To prove herself and seize a chance for her mother, a girl enters a competition traditionally reserved for boys—one that could turn deadly.
Every year, the mysterious Holm offers a contest for “all gentlepersons of university age” to compete for a prestigious scholarship. Tensions are running high in the patriarchal society of Pinsbury Port, which is physically divided into the haves and the have-nots, with the emergence of an unidentified disease that slowly kills its victims. Rhen Tellur seeks a cure for her infected mother: Desperate for access to better resources, she enters Holm’s competition disguised as a boy. Weber (Reclaiming Shilo Snow, 2018, etc.) creates a high-fantasy world that evokes Victorian England but keeps the supernatural creatures, such as ghouls and sirens, roaming the margins. Tan-skinned 17-year-old Rhen is justifiably distraught over her mother’s sickness but cool and calculating when engaged with science. She’s also infatuated with Lute, an attractive, brown-skinned, lower-class boy. “The strangest woman” Lute’s ever met, she prefers spending time in her father’s lab examining blood samples from fresh cadavers over prancing around an upper-crust party. The plot and character development proceed in a predictable manner, making emotional investment in the story difficult for readers. Rhen is dyslexic and Lute’s younger brother has Down syndrome. Racial markers are ambiguous, and the cast seemingly defaults to white.
A competent but unremarkable addition to a “nevertheless, she persisted” display. (author’s note, discussion questions, recipe) (Fantasy. 14-17)