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Fourth Wing
(Review, Summary & Spoilers)

By Rebecca Yarros



Book review and synopsis for Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros, a romantasy about a young woman who enrolls to become an elite dragon rider at a brutal war college.

Synopsis

In Fourth Wing, Violet Sorrengail is a young woman who is forced by her mother, a military general, to give up her goal of becoming a scribe and to instead enroll to be trained as an elite dragon rider.

The training of dragon riders is brutal and competitive, with only a fraction of the cadets making it through the first year of their training. Their goal is to bond with a dragon so they can be bestowed with the powers that bond holds ... or to die trying.

Meanwhile, uprisings and attacks upon their kingdom and its borders have steadily increased and Violet's training will soon plunge her into a political and military landscape that is complex and potentially deadly.

(The Full Plot Summary is also available, below)

Full Plot Summary

Ending & Explanations
See the Questions, Ending and Explanations
Chapter-by-Chapter Summary
See the Chapter-by-Chapter Summary of Fourth Wing
Quick Plot Summary

The three paragraph version: Violet is forced by her mother, a high-ranking general in the kingdom of Navarre, to enroll in the dangerous and brutal training to become an elite dragon rider at Basgiath War College. There, she meets Xaden whose father was executed by Violet's mother for leading a rebellion five years ago. Violet manages to survive training and bond with not one but two dragons -- Tairn, a large black dragon, and Andarna, a small golden adolescent dragon -- something that has never happened before. Tairn is mated with Xaden's dragon Sgaeyl, which creates a bond between Xaden and Violet. As Xaden helps to train and protect Violet, they develop feelings for each other.

Eventually, Violet discovers her "signet power" (a power manifested from the bond between the dragon and rider) of wielding lightning. Just before graduation, Violet goes with Xaden and a small group he trusts to complete a mission at an outpost outside the kingdom's boundaries. Xaden reveals he and his friend have been delivering weapons to help protect Poromiel, their enemies. Navarre has been under attack by gryphon fliers from nearby Poromiel because Poromiel needs resources from Navarre to fight off "venin" -- people who have been corrupted by channeling dark magic. Venin absorb the life force and magic from things around them and they are able to and conjure wyvern to fight off dragons. Navarrian authorities have led people to believe Poromiel is simply greedy and war hungry, and they deny the existence of venin.

Xaden figures out that Violet's childhood friend, Dain Aetos, has secretly been using his power of seeing someone's recent memories, on Violet without her consent in order to glean information about Xaden's activities. Violet agrees to join Xaden's fight as they engage in a deadly battle when venin attack nearby. Violet's lightning bolts are able to help kill the wyvern and the venin. When Violet recovers, she learns that her brother Brennan (who she believed to have been killed during the rebellion) is alive and part of the revolutionaries.


Chapters 1 - 3. Violet Sorrengail is a new conscript at Basgiath War College who is being forced by her mother to join the Riders Quadrant where she'll train to become an elite dragon rider, assuming she survives the competitive and brutal process. Growing up, Violet's training was to be a scribe like her father, but her mother, General Sorrengail, is a high-ranking officer in the Kingdom of Navarre and insists otherwise.

Violet's older sister Mira is an active dragon rider and warns her to stay away from Xaden Riorson, whose father Fen Fiorson was executed by their mother five years ago for leading a rebellion, since he likely wants her dead. The children of all the rebellion leaders were marked with a "rebellion relic" (a magical tattoo denoting their status) and were forced to conscribe in the college. Violet and Mira's older brother Brennan, a healer, died fighting against rebellion forces.

Enrollment at the college begins by crossing a narrow and dangerous parapet into the Riders Quadrant where many first-years die before they even arrive, since the training and challenges of becoming a dragon rider are designed to root out the weak. Violet manages to survive and makes a friend, Rhiannon. Once on the other side, she finds Dain Aetos, a childhood friend whose father is her mother's trusted advisor. Dain is a second-year cadet and a squad leader.

Violet and Rhiannon join Dain's squad. The Riders Quadrant is divided into four wings, which has three sections each and three squads within each section. Xaden, a 3rd year, is the wingleader of the Fourth Wing. After he meets Violet, he instructs that Dain's squad be moved into a section within his wing.

Chapters 4 - 12. Violet and her fellow cadets take classes in battle strategy and undergo a number of challenges as part of their training. In the battle strategy classes, they discuss recent attacks on their borders to keep everyone up to date in case they need to be shipped out early. However, Violet knows from doing library duty that there are also attacks that they are not being told about. The nearby kindgom of Poromiel has ramped up their invasion attempts and are sending out gryphon fliers to raid their supplies.

In training, Violet has never had combat training, so instead Violet uses her knowledge of foraging and herbs to poison her opponents to get through sparring matches. Next, they have to master The Gauntlet, a dangerous climbing challenge, consisting of five ascents. Violet uses her ingenuity to get through the last two ascents to survive the Gauntlet.

Meanwhile, Violet is relieved when Xaden does not attempt to kill her outright. One night, she learns that he's been leading meetings with other "marked" children, which is technically treason since it's impermissible for three or more people with rebellion relics to assemble. However, Violet sees that he's merely giving the younger ones advice and guidance on getting through the trainings and challenges, and she agrees to keep that knowledge secret.

The training and challenges all leads up to the Threshing, the day when the cadets will be taken to a field to approach and hopefully be selected by a dragon. The bond between a dragon and its rider is what makes someone a dragon rider. It imbues the rider with minor magic powers and more significantly a signet power, which is a powerful and unique magical ability. The stronger the bond and the dragon, the stronger their signet powers will be. Dain's signet power is the ability to see someone's recent memories. Xaden is able to control shadows.

Chapters 13 - 20. During their threshing, there are roughly 100 dragons available to bond and around 160 cadets, which means a bond is far from a guarantee. One of the dragons is a smaller weaker golden dragon. Three of the cadets decide they should kill the golden dragon because it's not fit for combat and is a liability. Violet ends up fighting off the other three in order to defend the golden dragon. When she does, a large black dragon -- one of only two black dragons and one of the strongest dragons on the continent -- descends and chooses her as its rider. The dragon, Tairn, tells her he has chosen her for her intelligence, courage and character. Then, the small golden dragon, Andarna, chooses her as well.

There has never been an instance of two dragons bonding with one rider, but the Empyrean (the dragon leadership) meets and decides that it is permissible, so the humans have no choice but to accept their decision. Violet soon learns that Tairn's mate is Sgaeyl, a vicious blue dragon who is bonded with Xaden. Once bonded, a rider will die if their dragon dies, though the same is not necessarily true for the dragon. However, Tairn nearly died when its previous rider died, which in turn nearly killed his mate Sgaeyl. In other words, Xaden now needs Violet to survive since her death could weaken or kill both Tairn and Sgaeyl which could also kill him in the process.

After the Threshing, Dain who Violet once had feelings for, finally kisses her, but Violet feels nothing. Dain has been trying to protect her, but has never believed in her or encouraged her. Instead, Xaden begins to take an intense interest in protecting and training Violet, and he believes in her in a way that Dain does not. One night, a group of unbonded cadets attempt to attack Violet in the hopes of getting a chance to win the respect of her dragon and bond with it instead. Violet is able to survive with the help of Andarna (who turns out to be a adolescent dragon with the power of freezing time, though it's a gift that will likely go away as she matures), and Xaden believes Violet when she tells him who was involved, while Dain doubts her.

Chapters 21 - 32. Xaden soon assigns his foster brother, Liam, who is the strongest and fastest of the first-year cadets, to watch over Violet. Liam tells her how they were taken from their homes after the rebellion and raised by loyalists instead, and Xaden trained him as kids. Xaden and Violet's desire for each other begin to grow, and one day they kiss.

Violet's squad soon participates in a squad battle, from which they emerge victorious. The prize is a trip to an outpost to learn from experienced dragon riders, and it happens to be where Mira is stationed. Xaden also joins them because Tairn and Sgaeyl cannot be separated for long due to being a mated pair.

Soon, the squads must participate in a series of battles as part of the War Games leading up to graduation. In the first battle, they're assigned to capture an egg that the First Wing is defending and to defend their own Fourth Wing flag. There is a near-death encounter for Liam, which Violet manages to prevent by using Andarna's time-freezing gift. Violet then kills Liam's attacker, Jack Barlowe, when she discovers and subsequently unleashes her own signet power as a lightning wielder. Xaden and Violet soon sleep together, but he isn't able to acknowledge his feelings for her, and Violet tells him she can't be with him until he's able to do so. Xaden eventually relents, saying that he's tired of fighting his feelings.

Chapters 33 - 38. The last War Game involves a mission that each squad must complete that takes place at outposts across the kindgom. Xaden is assigned to the Fourth Wing headquarters at Athebyne an outpost that sits outside Navarre's protective wards. He brings with him a cadre of people he trusts, and he instructs Violet and Liam to join him. When they arrive, it is completely abandoned, and Xaden realizes they've been sent there to die. He figures out that Dain has been secretly using his signet power -- to see recent memories -- on Violet, which is how he learned that Xaden has been visiting this outpost.

They're joined by gryphon fliers, and Xaden admits to Violet that he and his friends have been giving them weapons. He tells her that despite what Navarrian authorities are saying, Poromiel is not simply attacking them out of greed. They need the materials that Navarre uses to power their wards in order to fight off venin. Violet has only heard of venin as being referred to in folktales and myths -- they are men whose souls have been corrupted by channeling dark magic from the earth to perform magic and conjure wyverns. In doing so, they destroy the life force and any magic from surrounding areas. Xaden tells her that venin are real and that they've been attacking Poromiel.

Nearby, there is a trading post under attack by venin, and Xaden and the others wants to stay and defend it. Violet decides to join them as well. Xaden gives her two black blades which are capable of fighting off venin. The ensuing fight is vicious, and Liam's dragon is killed, which kills him, too. During the fight, Violet realizes she's able to use her lightning strikes to kill wyvern as well as venin. Once a venin dies, any wyvern conjured by it die as well. Violet is poisoned, but survives the fight. She's taken somewhere nearby to be mended.

Chapter 39. The book ends with Violet being greeted by Brennan, who is apparently alive and well. He welcomes her to the revolutionary cause.

For more detail, see the full Chapter-by-Chapter Summary.

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Book Review

Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros came out in May of last year, and the second book in the series, Iron Flame, was published a brisk seven months later.

My sister has been enthusiastic about this book series, known as the The Empyrean series. She and I have pretty different tastes in books, but occasionally we manage to overlap a little. She definitely has more of an appetite for fantasy and YA novels than I do, but she seemed to think I might like this, so I was curious to check it out.

I went into Fourth Wing already having a decent idea of what I was getting into and, more importantly, the gripes others had about this book. I’ve seen the long diatribes about how terrible the writing is and whatnot, so my expectations weren’t that high.

The verdict? I have to say, I don’t think it’s that bad. There are definitely aspects of the writing that occasionally feel clunky and maybe there’s a fan-fiction-y quality to some of the dialogue. But overall I found it very readable.

I also went into it knowing that I was mostly in it for the story and not really looking to be wowed by the writing anyway, and the story interested me. I would say I was on the fence about it for most of the first half of the book, which is a lot of sort of generic kids-training-at-a-magical-school type stuff. But then when the political dynamics of this world start to take shape and I got a feeling for where the story was heading, I got much more on board with the storyline.

The general gist of it is that Violet, our protagonist, is forced by her mother to join an elite and dangerous military squadron called the Dragon Riders, where the cadets will either get through training and bond with a Dragon to develop special powers … or they’ll die trying. Meanwhile, their kingdom has been under increasingly frequent attacks by a neighboring kingdom, which is why their military training is important and needed.

So, most of it is them going through training and Violet’s character growth because of it (and of course there’s a romance that develops in the meantime). But then, towards the middle and end of the book, it starts dropping more clues about the political machinations that are going on. It starts hinting that there’s perhaps more to the folktales Violet has heard of and that maybe the “official version” of the events of a rebellion that took place five years ago don’t entirely paint the full picture.

By the end of the book, the story has a clear direction that it’s headed in, involving a lot of political revelations, and it’s one I’m curious to find out more about.

Some Criticisms

I felt like a lot of the rules at the school seemed like they weren’t fully thought out. Like, in terms of what possessions were allowed and what wasn’t allowed, when killing others is allowed and when it isn’t. There’s certain periods of time when you’re allowed to randomly murder anyone and then times you aren’t, and it didn’t make a ton of sense to me.

I think at some point, I just accepted that it was better to just go with it than try to think too hard about it.

Read it or Skip it?

In some ways, Fourth Wing is very much a typical young adult fantasy set in a dragon riding school with attractive protagonists who want to sleep with each other. Our main protagonist is likeable and talented and unchallenging, and they go through ups and downs, but mostly ups. At the same time, there is an engaging and inventive story there, and I can see why people are interested in it.

Also, it looks like by the end of the book, there’ll be more of a departure from the basic magic school setup as the story broadens its scope, so I’m interested to see where that goes. The Fourth Wing is just the first book in a planned five-book series, according to its author.

I definitely think that outcries about this series being so terrible are really overblown. I do think that some of the popularity probably has to do with the whole mob mentality of tiktok (or “booktok”) and the hype associated with that. But I can also see why people are having fun with this book series, and I’m down to keep following the series because it was entertaining enough and I know other people who are reading it.

See Fourth Wing on Amazon.

Fourth Wing Audiobook Review

Narrator: Rebecca Soler & Teddy Hamilton
Length: 21 hours 22 minutes

Hear a sample of the Fourth Wing audiobook on Libro.fm.

Ending & Explanations

See the Questions, Ending & Explanations for Fourth Wing

Book Excerpt

Read the first pages of Fourth Wing



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