between the upper-class and the lower-class. The people putting in regulations, and the politicians (a big @ VINCENT), and the fishermen, who are just tRYING THEIR HARDEST to live and make a living. The disability rep was also so, so good in this book! I did not expect a book that seemed to be set in the 19th/20th (ish) century, to speak about disability (namely, autism, down syndrome, dyslexia) so kindly, and so well, and I loved that! My Rating- 9/10 Things Liked- -RHEN!!! She gets her own bulletpoint for being a badass -Also 12/10 feminism rep -and the other characters: Lute, Beryll, Rhen's dad, Mr. Holm!! -The light--and apt--romance! -SCIENCE THINGS--it made me not want to change majors lollll -Disability rep! -Being like two of my favorite YAs, like, EEE -It was such a cool setting!! looking at it holistically it really doesn't make sense, but it was described so well that it worked! -also that writing style was so smooth and clear and beautiful I LOVED IT!! Things Disliked- -some of the endings seemed to tie up too nicely? Thank you to the publisher, Thomas Nelson, for providing me with a complimentary e-copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review; I was not required to write a positive review. This review first appeared on: https://losingthebusyness.wordpress.com/2019/03/15/book-review-to-best-the-boys-by-mary-weber/
It’s no secret how much I love Mary’s books, but this one just blew them all out of the water (yes, all of them, even Reclaiming Shilo Snow). It may actually be my favorite book, OF. ALL. TIME. To Best The Boys is a story set in a (delightfully creepy at times) world where girls are denied higher education, the poor are denied proper healthcare, and the wealthy live in blissful (or willful) ignorance of the issues of those they consider beneath them. A young woman named Rhen Tellur disguises herself as a boy and sets out to face the mysterious Labyrinth that has only ever been open to young men for a chance to win a scholarship to a university, and to best the boys. This is a story for anyone who has ever been told that they are less than, that they can’t because..., that they’re doing it wrong, and whose voices haven’t been heard because people don’t bother to listen. I wish this book had existed when I was a teen. If time travel is ever possible, I’m taking a copy of this book back to my 17 year old self. As it is, I can’t wait until my niece is old enough to read it, and I want to hand a copy to every single one of my friends. I will be raving about this book for a very, very long time. This book deserves an infinite number of stars. If you want a book that will make you cry and then scream from the rooftops that we can do ANYTHING, this book is for you. ❤️ I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Calling all lovers of science, fantasy, intellect, and action, all sprinkled with a little bit of magic. To all those who are brave enough to answer the question “what do you want.” You will lose yourself in the compelling maze of possibilities; you must, in order to find yourself. In a world where boys rule, one girl is brave enough to discover what she really wants and go after it. Lots of twists and turns kept me guessing and cheering her on. I thoroughly enjoyed the creativity and imagination in creating Rhen’s world. A great book that would also make a really fun movie. You won’t regret picking this one up. I challenge you to be able to put it back down before you reach the end. I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
5/5 stars To Best the Boys was my first Mary Weber book, but it definitely won't be my last! I absolutely loved every aspect of the world she built which was full of fantasy, friendship, historical fiction, science and magic. The world itself was unique. I loved how she blended a believable world of science set back in a historical time with a magical one. The story was so immersive I forgot on several occasions that I wasn't just reading historical fiction. During those times, a fantasy element would pop up and surprise me such as the wail of a siren or the glimpse of a ghoul at night. I loved those subtle mentions of a world that was clearly not our own! The variety of characters, especially males, in this story was astounding. Rhen's female coming of age story definitely has it's many difficult characters including patronizing elderly males and the male friend who thinks women should be content to only marry. However, it also shows you the male friend that encourages Rhen to keep trying and a father that treats his daughter as an intelligent equal. I understand that this tale seems to be a feminist story, but I appreciated that the author never bashed the opposite sex to tell it. The author merely presents you with a variety of good and bad characters and let's you make up your own mind from their actions while reading. This is so rare and I appreciateThis story just proves you can uplift those that need it without tearing down others. There were also several representations of disabilities and different types of families that blended in seamlessly with the story. I loved that it felt completely natural and not overdone. I loved that this story took it's time in the beginning to develop all of these characters, the middle with the maze contest, and an ending that never felt rushed. I really enjoyed reading about Rhen, Seleni, Beryll and Lute. Rhen's home life, love for her family and education through her father is what truly led her to the maze and I'm glad the author took the time to make it more than a story about a contest. This story felt like a letter to girls everywhere or to anyone that finds themselves too scared to follow their dreams. I highly recommend it if you need an uplifting fantasy story that will keep you turning pages, put a smile on your face and make your day! I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. Thank you so much to the publisher, the author and NetGalley.
This book was seriously the ultimate brilliance. Girls surviving in a boy's world is pure excellence and inspiring. There was excitement at every chapter, Rhen is a girl that a lot of teens in our community can relate to and how she has to overcome adversity for her survival, you'll be at the edge of your seat finding out if she will make it and not only survive but dominate. Rhen symbolizes women empowerment and the strength they have when faced with difficult challenges and that above all is why I enjoyed this book and I think our young patrons will enjoy it too. We will definitely consider this title for our YFiction collection at the library. That is why we give this book 5 stars.
When asked the question, what did you think of a book? Well......it's really hard to put into words all the emotions I felt reading this book and when I wasn't reading it all the emotions of WANTING to read it. I've waited to read this book for a bit, because of other commitments and I kept seeing it and it called to me. There's just something about Mary Weber's books which draw you in even when the book is closed! They hauntingly call to you. This was one such book! At first, I thought oh a fun story about young girls dupping boys, but there was so much more to this story! After all, it is a Mary Weber book! If you've ever read any of her books you know she writes with just a touch of fantasy in a real world which will make you think, "Wait, can that be possible?" This story shows how a girl of lower class can have dreams, drive, and skills to achieve anything a boy can. I love the picture of strength and courage Rhen uses, to meet all the challenges she has. I also love the fun relationship she has with her cousin. Even though Rhen feels alone, she really does have someone who is there for her. I want to thank Mary Weber for choosing to place in this book many characters who the world might not notice. Those, who might be shunned or looked down upon. She brings to life the sweetness and courage of these people. This book will be one I'll carry with me for a long time. It was full of wonder, strength, courage, hope, and yet there were bits of darkness, mystery, magic, suspense, and romance. (I liked the last bit on that list!) What truly stood out for me was - HAVE COURAGE! Dare to dream and dream big! I highly recommend you pick this book up! But be prepared to possibly not be able to put it down! I received a copy of this book from the publisher and Netgalley. All opinions and my own.