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Iron Flame by Rebecca Yarros Brings More Dragons, More War, and More Romance

How does the second book of The Empyrean stack up to the phenomenon that is Fourth Wing?

Iron Flame by Rebecca Yarros

One advantage to being late to the book-hype train is that you don’t have to wait very long for the sequel. In the case of Fourth Wing, my wait happened to be less than a month. Right around when I stopped being utterly consumed by what happened in the book, Iron Flame was downloaded on my Kindle, ready to destroy my heart.

Before I go on, please remember that this is a sequel. If you haven’t read Fourth Wing yet, be warned that some aspects of the story, and hence this review, may be spoilers for the first book. And if you’re looking for reasons why you should pick Fourth Wing up, please check out this review.

A Quick Recap of Fourth Wing

Note: Fourth Wing spoilers included.

Violet Sorrengail didn’t meet anyone’s expectations her first year at Basgiath War College. First, she didn’t die. Second, she bonded with one of the fiercest dragons in the Empyrium. Third, she fell in love with the one man everyone told her to stay away from.

But for as brutal as her first year was, the second year is when the real training begins. Or, as Xaden Riorson likes to point out, when the survivors lose their humanity. Violet never expected to survive. She really never thought she’d be in danger of losing her humanity. But for all the secrets Basgiath holds, Violet holds more.

To make things worse, the new vice commandant seems to want her personally dead. He wants to break her—not just her joints or her bones, but her spirit. He ruthlessly trains her, pushing her farther and farther, only promising relief if she betrays the man she loves.

The only problem is determination may not be enough this time. Especially because Violent knows exactly what Basgiath is hiding. And in the end, nothing, not dragon fire, not iron will, not even Basgaith leadership, might be able to save them.

Now to Iron Flame

Let's Start With the Bad

Note: Minor Iron Flame spoilers included.

Like any good sequel, readers can expect more from Iron Flame: more dragons, more war, more death, more conflict, and definitely more romance. Where Fourth Wing had the fantasy first with the romance second, Iron Flame puts the relationship between Violet and Xaden front and center. While I really appreciated that we got to see how they worked as a couple, that part of the book wasn’t without its problems for me.

The end of Fourth Wing left the couple in … not the best place. Xaden had secrets and Violet didn’t know if she could overcome them to move forward. This is understandable—to a point. I’ll be honest, my biggest issue is that this part of the story dragged on a bit too long. It was so obvious that they were going to work it out, and even though they’re young, the stakes of why Xaden kept those particular secrets were completely understandable. Not to mention, Violet has plenty of secrets of her own. I was incredibly relieved when we moved on and got to the meat of the story. The one bright spot of the distrust plot line was the dragons spatting because the humans were fighting. Their anger felt far more realistic and was resolved faster, plus grumpy dragons are always a win

Luckily, the will-they-won’t-they didn’t last long. 

Now to the Good

Once Violet and Xaden were able to move forward, the storyline followed suit. This is where bigger, badder, meaner, and more violent finally showed up.

Because we didn’t spend all our time at Basgiath, we got a lot more world-building in this book. I loved learning about the different parts of the world, the history, and all the secrets everyone was keeping. It was fascinating and I felt really added the depth a good sequel needs. We also get a ton more out of the side characters. They all get a chance to show up, and holy smokes, do I love how fiercely loyal they are. Even the one shocking twist, which just solidified my opinion that Violet really needs to stop assuming she knows everything and start communicating with other people. I get it, emotions. But also, can anyone just have a conversation please? Okay, moving on.

Along with all the good, we also get a lot more bad—villain bad, that is. From the second Vice Commandant Varrish showed up, the darkness of the storyline ramped up. That man is pure evil and every scene he’s in is chilling. It isn’t just that he’s evil, he pushes everyone around him to be complicit in various ways. The ways he torments Violet is horrifying. Every badass hero needs an equally terrifying villain, and Varrish meets Violet’s courageous bravery with malicious aplomb. He will absolutely become one of your most-hated villains.

From the constant plot twists to the unexpected turns and topped with non-stop action, Iron Flame somehow manages to be a fast read despite clocking in at nearly 700 pages. This could easily have been two books, but Yarros manages to seamlessly weave them into one. And I for one am thrilled she did. Especially now that I know what she can do with cliffhangers. If you thought Fourth Wing was brutal, buckle up, because Iron Flame will absolutely tear you apart.

As I mentioned, the first third of the book was the only part that dragged a bit. This might come down to personal taste: I’m a fantasy-reader first, so the romance taking such a huge focus wasn’t a big draw for me. Especially because I wasn’t exactly sympathetic to Violet’s struggle with Xaden. Maybe that isn’t fair of me, but honestly, I just didn’t think what he did was so terrible. It’s war. It made sense. And he was willing to talk it out. For me, her refusal to do that was just irritating, not understandable.

Thankfully, that was just one part, and the rest was all rock-and-roll for me. I think Fourth Wing was better, but I am still very addicted to this series. I have to know what happens next. So, until the third book comes out, I will be actively recruiting other readers to join the revolution.