FOURTH WING by Rebecca Yarros (BOOK REVIEW)
“I force my breathing to calm, my heart rate to slow from its gallop. If I panic, I’ll die. If I slip, I’ll die. If I… Oh, fuck it. There’s nothing more I can do to prepare for this.”
In need of a dragon fix? Fear not, Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros has you covered. Enter a deadly world of dragon riders where betrayals lurk around every corner, friendships are rare to find and every day could be your last. This is an edge of your seat, addictive read, brimming with tension, well crafted characters and bursting with magic and dragons that will leave you mesmerised.
The kingdom of Navarre lies protected behind its wards and the dragons which defend it. Yet attacks from Gryphon riders from Poromiel are on the increase and the wards are beginning to fail… Behind the walls of Besgiath War College, Violet Sorrengail has spent her life training to be a Scribe, just as her father had been. Amongst the Archives and their endless books filled with history and wealth of knowledge was where she most felt at home. Though her mother, now a commanding general, has other plans. Violet is to join hundreds of cadets for the chance to enter the Riders Quadrant and become one of the elite dragon riders, the ones on the front lines defending Navarre, and her mother will not take no for an answer. Entering the Riders Quadrant is a deadly task even for the healthy, but for Violet it’s an almost death sentence—from birth she has suffered from a chronic illness which has left her bones brittle and her body weakened, and dragons will not bond with fragile humans. With fewer dragons bonding each year, cadets will kill other cadets to better their chances of success, dragons will incinerate the unworthy, and then there’s Xaden Riorson, a second year Wingleader, who holds much hatred for Violet’s mother. Violet must use every ounce of her intelligence and find new ways to survive each passing day.
Immediately Fourth Wing presents us with a world which holds the deadly competitiveness of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and the wonderful array of dragons found in How to Train Your Dragon, but with a more adult spin on it. Navarrian officers must be the best of the crop, and this book does not shy away from culling those who are not up to the task. The cadets are placed into different numbered wings pitting them against each other, there are several assignments each cadet must pass before becoming dragon riders; from walking the Parapet, to the obstacle course of the Gauntlet, and of course the Threshing, which I’ll leave readers to discover on their own. Each task has its casualties, either caused by the task itself or by the hands of other cadets. Violet walks on a knife’s edge in this world and I was compelled by her journey every step of the way. Two tropes I absolutely love are that of training academies and emerging hidden magic, and Yarros manages to give her readers both with the addition of my most beloved mythical creature, dragons. The Vale just on the outskirts of Navarre holds a myriad of different species of dragons, of varying sizes and colour but each one vicious in its own way. When dragons bond, they use their magic through their riders in the form of a Signet power which manifests at spontaneous times, each power different to every rider. Let me tell you right now, this was so fascinating!
To add further depth, the kingdom of Navarre has been in conflict with the provinces of Poromiel for decades, with many losses on both sides. Throughout the book we learn more of this war, and the people caught on both sides and Yarros gives us much insight when we begin to see from both perspectives. This is something which I was particularly impressed with, Yarros’ attention to detail, her subtle nudges that make us suspect that history is not always fact and those above us will not always tell the truth.
“I barely recognize myself in the mirror. I look like a rider. I still feel like a scribe.”
There were many aspects of Violet’s character which I resonated with. Violet is strong, determined to survive; an anger at all the unfairness simmers but it rarely overwhelms her. Despite the constant threat to her life, she has a kindness deep within her, she’s empathetic, she thinks of the fallen cadets and tries to honour their loss in small ways. Her training as a scribe helps her more than ever in her training to become a dragon rider, her intelligence is her asset and she makes sure she uses it. Having a physical disability myself, I related to Violet’s feelings of frustration at the way others would constantly remind her of her weaknesses, of what her body couldn’t do. Proving her capabilities to everyone else and to herself became her main goal, she finds new ways around her limitations, adapting her life to cater to her physical needs and that’s exactly what everyone with a disability or chronic illness will do.
Violet’s life has always been dictated, whilst her mother forces her to enter the Riders Quadrant to uphold their family’s social status, Dain, her childhood friend, tries desperately to get her out because of her frailty. Honestly, Dain became rather annoying even though his intentions were good natured. Neither listen to Violet’s wishes, both underestimate her, and again this is something a lot of disabled people will face at some point in their lives. Yet the few friendships Violet forms are vital to her character growth as before entering the Rider’s Quadrant her life seemed one of solitude. From Rhiannon’s kindness and support, Ridoc’s humour and practical jokes, Sawyers’ experienced advice, and the many other friendships that develop along the way, the camaraderie between them all helps Violet’s confidence grow, shaping her to be stronger from within. Yarros shows that living life is what’s important, not fearing the possibility of death.
“My chest tightens as I wonder which is the real version of him? The one standing up there, in complete control, ready to command his wing? Or the one I had inside me less than a half hour ago? The one who declared that he doesn’t deserve me but is going to keep me?”
Let’s be clear, this is a fantasy romance, and the romance part is rather strong. Did I find the characters lusting over each other annoying? At times yes, in particular when there were more important situations happening and the focus drifted to Xaden’s, the infamous Wingleader, body! However, overall I enjoyed seeing a female gaze as opposed to the male one we see too often, and I was entertained by their chemistry, their sexual banter. Violet and Xaden share a rather turbulent relationship and for good reasons. I never once believed that Xaden would actually hurt Violet, or Violence as he calls her, I mean we already know this is an enemies to lovers plot, but I thoroughly enjoyed the ambiguity of where his true loyalties laid. This is an aspect I think Yarros does really well, the conflict between Violet and Xaden isn’t superficial, there is a dark history between their parents, they are both from opposite sides and both of them are paying the price for their parents actions, which seems to be the mythos of the Navarrians. Despite the attraction, their relationship develops slowly, which I personally found compelling to watch unfold. Especially when it reaches that cliff-hanger of an ending.
“I’ve spent the last year trying to prove to myself I’m nothing like my mother. I’m not cold. I’m not callous. But maybe there is a part of me that’s more like her than I care to admit.”
Winging its way to the forefront of dragon fantasy, Fourth Wing is an addictive, fiery and one hell of an epic ride.
ARC provided by Henry at Piatkus Books and Little Brown Book Group in exchange for an honest review—thank you for the copy!
Fourth Wing is out now – pick up your copy HERE