top of page

Book Review - Rebecca Yarros's Fourth Wing

Fly...or die.

Fourth Wing is a 2023 romantic fantasy novel written by Rebecca Yarros and published by Red Tower Books. This is the first novel in the Empyrean series. It was followed by Iron Flame.

"You look all frail and breakable, but you're really a violent little thing, aren't you?" - Xaden Riorson


At the demands of her general mother, weak twenty-year-old Violet Sorrengail is forced into the Rider's Quadrant as Basgiath College, a place that is for the toughest, most unbreakable people in the Continent...the exact opposite of what Violet is.

The Background

I don't have TikTok, but that's where Fourth Wing's popularity sparked. BookTok (the readers' section of TikTok for those who don't know) was going crazy over this book. It has become immensely popular in the year since it's been released. As a fantasy lover myself, I decided to read it after I heard about it and it was recommended to me by both one of my friends and my uncle. I was excited to read it going in despite not knowing much about it.

The Sweet

I do think that the highs of Fourth Wing are really high. Rebecca Yarros builds out an exciting fantastical world that, at times, feels like an R-rated Harry Potter with a school for dragon-riding instead of magic. Yarros has clearly put a lot of thought and creativity into the lore and the rules of this world, and I always appreciate when fantasy writers do that. For a fantastical world to work, the writer needs to have a clear understanding of it, and Yarros definitely does.

I also think that the dragons are the best and most unique aspect of this story. A lot of Fourth Wing touches on stuff that we've seen before in other fantasy novels, but the way it utilizes dragons was very cool. I loved the idea of a rider bonding with their dragon and I especially love it when our main character eventually bonds with two dragons. Once Violet does bond, her dragons are tons of fun. Tairn, her bigger, older dragon brings this grumpy energy and funny banter that I really enjoyed. On the complete opposite side of things, Andarna, her younger, more excitable dragon brings this naive and childish energy that works as a perfect foil to Tairn. The dragons were awesome, and I very much wish they were more of the focus than some other aspects.

Yarros also knows how to plant clever details within the plot that pay off later. Violet is told to be incredibly smart, and Yarros writers her in a very intelligent way. There are multiple instances where there was a situation that I had no idea how the characters would get out of, but Yarros writes in some smart pay off to a small plant that happened earlier in the story. It made the book a more exciting and intriguing read than I was expecting.

Before I dive into the negatives, let me clarify that I did enjoy this book. I think it's good. But I think the positives are much more surface-level than the negatives, so I'm going to be more negative in this review than I really feel.

The Sour

I think that the lows of Fourth Wing are also really low.

I understand there are people out there who enjoy spicy romance and explicit sexual material in their books, but that is not me. Especially when the book I'm reading is this fantasy about dragons. I found the sexual material in here to be shocking and basically unreadable. I don't like skipping pages in books, but there were whole sections of this book that I wanted to skip because of how graphic and intense the sex stuff was.

While that may be just a nitpick from the perspective of a guy, I think a more valid criticism is that this romance is not well done. From the very first moment that Xaden and Violet interact, you can tell that they are going to get together. And it's rushed. Yarros spends some time building tension between them, but in the last third of the book, she just gives all that up and suddenly they are in love. The Empyrean series is supposed to be five books. Why is Violet confessing her love to Xaden in the first one? I just kept rolling my eyes because this romance felt so juvenile and rushed.

And, piggybacking off of that, I feel that the whole last portion of this book is very rushed. A lot of first fantasy novels will do this: introduce the audience to the world and the characters rather than have a real plot and essentially stuff the true plot into the last third. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing as long as the real plot is interesting and well thought-out. I don't think that's the case with Fourth Wing. There are so many plot twists and reveals within the last hundred pages that it just feels like you can't trust any information you are given. We learn that these mythical creatures Violet thought were fictional are actually real, but that reveal has no weight because that conflict has barely been built up throughout the story. The final reveal of Brennan, Violet's brother, being alive is surprising, but it ruins whatever was left of the tension between Violet and Xaden because Xaden's father had supposedly killed Brennan. It's very frustrating.

I also think, while the world-building can be effective and well done, it sometimes feels as though Yarros gets too caught up in world-building and doesn't let the audience in on everything. "The Continent", as it's referred to in the book, is a huge place, but we never really learn that much about it, and anytime we do, it's done through clunky exposition. For example, in the first few chapters of the book, Violet is put through her first trial of crossing a slippery parapet to enter Basgiath College. During this trial, to calm herself down, she begins to recite the history of the Continent. This is so that the audience can pick up on the lore and backstory here, but that's not an interesting way to give your reader information. And that is a recurring problem throughout the story.

Finally, I really hate the way that Yarros killed off characters here. Fourth Wing introduces and kills off a lot of characters. There's one major death in the end that definitely hits hard, but there are plenty of other deaths throughout the story that just don't have any emotion tied to them because we don't really get to know a lot of the characters. We have an emotional connection to Violet, Xaden, Rhiannon, Liam, and Dain, and that's about it. Liam's death is sad. But basically every other death just feels empty.

Final Thoughts and Score

Fourth Wing is a good introduction to a new fantasy world that struggles with a strange central romance and some clunky execution. I don't think it's great, but I had fun with it.

I will go Savory here. Age range is 17+.


Sweet (Great) Savory (Good) Sour (Bad) Moldy (Terrible)

"Fourth Wing"

Fun Factor: 7.5/10

Writing: 6.5/10

Story: 7/10

Characters: 7/10

Quality: 6.5/10

Written by Rebecca Yarros

Published on May 2, 2023

512 pages


bottom of page