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Sarah
Welcome, friend! Relax & rest awhile, if you please. I'm an ordinary girl, a follower of Christ, mama to Gabriel, & wife to Evan. Here in this little space of the online world, I share all manner of bookish things, including full content reviews, writerly snippets, encouragement for everyday life, and a whole collection of names & their meanings.

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Book Review || To Best the Boys

To Best the Boys
Mary Weber

Thomas Nelson | March 19, 2019
Fiction, Fantasy

{GoodReads}
Every year for the past fifty-four years, the residents of Pinsbury Port receive a mysterious letter inviting all eligible-aged boys to compete for an esteemed scholarship to the all-male Stemwick University. Every year, the poorer residents look to see that 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 are trained in wifely duties and men are encouraged into 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’s ready for a girl who doesn’t know her place. And not everyone survives the maze.


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WARNING: Possible Spoilers
I was provided a copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review.

{The Basics}
I went into this novel rather cautiously, due to the story's theme and the issues of Feminism in our country right now.  I kinda thought it would have the typical macho-woman-heroine-who-needs-NO-man-whatsoever to get what she wants.  But, boy, was I pleasantly surprised!  While the premise is of two girls entering an all-male contest, it was never really her intention from the start.

Society in Rhen's world is ruled by castes, where Uppers---those living on the high end with their wealth & rank---look down on the Lowers, the poor, hardworking families struggling to care for each other.  In this world, men govern & women are to know their place.  Rhen accepts this, but it's her dream to become a scientist---to find a cure for the disease that's slowly taking her precious mother from her.  At the absolute end of her rope after yet another failed experiment, she & her cousin take a chance & enter the Labrynth, where they face their fears, discover what it is they truly want, & come out all the stronger.

{Spiritual Content}
There's rumor of the use of magic, though by the ordinary people of the town (both Uppers & Lowers), no one seems to have such ability.  However, it is implied the Labrynth runs on magic, and that the owner of the estate was, instead of a business degree, "trained in. . .other things."  There's all manner of magic & illusions throughout the trials of the Labrynth, and with one character in particular.  :]

The town is situated on a port by the seaside.  There's talk of sirens, whose songs you can hear through the fog at night.  Ghouls are fog-like, sulfur-smelling creatures with glowing eyes that are said to tear open the chests of their victims, searching for souls.  Banshee screams.

{Violence}
The first chapter begins by describing the act of stealing blood from a dead body. . . It's an interesting experience in which our MC basically destroys a room filled with dead people, and in the process a cadaver's stomach bursts from the bloated gases trapped by death.  We read of the spray covering our characters. *BLEGH*

Quite a bit of blood & gore.  A mention or two of clocking a guy in his man (or family) jewels.  Characters get beaten & bruised a bit while in the Labrynth.  One sustains a broken nose---blood from it drenching his chest, another's ankle is broken in a crash landing and it's obvious he's in extreme pain.  Another character is stabbed by a thorn & the venom in it causes a severe reaction & frothing in the mouth.

Lake sirens terrorize some boys as they attempt to cross in a boat.  A giant basilisk-snake-dragon-like creature chases characters to the shelter of a castle crypt.  While many sustain injuries, only one boy dies during the Labrynth test, having eaten a bloodberry.

{Language // Alcohol & Drugs}
A few uses of Ms Weber's original "oh hulls" and "for hulls sake." The English slang word "bloody" is used a few times.  "Drat" and "of all the---" is used at least once."

During their time in the Labrynth, Seleni & Rhen are exposed to the crudeness of an all-guy group. . . someone passes gas & everyone laughs.  The topic between the young men around a campfire somehow turns to talk of girls, and at one point the honor of two women is picked on by the guys.  This causes the friends of those two girls to defend them, and punches are exchanged, effectively silencing such talk.  It was so great to see those guys stand up for the girls---one finds themselves rooting all the more for them.  As Mrs Weber said in a recent Instagram post, "As girls, I think we're so used to standing up for ourselves that there's something powerful when someone else stands up too."

Mention of teens hanging out at an earthen cider cellar (without the knowledge of parents).  Celebration party uncorks expensive bottles of an alcoholic beverage.  In her experiments, Rhen uses rubbing alcohol (or the like) to clean tools/utensils.  

{Romantic Content}
It is a common practice that young men announce their intentions to court a young woman.  

Seleni & her beau are an obvious couple.  I loved their characters!  While Beryll seemed kinda wimpy and shy at first, he grew in character and personality & we eventually saw his strengths displayed.  Both he, Seleni, & Rhen had a great relationship as friends.  

Rhen is drawn to the rugged fisherman, Lute.  And eventually we see that he is attracted to her as well.  Vincent wishes to claim her as his own, however.  We learn they once had a friendship, but now he wants their union simply for the assistance she could give to his career as a politician.  Lute & Rhen share kisses & embrace a time or two.

During their time in the Labrynth, Seleni & Rhen are exposed to the crudeness of an all-guy group. . . someone passes gas & everyone laughs.  The topic between the young men around a campfire somehow turns to talk of girls, and at one point the honor of two women is picked on by the guys.  This causes the friends of those two girls to defend them, and punches are exchanged, effectively silencing such talk.  It was so lovely to see those guys stand up for the girls.

{Conclusion}
All in all, this was a great story & one I truly enjoyed.  I finished it rather quickly cuz I wanted to know what happened next!!

As mentioned before, I was rather wary of this novel due to the story's premise of a girl trying "to best the boys."  I honestly didn't know what to expect.  But Mrs Weber surprised me!  She gave voice to girls who are seeking to expand their dreams, to go against the grain and make it happen, no matter what others may think.  At the same time, she gave voice to those who dream of being a wife & mama someday, who wish to care for a husband & children & a home of their own.  She neither condemned nor judged either choice.  And I thought that was simply beautiful!

Rhen wished to pursue a higher education so she could help and better the world somehow.  In a scene between her & Seleni (possibly my favorite character!), Seleni encourages her to pursue that dream, but to also support her own in that she wished to marry & settle down with a family someday.  Rhen sees that passion and they accept each other's differences because that is who they are.  I loved that.

Our world today tells women they don't need men, that they're strong enough without them---they're smarter, better, more efficient.  But God gave each sex strengths & weaknesses in order to work as a team.  Men & women are different for a purpose.  Each have skills & abilities that compliment the other---that's a fact!  This novel only accentuated that fact for me.

I could probably go on & on, but in conclusion I'll say this:  the characters in this book accepted that men & women are different.  They disagreed with the labels placed on gender roles in society & it became a goal to try to change it.  And Family was such a beautiful picture in this novel!  There was no doubt Rhen loved her parents with all her heart & would do anything for them, even if it meant giving up her dream.

I classify this book as in the fantasy genre.  With the exception that it was pretty bloody, this is such a beautiful message & story.
And I would heartily recommend!!!


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Ages 16+

Comments

  1. Loved this review, girl! While I wasn't overly concerned with the feminist view, it's nice to know it's not over the top. That's super awesome!

    I love it when guys are absolute BOSSES and stand up for women.

    Also, I love it when people have respect for one another, even when they choose completely different paths of life. That's something I'm really passionate about and it's nice to know that it's being represented.

    Now I'm excited to read it. Thankfully, my library has it on their ebook service, so I can pick it up whenever I want!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! I realized after publishing it that it's a monster of a post... O_o heheh

      YESSSSS. I wish we saw more of that!

      So do I. It's so refreshing to see.

      That's awesome! My library has that feature as well, except I've yet to use it, because I'm forcing myself to conquer at least SOME of my TBR that's gathering dust on my shelves before buying/borrowing any more books... #EPICFAIL cuz I just bought a brand new haul of FIVE to add to it! ahahahahahhahahahahhahahah xD

      Delete

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To each is given a bag of tools,
A shapeless mass, and a book of rules,
And each must make, ere life is flown,
A stumbling block or a stepping stone.
-Anonymous-

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