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.




4,5 “girl power in petticoats” stars

I had so much fun reading this book!!!

I skipped my aquagym classes just to go on reading walking on the treadmill because I was glued to that story! I ended up walking two hours 😉

Who said reading is no exercise for the body?

Favorite quote of the book:

“Because you are the wild sea and unkempt storms and constellations in a world where I am the anchor for everyone I know. And you remind me that I can do impossible things.”


Is this book perfect?


But it’s dang entertaining and empowering! The writing is also delicious.

There is something to say about proper and polite dialogs hinting at a time where young ladies called their male acquaintances “Mister” and the young gentlemen replied likewise with “Miss Tellur” even if you’ve known each other for a long time!

It was also a time when showing a hint of an ankle had your old spinster of a neighbor scandalized and praying for your lost soul.


Rhen is a determined young woman of seventeen years old. She’s always been a scientist at heart and a tomboy. She finds dead bodies much more fascinating to analyze than the latest fashion magazine.

Her passion is even more urgent right now as a mysterious disease is decimating the poor people of her town, threatening to take her mother’s life.

Rhen is desperate to find the cure with the help of her father.

But they cruelly lack the proper material and tools to make any serious breakthrough.

If only Rhen could enter university and use the latest facilities.


Only…in that universe and at that time girls marry and have babies. They don’t go to university where they could be a threat for these young gentlemen, too distracted by feminine attributes…

Rhen’s family can’t afford university anyway.

That’s why in a desperate move she’ll enter Mr Holm yearly contest that offers a scholarship to the top secondary school of Stemwick University in the Empyrical kingdom of Caldon.


Of course the contest has been entered by male contestants so far and many years not everyone comes out alive or unscathed!


I won’t say more about the plot.


As far as characters are concerned, you have:


  • Rhen, a modern soul in an old fashioned world. She thinks out of the box, is adventurous and deeply loyal. She loves to learn, to discover. She dreams big.


  • Her loyal sidekick of a cousin Seleni. She is very feminine, love tea parties but is always ready to follow Rhen in one of her daring adventure! Seleni dreams of having a husband to care for and a family to dote upon. She has set her sight on Beryll.


  • Beryll comes from a wealthy family and as Rhen would say: “Beryll is usually appalled. 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 loved Beryll and especially is character’s growth in the book. Easy to overlook and mock he’ll show unexpected depth and strength of character.


  • You also have Vincent

Son of a politician and former partner in crime for Rhen he’s undertaken a deep change in the last year. Determined to court Rhen she feels trapped. As a butterfly under a glass.


  • Last but not least Lute is a young handsome fisherman.

He had to leave school to take care of his mom and brother when his dad died.

Lute is the noble hero in a book. The silent strength. The anchor. The one you’d want by your side in a rough sea and troubled times.


All these young people will interact and compete for their own goal in a contest that reminded me somehow of A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi or probably Caraval.

You have ghouls, basilics, sirens. People dying from a new illness. Social struggle between the wealthy and the poor. Magic and illusion. A quest for your dreams, for what you really want.

Betrayal, twists and turns.

And above all else, this empowering feeling carried by Rhen who wants to change the norm and best the boys. Because she wants to be free to choose her path, her future.

I loved it!

Recommend? Totally!

Have you read it? Do you like books with unconventional female characters? Do you have anything with a similar feel to recommend?

Thanks for reading!


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  1. This sounds fantastic and yay for girl power! I fell in love with the cover a while back but hadn’t seen any reviews for the book yet. You’ve convinced me I need to read this one. 🙂

  2. I have been approved for this on Netgalley but haven’t read it yet – the summary sounds incredible but I had been hearing a few negative reviews. Your review has made me want to read it now!