There’s nothing worse than realizing that you weren’t just late for the hype train, you seriously almost missed it. Maybe that’s an exaggeration when it comes to literature—after all, a book is around forever. It’s impossible to miss it. But still, I feel like I am possibly the last reader on the planet to pick up romantasy phenomenon Fourth Wing.
I’ll admit that some of my tardiness was self-inflicted. By the time I heard about Fourth Wing, the hype was loud. Everyone was reading it, everyone was gushing about it, and everyone was comparing Rebecca Yarros to Sarah J. Maas. While I like a lot of the fantasy elements in Maas’s books, if I read about so many characters growling ever again, it will be too soon.
That said, I'm only human. I can only resist staying away from my favorite tropes for so long, and Fourth Wing is chock-full of them (we'll get to them in a minute). Reading the book was inevitable. But did it live up the hype?
Intro to Fourth Wing: The Premise
The Fourth Wing centers around the brutal Basgiath War College. War is a constant part of living in the fictional kingdom of Navarre. It has enemies on all sides, and the only thing keeping the borders safe are the dragons and their riders.
Violet Sorrengail wasn’t supposed to ever see a dragon, let alone ride one. She was meant to be a Scribe, living her entire life safe within the libraries and surrounded by books. But her mother, the intimidating and ruthless commanding general decided otherwise. With only six months of training, Violet is ordered to join the ranks of other hopeful riders.
It isn’t that Violet isn’t smart—she is—or determined. (She’s that too.) Her body is fragile due to an illness that left her ligaments looser than they ought to be. Dragons don’t bond to fragile humans. If they don’t burn her alive, it’ll be a miracle.
Of course, there are the other cadets to worry about. Death comes easy as a rider. While the College has rules, killing your peers is shockingly easy. Not to mention, Xaden Riorson, one of the cruelest and most powerful Wingleaders in the Quadrant, has a grudge against her. Violet’s mother killed his father, along with the other rebels, and then condemned their children to become Riders or die.
To make matters worse, the wards around Navarre are failing, fewer dragons are bonding to humans than ever before, and Violet is pretty sure leadership is hiding some pretty serious secrets. She can’t trust her friends, she's surrounded by enemies, and she has to face physical challenges that kill even the best amongst the cadets. But that’s how Basgiath College goes: You either graduate or you die.
Violet has no intention of dying.
The Review: Tropes, Dragons, and Pacing, Oh My!
Warning: The Fourth Wing spoilers start here.
If you’re like me and somehow have completely missed the hype on this book, there are some things you’ll want to know going in. Like many commercial fantasy books with a strong romance element, there will be tropes. Honestly, I was nervous when I first started reading because it felt like there were a few things that were obviously being built into the plot. But, in the same way you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you can’t always judge a plot by the opening pages.
One of my favorite things is when an author makes me think something is headed one direction, only to completely blindside me by doing something else. Yarros does that very well here. A few of my predictions came true, but others did not. That made Fourth Wing a ton of fun to read. There were a few parts, particularly towards the end, where I exhaled the breath I didn’t know I was holding because I had no idea what was coming next.
I’m also far more forgiving of tropes when I love them. Dragons are always a win for me—especially grumpy, curmudgeonly dragons with a soft spot for tiny dragons and frail humans. I am trash for it, and this is no exception. Tairn was perfect. I could feel his very grumpy dad vibe rumble through the pages and loved every second.
I also have a serious weakness for an enemies-to-lovers plot executed well. For me, Yarros crushed it. The snark. The banter. The stripping down of interior layers to find the soft, squishy parts underneath. It was superb. Was it predictable? Maybe. But with so much unpredictability happening everywhere else, that first kiss was extremely satisfying.
In general, I’m not one for over-the-top romance. So maybe the “I want to kill you as much as kiss you” vibe worked to cut some of the romantic elements. It won’t be for everyone, but it really worked for me. I love a good fight scene with the added “will they kiss” tension. It makes the romantic tension fun. Yarros carries fun throughout every element. I’m not a huge fan of sex scenes, but not only did I not mind them here, Yarros actually made me laugh several times in the middle of them. That’s a talent as far as I’m concerned. It wasn’t hearts and rainbows, but barbs and daggers, and that is for sure my jam when it comes to the love department. By the time her nickname came into play I was all in. It was perfect.
While Violet may come across as the "not like other girls" trope, that comparison is only surface deep. I appreciated that her limitations were physical. It wasn’t a matter of being shy or seeing herself in a certain light, she literally had a disorder that caused pain and immobility. The symptoms, include the graying of Violet’s hair, are similar to Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which Yarros has. The pain throughout the novel is visceral, and I loved how fierce Violet was despite it. She accepted who she was and stood up for herself at every turn, finding a way to succeed despite all the odds.
Was this book perfect? No. I thought a few elements in the ending were a bit on the young adult side as opposed to new adult, which skews older (and which Fourth Wing is marketed as). Things like Violet’s refusal to cooperate or accept certain plot twists definitely had me rolling my eyes. I wanted a bit more in the background and history of the rebels, more on why the dragons weren’t bonding, and a lot more on Violet’s heartless mother. Of course, while the sex scenes made me laugh, I personally would have been satisfied with one, not multiple.
But those complaints are minimal compared to how much I truly enjoyed this book. The characters were a joy to get to know and I loved the unexpected twists and turns the story took. It’s a fast-paced ride into a world filled with terrifying obstacles courses, violent classes, and layers of magic and intrigue. My only regret is how much I resisted, and as a result missed out on those gorgeous, dragon-sprayed edges. Lesson learned, I suppose.
Now, I Eagerly Await Iron Flame
According to Yarros, there will be five books in the Empyrean Series. That means plenty of time to handle some of the frustrating layers I thought were missing in this first installment. But the best news of all is that the second book, Iron Flame, is set to release November 7, 2023.
Be warned, there may be spoilers ahead. If you’re like me and have been hiding under a rock, stop reading here.
According to the blurb, it seems Violet may be returning to the College, and other characters won’t. She has secrets, vendettas, and more than enough people who don’t just want her to fail, they want her dead. Nothing new there, really: She survived an entire year of people trying to kill her. But without going into details, we are going into Iron Flame with old friends guilty of attempted murder, new lovers in serious trouble, and one very dead individual ending up being not so dead. We don’t know what’s happening in the College itself, or even in Navarre, and because of where the characters ended up, a certain General’s magical ability is significantly stunted. Is that vague enough? Good, go read Fourth Wing, and it will all make sense.
I’m hoping we get far more out of the romance storylines. While those first moments of can’t-think-must-kiss are fun, I want a much deeper connection to start happening. There are a lot of truths that were laid bare, and while I didn’t exactly love how Violet handled it, I hope it leads to conversations and connections that finally go beyond physical with the duo Yarros has created.
I can’t help but think we’re going to see dragons fight, which may answer why some dragons bond with such cold-hearted and vicious characters, an element I never fully understood. I would also love to know more about the dragon society itself. We never see their home or get to experience how their dragon-to-dragon dynamics actually play out. They have a counsel and apparently follow some set of laws, but it was all so vague that I definitely want more explained.
In short, despite not wanting to, I am officially addicted to this series. I can’t stop thinking about it and cannot wait for November 7 to get here. For now, we wait, and then we burn it down.