I was late for the hype exploding all over Rebecca Yarros’ stunningly popular dragon romance, Fourth Wing. Readers either loved this book, or they hated it. It received a glowing review here on AAR, so I borrowed my daughter’s copy and settled in for the ride. And while I’m happy for those who’ve enjoyed it, I’m going to offer the flip side of the squee coin so those who didn’t absolutely adore it won’t think they’re being gaslit by the entire book world.
Because. Are. You. Kidding. Me?
I’ll keep the recap brief. After her cold-hearted mother insists on it for Stupid Reasons, Violet Sorrengail enters the uber-competitive dragon-riding quadrant of the Basgiath War College, even though she’s small and weak and suffers from a disease that makes her prone to serious injury. She could be murdered at any minute by a fellow student or incinerated by a testy dragon. Her best friend and potential love interest, Dain, is overprotective and determined to whine at her enough that she’ll quit the program just to get him to shut up already. And one of the leaders has it out for her on account of her high-ranking mother having killed his rebellion-leading father, but it’s okay because he’s really, REALLY hot.
And none of this guarantees that she’ll get to be a dragon rider because there aren’t enough of the beasts to go around, and dragons have to choose their riders.
So… this book isn’t the worst. It’s fast paced and easy to read. I found the middle section to be decent, even. I didn’t love the dragons as much as so many others, but they were fine.
But my overall sentiment centered around a common problem. Make it make sense. Because so much of Fourth Wing just doesn’t make any sense.
This country needs soldiers to fight its centuries-old war, so what do they do? They send people to a war school where it’s not only legal to kill other cadets, it’s encouraged. Why? Why would you do this? Why aren’t the students who can’t cut the program sent to fight in the under-manned infantry instead of being murdered? Because Yarros needed to raise the stakes but couldn’t figure out a legitimate way to make riding DRAGONS and fighting in a WAR inherently dangerous.
When General Sorrengail forces her fragile, sickly daughter to attend a college with a 75% kill rate to maintain some ridiculous family tradition (and BTW, Violet’s father was a scribe, not a dragon rider so…), what did she think Violet’s death would do to the family’s reputation?
Make it make sense!
Why can Violet feel everything when her dragon has sexy times, but she doesn’t feel every single other emotion he has? Why does she have to work to block out the horny stuff but not the rage or the hunger or the sadness?
Violet’s sister Mira tells her to stay away from Xaden Riorson because he wants to kill her on account of their mother having executed his father. But Xaden’s father killed Violet’s brother so she has just as much reason to want him dead, a fact Xaden points out to his compatriots when they discuss the whens of killing her. Despite Violet’s obsession with Xaden’s supposed murderous intentions, he never makes a single violent move against her that isn’t a part of her training or his own self-defense. She treats him like he hates her, but he doesn’t treat her like he hates her.
Then again, we are constantly told that everyone wants to kill Violet, yet no one ever makes a move to do anything about it for the first half of the book. Certainly not evil mustache-twirling Jack Barlowe, who announces from the get go how he hates Violet for simply existing and constantly tells her he’s going to kill her. But in their every interaction, Violet gets the jump on him with minimal effort.
Violet suffers from an unnamed disease that appears to be Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Rather than causing her serious and unique challenges, all having EDS does is make Violet super-capable of overcoming extreme pain. Then again, Violet is not only the smartest cadet, she turns out to be better at everything than anybody else, she develops the most special, rarest magical ability, and she bonds not only with the biggest, baddest dragon, but a cutie-pie second one as well. Hello, Mary Sue. TBH, what she really needed was a good dandruff shampoo because her scalp was constantly tingling, icing, and prickling.
I don’t have the word count to go into the clumsy, heavy-handed info dumping. Or the inconsistencies, such as how the dragon-riding quadrant never accepts conscripts, only volunteers, except for all of those rebellion kids who were conscripted. Which, why? Why would you send the resentful, grieving children of rebels whom you executed to be trained to ride dragons, the most powerful weapon in your arsenal? Make it make sense!
There’s the silly stuff, like Xaden’s shadow-wielding ability that works in the dark. When there’s no light to make shadows. And the head scratchers, like how no one at this DRAGON COLLEGE recognizes a baby dragon until brilliant Violet shows up. (insert head-desk emoji here). Also, it’s bo staff, not bow staff.
If you’re not a fantasy purist, you won’t mind the language straight out of the early twenty-first century. Wasn’t it Tolkien who coined the phrases “for the win,” and “well aware”? And didn’t Frodo Baggins call Samwise a badass in between dropping f-bombs right and left? There are some thirty instances of periods separating words to simulate intensity. Believe. Me. I. Counted.
While Violet has the thought process and vocabulary of a teenager (this book reads like YA, not the New Adult it claims to be), she elevates the concept of thirsty to a whole new level, most frequently when it’s completely inappropriate. Women can rejoice at the proliferation of her male objectification. Bare male torsos for the win.
And I have to knock off an entire letter grade for the stupidity that is Xaden’s nickname for Violet. Violence? For real?
We are told this story. We are told Dain and Violet are best friends, but never shown it. We are told Xaden hates Violet but we are never shown it. We are told everyone wants to kill her, but we are never shown anyone trying to actually do it until midway through the book. We are told this is a different world, but other than the dragons and the magic, we simply aren’t shown it.
In the end, this is a wallpaper fantasy. It’s like shoving a Mindy Kaling character from The Sex Lives of College Girls into an empire-line dress and calling it a Regency. Heavy on the romance and light on the fantasy, it has understandably irritated long-time fantasy lovers who expect a reasonably developed, believable fantasy world and the internal logic and consistency that goes with it. You won’t find that here, so don’t bother looking.
If romantasy is your jam, Fourth Wing will probably rock your world. And for sure, every reader should love what they love, no harm, no foul. But I think it’s fair to point out that this book has many, many problems, and maybe the hype should be dialed back a few dozen notches. If you’ve read Fourth Wing and scratched your head, wondering what it is you’ve apparently missed that has So. Many. People. Gushing, rest assured you haven’t missed anything.
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