‘Fourth Wing (The Empyrean #1)’ Book Review – Is this dragon fantasy worth the hype?

fourth wing

Is this dragon fantasy worth the hype?

Hold onto your hats because we’re diving headfirst into the world of Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros. This scorching hot YA fantasy romance has taken 2023 by storm faster than a dragon with a caffeine addiction. In a world full of dragons, magic and war, the Navarre kingdom is in desperate need of dragon riders who can keep up the wards and stop the enemy nation, Poromiel from invading with their gryphons. 

In the first instalment of The Empyrean series, meet Violet Sorrengail, the scribe-turned-dragon-rider extraordinaire with a weak constitution and brittle bones that pop off every other Tuesday. Her life goes from scribbles to swoops as her general of a mother drops her into a dragon college.

Cue the wings, drama and the marked students with a grudge hotter than dragon fire. Oh, yeah, there is a faction of marked rebels whose parents were executed by General Sorrengail for betraying the country. It’s like Mean Girls with leather, minus the pink, but with more bloodlust.

And no YA fantasy is complete without some complicated love interests thanks to Violet’s childhood best friend Dain Aetos who never breaks the rules, and the marked Xaden Riorson, the son of the man who killed her brother and in turn was executed by Mommy Sorrengail. If that isn’t enough, Violet needs to bond with a dragon who only picks the strongest or she will have to keep repeating First Year till she…dies?

If the summary caught your eye, you are not the only one as Fourth Wing has blown up on BookTok, BookGram and all the book platforms out there. However, there are a couple of complaints that keep it from being the best fantasy book of 2023. And look you’re not here to just check out the positive aspects of this book, there are enough posts out there hyping it up. We are here to dissect and strip it to its bare bones and see if it is worth reading. 

So without further adieu, let’s get into it. First things first, we really wish that Yarros had stuck to her gut regarding the enemies-to-lovers trope which is the main attraction for potential readers. And it starts off strong, so strong – our families killed each other and now we want to murder each other for revenge. It cannot get better than that. Unfortunately, it spirals into…something not as exciting which just leaves us with one question – why?

If that doesn’t give it away, the writing is messy sometimes including some really cringy dialogue, which even though they are minuscule and trivial, can take one out of the reading experience. Writers really need to come up with the sassy nickname first before naming their characters because Violet being teased as ‘Violence’ was not it. Xaden, stop trying to make Violence happen, it’s not going to happen!

As for the exposition, Yarros keeps info-dumping through random dialogues that break the flow of a scene. First rule of storytelling – show don’t tell. The politics and revolution get a little tedious as well and you end up skimming the pages.

We get that it is all needed to make sense of the conflict later but it ends up boring readers with its cliches and borrowed tropes from other currently popular YA books. Risky move, we say, especially when the overall premise is sort of unique and refreshing. On top of it, the pacing of the story is like a dragon that can’t decide whether to fly or nap. It’s slow in the beginning, picking up speed once Yarros figures out the structure of the plot. 

And most of the foreshadowing is a little too obvious like a neon sign saying “Plot twist this way!” Is your book club trying to make things exciting? Play a drinking game and take a shot every time a reader accurately predicts what’s going to happen next. But maybe it is to throw us off with the actual jaw-dropping plot twist with a certain best friend that we did not see coming at all. 

Now let’s talk about the supporting cast. Or rather, the supporting ‘who-are-they-again?’ squad. These secondary characters are like background noise at a rock concert. We cannot relate or worry of the very high stakes when something bad is about to happen to them, not even for Liam, sorry. Don’t get us wrong, they are sassy and loveable or evil and annoying but that’s it to them.

No backstory, it’s as if Yarros threw a dart on a board full of adjectives and alloted one to each student. We apologise to the token bisexual, martial artist, sassy Black female character who vanishes every time we blink. Points for at least thinking about diversity? With more missed character arcs than Violet’s wonky lightning aim, they leave us wanting more. Is it too much to ask for character development? Apparently so.

The world-building, like a dragon’s wingspan, has the potential to soar, though. Dragony Jurassic Park, obstacle courses, and a war college dressed up as Hogwarts for the bloodthirsty? Sign us up! But, oh Yarros, why focus on battle briefs and squads and quadrants when all we want are more of Tairn, Andarna and the other dragons?

Tairn is your typical grumpy old mentor in the guise of a dragon and Andarna is the bubbly little sidekick that is likeable and endearing. They are the best part of the book but we barely see them, especially poor Andarna. You’d think a book about dragons would give us a little more…dragons, but Fourth Wing is no Eragon (the book, not that terrible movie adaptation).

Time to get to the main course which, thankfully, does not disappoint. The spice factor is hot sriracha sauce over red chilli peppers (with a little too much modern dialogue for those who prefer age-of-yore authenticity) and anyone who picks it up for the steaminess is in for a treat.

As for those who like their romance to be PG-13 and came for the thick sexual tension that can be sliced with a butter knife, they can easily skip the smut without fear of missing out on any plot developments. 

Also, the author or editor needs to give a little context or some kind of explanation for the, to be honest, majority of readers who have been annoyed with the constant description of Violet being frail and weak with her joints always popping out. Well, if the mention of subluxation and brittle bones twice did not give it away, Violet has a medical condition – Ehlers-Danlos syndrome like Rebecca Yarros herself.

A+ for representation there while also shading the chosen-one trope. The whole point is that the protagonist doesn’t miraculously become perfect after ‘attaining’ her powers. She is still herself, overcoming all odds and using her other strengths instead of cribbing about her weakness. 

The main guy isn’t bad either when compared to some extremely toxic male leads in YA fantasy novels. Xaden is your Walmart version of SJM’s evil black-haired-and-tattooed protagonist who is actually a hopeless romantic, but there is no sexual assault under the pretence of protection, phew, dodged a bullet there Yarros.

Fourth Wing is mostly told from Violet’s point of view, but a sudden Xaden chapter is welcome and also gives us more insight into the anti-hero who is more mysterious than a dragon’s hoard. Let’s circle back to Liam for a minute, just like the screen time given to him. Ouch, too soon? Sweet and loyal, he’s the friend everyone wishes they had. He does get a tiny backstory, but that just makes us curious to know more.

And the classic Rocky training montage would make even Stallone proud as Yarros keeps it realistic while still pushing the limits of fantasy and finally giving us what we really came for – dragons. Alexa, play Eye of the…Dragon?

So, there you have it. Is Fourth Wing perfect and worth the hype? Not exactly, but it is definitely fun and steamy. If you want an easygoing book to pass the time and skip the usual politics in fantasy novels without missing out on the plot, go ahead. It is an enjoyable read with magic, romance and a dash of some really weird dragon-mating heat.

Read More: Iron Flame (The Empyrean #1) Book Review

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  • Verdict - 5/10

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