My feelings about Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros are complicated. At first, I found the book incredibly entertaining, and I was really invested in the story. But the second half disappointed me, and the more I sat with this story afterward, the more I questioned my experience. As many, many people praise this book, I feel like I am shouting into the void here, but it is my duty to talk about where I think it fell short in many ways.
Violet Sorrengail has received a death sentence. After spending her entire life training to be a scribe, her war-general mother forces Violet to join the conscription for the Riders Quadrant. Here, cadets are more likely to die than they are to bond with the fearsome and beloved dragons that inhabit the kingdom. The odds of Violet surviving aren’t great, but she is determined to live another day and will challenge everyone’s expectations as she takes on the trials to become a dragon rider.
Fourth Wing reads like a book I’ve read many times before. The experience was not only formulaic, but I recognized many elements that were plucked straight from popular series like A Court of Thorns and Roses and Red Queen. Elements pulled over included physical descriptors, types of power, and even some big plot points. Whether any story can be truly “original” is up for debate, but some stuff in this book is too similar, as though characters from other books were copied and pasted with eerily similar looks and powers. It may be that these stories are so shallow and simple in their simplicity, that a reader can only experience them once before everything feels like an imitation.
Additionally, unlike the other series it emulates, this book lacks the vibrant supporting cast that elevates a story like this and makes it fly. The characters of Fourth Wing are hollow chess pieces without a core, each possessing one or two defining characteristics that see the light of day when needed to progress the plot. This sucked because Violet did have interesting people around her, but they never get developed and quickly become personality and power tools to aid dialogue or action scenes.
I like a little romance with my fantasy. I want authors to explore how complicated relationships are in these life-or-death fantastical worlds, but I don’t want the story to focus solely on romance or become smut for smut’s sake (if you do, might I recommend Fourth Wing). After some interesting worldbuilding in the first half, the book quickly shifts gears to cliché, instalove fantasy romance territory. Violet’s development begins to lean heavily on the love interest and everything becomes centered around that person mentally and physically. Instead of the relationship complementing the plot and adding an extra level of adversity, it became the plot.
Fourth Wing also did something that immediately sours a story for me. This happens when the love interest gets a POV and all they contribute to the story is talking about how hot the protagonist is. Because nothing screams sexy like someone waking up from a near-death experience. I am so tired of disappointing men with their lame inner monologue dedicated to how much they want to sleep with someone. When this situation rears its head, we’ve moved past having a complicated or meaningful relationship and are left with a character that is solely used to initiate smut. I find it shallow and juvenile and honestly, not a great message for YA readers. Sexuality is an important part of who you are as a person, but when it becomes a character’s entire identity, it becomes objectification. It projects the idea that the character is merely a sexual object, their personality and qualities are accessories to the ultimate prize that is their body. This is not only damaging on an individual level, but it creates a toxic relationship dynamic if left unexplored.
If you’re looking for a fantasy romance that lets you indulge in a cut-and-paste morally grey, tattooed man whose love borders on obsessive then Fourth Wing is for you. If you wanted to explore a new world and experience the complex bonds between dragons and riders, then you will be more than a little disappointed.
Rating: Fourth Wing – 5.5/10