Rating: 2/5 stars
Genre: YA, fantasy
First published: 2019
Author: Mary Weber
Synopsis: 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.
Okay, I’ll be honest and say I didn’t go into this with very high expectations. I went in expecting a pretty predictable, cookie cutter YA fantasy. And I wasn’t wrong. It’s exactly what it is and it’s what I wanted to read. That’s why I picked it up. I was expecting a solid, 3 star enjoyable YA fantasy. However I ended up being quite frustrated with this book. But I’m jumping ahead of myself.
Let’s first talk about the characters and plot. The characters were… cookie cutter. I didn’t care about them, they didn’t surprise me. They’re exactly what you’d expect from a mediocre YA. The plot, again, was pretty much what you’d expect. The romance was blatantly obvious from page 1 and you knew from the start where this was going to go. But it was entertaining, it kept me reading. I didn’t hate the characters or the plot. It was just the kind of story that doesn’t require a lot of concentration to read. Which is like I said, what I wanted to read as I am coming out of a pretty bad reading slump and I just wanted something easy to get me back into it.
The world building was… meh. I found it very unbelievable the way they had such concepts as stem cells, but electricity was a novelty. And that kind of brings me to the things the bothered me the most. This books revolves a lot around science. It’s about a girl who wants to go to university to become a scientist. Which is great. I’m a girl who went to university to be a scientist. I can relate to that and it appealed to me. But if you’re going to write a book that is so science heavy, DO SOME FREAKING RESEARCH!!!
Like I said, they had the concept of viruses and stem cells, but electric lights were like WOOOOWWWW!!! New invention. It would have only taken a quick google search to realise that stem cells are a fairly new and poorly understood thing even with the technology we have today. There’s no way that a society without so much as electricity would have discovered them. Same with viruses. You need an electron microscope to see viruses. You can’t see them under a regular light microscope like our dear Rhen did. Also, viruses are not living organisms. They’re bits of DNA with some protein around them. They can’t replicate themselves, that’s why they infect cells. And the reason why they don’t die out is because they don’t kill cells within minutes of entering them (like this book suggested). These are all very basic facts that would have taken very little research. And I know that they’re not essential to the story. Changing the terminology wouldn’t have made a difference to the story. But it’s just the principle. You’re trying to sell me this sciency MC but you don’t bother to do the most basic research?
There was this other scene with chemistry. They had to make a solution and Rhen again tries to identify the compounds by putting them under a light microscope. Like… a microscope is not a magic tool. All it does is make stuff a bit bigger. If you could see the chemical composition of substances under a light microscope, we would hold the secrets of life by now lol Like seriously, it’s REALLY HARD to image the structure of some compounds. Especially if they’re biochemical.
Anyway, I’ll stop with the science rant now. It’s something that really annoyed me though. I guess if you know less about science you might not notice these things. But they really annoyed me.
Another thing that kind of annoyed me was that I had the very strong feeling that this was copying two very beloved stories, quite blatantly. Namely, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Stalking Jack the Ripper. I just felt like this book took those two stories and meshed them together, but really without adding any kind of twist or originality. In other words, just blatantly copying. I don’t like that.
So yeah, I didn’t like this book. I think it’s a standalone, but if it’s not I won’t be continuing with the series. And I’m pretty sure I’m going to unhaul it the next time I clean up my shelves (which should be soon).