Book Review : Iron Flame

Book Review : Iron FlameIron Flame by Rebecca Yarros
Published by Red Tower Books on November 7th 2023
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Epic, Romance
Pages: 640
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“The first year is when some of us lose our lives. The second year is when the rest of us lose our humanity.” —Xaden Riorson
Everyone expected Violet Sorrengail to die during her first year at Basgiath War College—Violet included. But Threshing was only the first impossible test meant to weed out the weak-willed, the unworthy, and the unlucky.
Now the real training begins, and Violet’s already wondering how she’ll get through. It’s not just that it’s grueling and maliciously brutal, or even that it’s designed to stretch the riders’ capacity for pain beyond endurance. It’s the new vice commandant, who’s made it his personal mission to teach Violet exactly how powerless she is–unless she betrays the man she loves.
Although Violet’s body might be weaker and frailer than everyone else’s, she still has her wits—and a will of iron. And leadership is forgetting the most important lesson Basgiath has taught her: Dragon riders make their own rules.
But a determination to survive won’t be enough this year.
Because Violet knows the real secret hidden for centuries at Basgiath War College—and nothing, not even dragon fire, may be enough to save them in the end.

I picked up Iron Flame on day one and struggled to put the book down. The pacing in Iron Flame is absolutely brutal, to the point that it’s almost stressful, as every time I had to stop reading and do In Real Life Things, I was inevitably ending on an intense cliffhanger where someone’s life or the fate of the world was at stake. So it’s no surprise that I found Iron Flame to be basically unputdownable, but I still didn’t like the novel as much as its predecessor, Fourth Wing, and that Iron Flame could have done quite a few things better.


By far, my favorite part of Iron Flame was anything having to do with Andarna. In Iron Flame, Andarna is basically a bratty teenager, brimming with sass. Anytime she appeared, she lit up the page. Tairn’s disgust with her antics and the banter between them was so fun to read. I only wish the dragons were a bigger focus, as reading about the humans (okay, Violet and Xaden) in Iron Flame was a bit trying for me, but more on that later. And though I never thought I would say this in a million years, I actually found parts of Iron Flame involving Dain as another highlight of the novel. I really liked how author Rebecca Yarros handled his character development in this one. It was also a lot of fun to see the other members of the Fourth Wing back and more confident than ever. Though many new additions to the cast of character, such as Liam’s sister and someone from Xaden’s past, initially annoyed me, I enjoyed seeing Violet slowly win them over.


“S’he makes a good point,’ Andarna agrees. ‘Can you carry a luminary?’
‘That question insults me.’
‘Can you carry a luminary while insulted?’ she prods.
Tairn growls.”


I was also happy to see more of a focus on world-building in Iron Flame, which was something I was really hoping for after finishing Fourth Wing. Characters travel to different outposts and realms, team up with former enemies who have very different ways of doing things, and magics such as runes and wardstones are explored in greater detail. Though admittedly, the latter is often explained in bursts of information dumps. Regardless, I enjoyed seeing more of a focus on the fantasy elements of this romantasy, even if I still felt like the surface was only being scratched, I still considered it an improvement.


Another thing I really enjoyed was what appeared to be pretty big, but very subtle hints and clues for past and future events in the series. It’s really exciting to see these glimpses of possibility and I love seeing the passion of other readers when discussing theories. I haven’t really seen this same energy and enthusiasm since I was a kid waiting for the next Harry Potter book, lurking on message boards and reading fan theories. But anyways, I think this is one of author Yarros’s biggest strengths as a writer, she leaves just enough proof and build-up for important things ahead (and behind), for eagle-eyed fans to find, which adds another layer of excitement to reading her books.


But as a whole, Iron Flame felt more meandering and less tightly edited than Fourth Wing, with the plot being all over the place and things conveniently and almost instantaneously changing with inconceivable ease. If Fourth Wing read a little bit like a young adult novel with spice, Iron Flame absolutely read like a young adult novel. The romance between Xaden and Violet, something that was so alluring in the first novel, was beyond frustrating and even obnoxious in Iron Flame. Their romance felt way more like one between two teenagers than two young adults in their twenties.


“Because you didn’t fall for an ordinary rider. You fell for the leader of a revolution,” he whispers, the sound so soft it barely carries to my ears. “To some degree, I’m always going to have secrets.”


Xaden and Violet spend much of the novel arguing and then having what amounts to make-up sex without the actual making up part, which I found supremely irritating. Even worse was that Violet’s anger at Xaden seems incredibly hypocritical and misplaced. Despite being able to talk to each other telepathically, the two are constantly playing mind games with one another—Xaden wants to see if Violet will ask him what she wants to know and Violet refuses to ask and wants him to volunteer information that he is not even at liberty to share as a leader of a top secret rebellion. Though Violet knows Xaden the best, she appears to be the only person incapable of understanding why he can’t tell her things, even though she’s had her mind read multiple times already.


It’s natural to have problems as a couple, but these two could die at any moment, under threat of war, torture, or magical foes, and they choose to incessantly pick at one another. My frustration wasn’t limited to just Violet’s stubbornness either, I was disappointed that a lot of the things that made Xaden the infinitely better partner for Violet in Fourth Wing were absent in this novel. He tried to coddle her instead of encouraging and believing in her to find her own way, just like Dain previously had. Unfortunately, their relationship issues made up a huge, unignorable part of the book, and I was only more vexed when a jealous ex-fiancée of Xaden’s was thrown into the mix, as if things weren’t already maddening enough.


I feel like a very big part of what makes romantasy so enjoyable is reading a romance that is usually too good to be true, which only adds to the whole fantasy part of this subgenre. Make no mistake, the pinnacle of romance is not what readers get in this novel. In fact, Violet and Xaden’s relationship is so messy that it is practically unbearable. I honestly can’t even imagine a military leader acting so unprofessionally all of the time in front of his higher-ups, peers, and subordinates.


I was also disappointed that one of my favorite parts of Fourth Wing, the disability representation, was even less of a focus in Iron Flame. Though I admittedly found parts of this representation in Fourth Wing lacking, it was basically a complete afterthought in the sequel. There are still references to Violet needing to wrap her joints and what not, but they’re few and far apart. And while her disability was a secret she had to keep at all costs in the first novel, in Iron Flame, it’s suddenly something everyone knows and is okay with, despite the emphasis of the entire previous book about dragons not liking weak riders, or a wing being only as a strong as its weakest rider, and all of that life-threatening jazz. But in Iron Flame all of Violet’s wing members are aware of the unique challenges she faces and just casually accept it as another part of her to keep in mind.


“I can handle pain.” I turn toward her. “I live in pain. I practically built a house there and set up a whole economy. I can take whatever they dish out.”


While this reception was cool to see, chronic illnesses don’t just stop playing a massive role in a person’s life, especially not when said person is being subjected to constant brutal physical training, stress, emotional fallout, and even torture. As someone with lupus and multiple other chronic illnesses, I really want to root for Violet and to see her succeed, but it was disappointing to see such an unrealistic portrayal of what living life with a disability is like. I am not at all an expert on Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, but it is just not fathomable to me that Violet never gets a moment to rest, that she can simply walk off dislocations, is able to have tons of sex on top of the already grueling physical demands of her job/training, or that she’s suddenly able to accomplish a physical feat that is challenging for even able-bodied people to perform for the first time when there is a great need for her to do so.


And I just don’t understand where the Violet of Fourth Wing, who needed reasonable accommodations to even be able to fly on her dragon, got the time to become so good at everything. This is especially odd as the book left off with her recovering from another near-death wound. I know that mending and healing are things in this world, and accept that they can take care of injuries and wounds, but that wouldn’t make her magically physically able to do all of the things she struggled with before.


I also found other parts of Iron Flame completely unbelievable, with many events being preposterously easy to the point that it was almost laughably convenient. The whole rebellion thing seemed far too easy to pull off for such a brutal empire, one where potential and actual cadets are killed left and right, and sometimes by each other, and traitors were executed in front of their children, who were then permanently marked. View Spoiler »


I was also dismayed and confused by other choices in Iron Flame, View Spoiler ». After reading the entire novel, I’m still not really sure what the reasons were for this happening. Likewise, I think I was so stressed by the new villain, Varrish, and all of the other intense, catastrophic things being an initially big deal and then going basically nowhere, that this pattern finally ruined the tension for me in the novel. So many things just kept happening one after the other, were dealt with swiftly, and then weren’t an issue again later, so I learned to stop getting so worked up about them. One of these instances was the bombshell at the end of Fourth Wing that Violet’s brother, Brennan, was actually alive, but it really doesn’t end up being that big of a deal.


Finally, I wasn’t really happy with the ending to Iron Flame. Though I really don’t like cliffhangers, if they’re well done, I can at least appreciate them from a craft standpoint. However, I found this ending to be incredibly confusing and sudden. I had to reread multiple times to figure out some semblance of what was happening currently, what had happened previously too, and also why it had happened, and where all of this was taking place. It was a lot to grasp with the sudden POV change, flashbacks, flashforwards, and the lack of page breaks or anything. Not sure why this wasn’t at least formatted more clearly. And this isn’t even mentioning that I definitely was not thrilled of any of what had occurred, either, or that I’d clearly be waiting for the third entry of the series to get answers.


Despite my issues with certain parts of Iron Flame, I still really think it was such a fun and fast-paced book to read (except for the parts with Xaden and Violet’s relationship issues), especially if one is able to suspend their disbelief at the feasibility of the plot. However, I ultimately think the novel felt rushed, with major events happening far too easily for the sake of moving the plot forward and with certain things needing better editing. But even so, I am still very invested in the world, its characters, and their struggles and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next in the series. Going forward, I will try to keep my expectations more in check for the next book.


Book Review : Iron Flame - Blogging with Dragons

Posted November 16, 2023 in Book Reviews, Fantasy, Romance

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