Monday, June 17, 2019

Review: To Best the Boys by Mary Weber

Title: To Best the Boys
Written by: Mary Weber
Published: March 19, 2018 by Thomas Nelson

(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: 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.

This book was recommended to me by a friend who doesn’t read a lot of fantasy. I decided to pick it up from the library and give it a try. And despite a good beginning, this book was a bit of a disappointment for me.

The best thing about this book is the world. The author did a great job of establishing the setting. It was one of those fantasies where the changes are subtle but enough to interest you. It honestly felt more like a dystopia. There is this place where the haves and have nots are in sharp contrast and there is rumblings of rebellion within the two oppressed lower class. Then on top of that you have this disease ravaging the poor people. It made for a great set up for the story and motivation for the characters. Unfortunately that’s all it was, set up. The general rule of thumb is to show instead of tell and that less is more. But in some cases, less is less and this was one of those cases. After awhile I was less intrigued and more confused. I wanted more from this world because it was actually very interesting.

The character, however, were fine but nothing special. The main character of Rhen was interesting enough. I appreciated the way she was torn between the two worlds, not really fitting in either. I also felt her motivation to find the cure for the disease and go to university. But I still kind of kept her at arms length for some reason. I just don’t know if she was fully fleshed out as an individual. She felt more like a symbol, which is fine but you kind of have to address that. The other thing is, I think some of what made Rhen likable is the fact that I detested basically every other character. I didn’t want her to beat the boys because feminism, I wanted her to win because the boys were truly terrible. It wasn’t about her succeeding, it was about then failing. This might not be a problem for a lot of people but for me if just felt a little off.

My biggest frustration however was with the plot. This book started out very strong with a great introduction to the world and a fascinating plot full of action and adventure. But it just didn’t stick the landing. The ending really fizzled and it never really resolved some of the more interesting aspects it introduced in the beginning. The sections individually were really interesting. The diseases and unrest had me excited for what was to come, the character dressed as a boy to play with conventions and stick it to those in power added some drama, and the maze was definitely thrilling. But as a cohesive story, they just didn’t work. If this was the first book in a series I would have said that it had first book syndrome and moved on, but this was a standalone. If just felt rushed and incomplete at the same time. I’m a plot-driven reader so that was a big disappointment for me.

I had high hopes for this book, but by the end of it my hopes were kind of dashed. It’s not a bad read it just isn’t one that I felt I connected with enough. I think there are much tighter of fantasy stories.

I give To Best the Boys by Mary Weber 7 out of 10 stars

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Bypass. As I mentioned, I think there are much tighter fantasies. I think the premise for this one is great but it didn't deliver for me and because of that I hesitate to recommend it.

Have you read To Best the Boys?  What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stooping by and HAPPY READING!


  1. Oh bummer. I had picked this one through Fairy Loot earlier this year but haven't gotten to it yet. It sounded intriguing enough that I was happy to snag a copy, but now I'm feeling a little uneasy about it. I'll still likely give it a go at some point, but not anytime soon. Nice review all the same! I will go in with my expectations lowered.

  2. Your review of "To Best the Boys" by Mary Weber provides a comprehensive and insightful analysis of the book's themes, characters, and overall impact. How does her journey of entering a dangerous competition reflect broader themes of empowerment and breaking societal norms? Tel U