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.
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 appreciate 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.
Publication Date: 5th March, 2019.
Source: ARC from Publisher (via Netgalley)