Book Review : Fourth Wing

Book Review : Fourth WingFourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros
Published by LLC, Red Tower Books on May 2nd 2023
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Dragons & Mythical Creatures, Action & Adventure, Epic
Pages: 512
Buy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Bookshop.org
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three-half-stars

Enter the brutal and elite world of a war college for dragon riders from New York Times bestselling author Rebecca Yarros
Twenty-year-old Violet Sorrengail was supposed to enter the Scribe Quadrant, living a quiet life among books and history. Now, the commanding general—also known as her tough-as-talons mother—has ordered Violet to join the hundreds of candidates striving to become the elite of Navarre: dragon riders.
But when you’re smaller than everyone else and your body is brittle, death is only a heartbeat away...because dragons don’t bond to “fragile” humans. They incinerate them.
With fewer dragons willing to bond than cadets, most would kill Violet to better their own chances of success. The rest would kill her just for being her mother’s daughter—like Xaden Riorson, the most powerful and ruthless wingleader in the Riders Quadrant.
She’ll need every edge her wits can give her just to see the next sunrise.
Yet, with every day that passes, the war outside grows more deadly, the kingdom's protective wards are failing, and the death toll continues to rise. Even worse, Violet begins to suspect leadership is hiding a terrible secret.
Friends, enemies, lovers. Everyone at Basgiath War College has an agenda—because once you enter, there are only two ways out: graduate or die.

I was really afraid I was overhyped for Fourth Wing, as it’s a dragon book, features a female protagonist who is considered physically weak, and a possible enemies-to-lovers romance. Surely it was way too good to be true? Wrong. I really enjoyed Fourth Wing, but full disclosure, this is coming from someone who loves dragons, has multiple chronic illnesses, and is a sucker for enemies-to-lovers romance. I am absolutely the intended audience.

 

I went into Fourth WIng completely unaware it was marketed as a romance fantasy for adults and that its protagonist wasn’t called “weak” or “frail” just because she was short or comically out-of-shape or something else typical. Violet Sorrengail, daughter of one of the most prestigious families in the Kingdom of Navarre, prepared her whole life to be a scribe, something she earnestly looked forward to with her love of reading and learning. But her mother, General Sorrengail, has other plans and forces her daughter to enlist into the Basgiath War Academy in the hopes of her upholding the family career and becoming a dragon rider. It is most likely a death sentence, as Violet has a chronic illness (one that reads a lot like our own modern day Ehlers-Danlos syndrome), rendering her in constant pain, her bones incredibly easy to break, her joints easily injured, and her body hypermobile.

 

To put it simply, I was astonished to see this disability representation at all, which is quite rare in the fantasy genre. And usually if there is any kind of disability in a fantasy novel protagonist, it is the first thing to go with some sort of magical cure (looking at you Eon/Eona). This type of development angers me to no end because it implies that a character cannot be a hero or heroine without an able body. But Fourth Wing gives me a character who actually struggles with not just the physicality of or judgement from a chronic illness, but also the emotions—the anger, the shame, and the pride one feels knowing that everything he or she, in the case of Violet, has accomplished, she had to claw her way to past all of the pain, exhaustion, and doubt to achieve. Author Rebecca Yaros does a great job of depicting this pride and self-deprecation, with Violet injuring enemies and remarking that they weren’t used to pain, but she was because she was in a constant state of it. 

 

Do you think it’ll be fun to see what they’ll do to you, knowing you’re General Sorrengail’s daughter? …They’re going to tear you to shreds, and if they don’t the dragons will. In the Rider’s Quadrant, you either graduate or die.”

 

I lived for this and other moments, like when Violet pulls a dagger against the genitals of a male cadet threatening her. Violet has to work harder than everyone else trying to make it as a Dragon Rider, and all while having substantially less hope that she will actually be chosen by a dragon, as dragons supposedly look for Riders who are the most physically capable. And that’s if she even makes it to the Threshing alive. Her fellow cadets are just as likely to kill her as the dragons, if the intense physical challenges and combat training doesn’t. But Violet never gives up, using her smarts to poison, threaten, and use whatever advantage she can.  Plus, it doesn’t help matters that the children of the failed rebellion her mother put down, (with the kids even forced to watch the executions of their parents), are thrilled at the chance her enlistment provides for vengeance.

 

Enter Xaden Riorson, the son of the Rebellion’s late leader. Forced to enter the Basigath War Academy like the rest of the rebel’s children in order to prove his loyalty, Xaden rose to the ranks of Wingleader, quickly forcing Violet into his squad, the eponymous Fourth Wing, with the hope of killing her. Knowing that Violet’s mother killed his dad and his dad killed her brother, the tension can really be cut with a knife. It doesn’t help matters that the two seem perpetually drawn to one another and as time progresses, Xaden and Violet are forced to rely on one another for survival.

 

One of Violet’s only allies at the academy is her childhood friend, Dain Aetos. If Xaden is Rhysand, shadow abilities, personality, and all, then Dain definitely gives Chaol Westfield vibes. I really love how Fourth Wing handles the love triangle. Violet realizes that Dain will never see her as anything more than her physical weaknesses and that Xaden not only recognizes her determination to survive, but also encourages her emerging strengths. Where Dain refuses to break the rules, even if it could potentially cost Violet her life, Xaden is willing to twist, bend, and break them to protect what he cares about. When Violet speaks, Xaden listens and believes, and Dain doubts. 

 

‘Aetos,’ Xaden calls out from across the mat.

Dains head snaps up and his jaw locks.

‘She could use a little less protection and a little more instruction.’ Xaden stares Dain down until he nods.

 

With the love triangle, Violet’s struggle to become strong against all the odds, military secrets, and dragons, the book is very hard to put down. The only thing that I really found lacking in this novel was the world-building and that more time wasn’t focused on the dragons. Most of the information readers get about the world is through information dumping, a cringy amount of which is through Violet’s recitation of texts as a coping method when she’s afraid, something I also saw in The Luminaries, and didn’t care for there either. And though we get to sit in on some of Violet’s lessons about dragons or can glean information, I felt like everything around the dragons, their motivations, abilities, and hierarchy stays pretty murky. Fourth Wing basically assures us that this is because dragons don’t want measly humans in their affairs, but it doesn’t really ring true when our protagonist is in constant telepathic communication with View Spoiler » dragons.

 

I also truly wanted to know more about Violet’s chronic illness. Fourth Wing references a sickness she befell as a young child that seemingly left her with her physical challenges and hair that turns silver at the edges no matter what the length. We learn Violet is no stranger to broken bones or dislocations and is constantly at the healer. But even though her chronic illness is handled with emotional gravity and complexity, there’s not a lot of factual information behind it or anything that gives an accurate depiction of having to live life with a debilitating medical condition. Readers also never really see her doing anything beyond wrapping her injuries and trying to avoid limping or wearing a sling, so she doesn’t appear weak. But Violet doesn’t seem to have any kind of plausible regimen in place to mitigate any of her symptoms or to help herself, which I found hard to believe.

 

Though Violet is supposedly a great herbalist from reading, she doesn’t make tinctures to help her joints or take baths to help with pain or do stretches before bed to mitigate stiff joints in the morning. We also never see her collapsing in her bed, being exhausted from masking her constant pain from other cadets, or missing class some days due to her condition. I loved seeing other accommodations like a dragon saddle, and her very natural loathing that she needs the accommodation in the first place, but it just didn’t feel like there was enough of a realistic struggle going on for someone facing her challenges. Naturally, everyone’s experience is different, and I imagine Violet wouldn’t have had time for a soak in the tub, even if her military college had one. But I would’ve liked things in Fourth Wing to go a step further with the disability representation. It was also hard at times to believe Violet is able to make it through the things she does with sheer force of will and adrenaline, but I truly loved to see her accomplish these feats anyways, even if I knew as a person with multiple chronic illnesses, it wasn’t entirely realistic. 

 

“I might not want to appear different than every other rider on this field, but I already am.”

 

I’ve seen countless other reviewers point out that they didn’t like Violet because she had such strong, “I’m not like the other girl” vibes. Honestly, though this is something that usually annoys me to no end, especially when there’s constant remarks about how small the female main character is (something we unfortunately do see with Violet), I didn’t have a big issue with it in Fourth Wing. I was more annoyed at Violet’s constant refusal to kill people actively trying to murder her and her insistence on merely wounding them. Like, does she really have to grant everyone multiple chances to unalive her when her chances of living are already so low? I am tired of this forced innocence/purity/forced moral high ground (whatever else you want to call it), trope.

 

But anyways, even when Violet’s power ups seemed over the top, they made sense to me in this book. As someone with a life altering physical disability, (and who did not choose, but was forced, into the war academy to become a dragon rider), Violet is inherently not like the other girls, and she never will be, plain and simple.  And I think a lot of readers with able bodies don’t quite fully understand that. Are the power ups a bit convenient and incredibly substantial? Yes. But if readers are getting annoyed that the disabled protagonist in an underdog story ends up overcoming all odds, finding alternative means to survive, and to grasp power, then they’re probably not reading the right book in the first place. It’s only kind of the entire premise.

 

Besides the lack of all things dragon and world-building, the only other thing that actually bothered me was the execution of the dynamic between Violet and Xaden; their relationship was all over the place, all of the time. Though they start out as enemies, with Xaden even vowing to kill her, their status changes multiple times based on whatever seems convenient or dramatic for the moment. View Spoiler » It honestly felt like most of their relationship developments happened way too soon and changed far too often, but then again, I love a good slow burn and could have read an entire novel or trilogy with Xaden having mysterious intentions and motivations and Violet trying to resist her attraction to him. 

 

Though this novel is marketed as romantic fantasy, it needs to be pointed out that romance is generally what gets the focus here and it does feel like the fantasy is mere window dressing at times. Fourth Wing definitely reads more like a young adult or Sarah J. Maas novel—with modern speech utilized, plenty of F-bombs being dropped, and descriptive sex scenes (which involve magic)—and I would definitely recommend Fourth Wing to any of Maas fans, but recognize that this will novel will not appeal to those looking for complex world-building and sophisticated prose. The side characters aren’t all very well developed either and the world-building in Fourth Wing is not on par with that in other adult fantasy works, but I am crossing my fingers that this will be a bigger focus on the next entry in the series. 

 

That being said, if you’re looking for a quick and pure fun read with romance, a fantasy setting, and disability representation (written by an author with an actual chronic illness), the Fourth Wing is the perfect read for you. Though I know logically that the book definitely has its share fair of flaws, I really, really liked it and loved to see a character like Violet. If the next book in the series were already published, I’d already be reading it. Undoubtedly, I’ll be picking up future entries in the series on day one. 

 

three-half-stars
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Book Review : Fourth Wing - Blogging with Dragons

Posted May 18, 2023 in Book Reviews, Dragons, Fantasy, Romance

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6 responses to “Book Review : Fourth Wing

  1. I’ve truly heard nothing but raves about this book. I received a physical arc of it from the publisher and hadn’t heard a single thing about it. I was considering just giving it to a little free library because it was so chonky and I just wasn’t sure it would be my vibe. Then literally a week later the entire internet was obsessing over it haha! I’m still so nervous to pick it up because I don’t usually do well with hyped books. But I’m crossing my fingers that when I do go into it, I’ll love it. I wanna join in all the excitement! As someone with a chronic illness, I’m especially looking forward to seeing the disability rep as I’ve heard from more than one person that it’s really well done. Great to know you thought so as well!

    • I was in the exact same boat as you! I find I never really like the super hyped books, but I actually did this time. It was such a nice surprise. I wish the disability rep had gone a bit further (because I’m greedy), but what it did do, it handled so well. I was not surprised when I found out the author had her own connective tissue disorder, as she portrays all of the emotions so well. I hope if you end up reading it, you enjoy it! ?

  2. Ellie

    This is a great review! It’s a super fun read even though it definitely suffers from some of the Sarah J Maas/Jennifer L Armentrout annoyances as you mentioned – i.e distractingly modern lingo, uneven pacing, painfully odd pet names, etc. I found myself getting so amped cheering on these dragon riding idiots!!! Also a note that even though I love & prefer lonnnng slow burn, it was SO relieving to see Violet refuse to fall into miscommunication trope about her feelings. I was punching my fist in the air when she told him exactly how she felt!

    • Thank you so much! I completely agree with you on everything! And that’s such a good point–I can’t stand the miscommunication trope! I also hate when characters just miss running into each other at a pivotal moment, especially when they really need to talk.

      I also liked that the love triangle wasn’t so back and forth and that Violet knew when she deserved better. it was a refreshing take!

  3. Kate

    Any chance you’d know all the locations they go in the book? I borrowed my from a friend so I can’t remember…. Like Navarre and the war college obviously but here else do thy go?? What the place with dragons called? What’s the war games location etc

    • If you Google “Fourth Wing Map,” you can take a look at the map from the book with all of the location names ?

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