REVIEW: Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros

Last Updated on February 14, 2024

In the wise words of the late Sir Terry Pratchett:

“Susan hated Literature. She’d much prefer to read a good book.” (Soul Music, 1999)

Such a statement perfectly sums up my feelings regarding seasoned contemporary romance author Rebecca Yarros’ first foray into the fantasy world. Fourth Wing is a rip-roaring, breathlessly exciting war school fantasy featuring high stakes, a tough as nails heroine, a brooding love interest, epic power-up moments, and wonderfully sarcastic dragons. High literature it is not, but it’s still the best book I’ve read all year.

Fourth WingViolet Sorrengail was supposed to join the Scribe Quadrant. Instead, her mother, General Sorrengail of the Navarre army, forces her to join the Riders Quadrant. With infinitely more candidates than there are dragons to ride, Violet needs to keep her wits about her. As the competition intensifies, and the selection process becomes increasingly more brutal, only one thing is certain: in the world of Basgioth War College, you either graduate… or die.

I should mention to Grimdark Magazine readers that Fourth Wing is neither grimdark, nor is it really even dark fantasy. Yes, there’re a lot of people falling to their deaths. Yes, there’re a lot of people getting barbequed by angry dragons. However, there are numerous recognisable romance tropes that bring this book firmly into the ‘romantasy’ category, which isn’t much of a surprise given the author’s background in contemporary romance. Also, despite its adult themes—violence, swearing, gore and explicit sex scenes—Fourth Wing is written in the first-person present tense; a narrative style typically associated with Young Adult. That’s not to say the romance sub-plot is the central focus (it’s not), nor that it reads especially young (it doesn’t), but if you’re looking a palette cleanser amidst your usual grimdark fare, you might want to dive in.

Rebecca Yarros executes the tropes and predictability of Fourth Wing with all the skill and prowess only a seasoned writer can bring. Entirely comfortable with her craft and fully aware of her audience’s expectations, she consistently delivers on tried and tested formulas whilst still managing to surprise. You may think you know exactly what’s going to happen next (and happen it does), but there’ll always be a sting in the tail. Yarros’ writing is informal, pacey and completely addictive, making pages fly by faster than a soaring dragon. For some, this informality may be a barrier to their enjoyment, but I personally lost count of the number of times I wished to cry out just from the sheer exhilaration of what I was reading. The entire plot was a melodramatic rollercoaster and I never wanted to get off.

By far the highlight of Fourth Wing for me is its heroine, Violet Sorrengail. Violet, like Rebecca Yarros herself, has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome: a degenerative condition which affects connective tissues in the human body. This results in hypermobility, joint pain, brittle bones and prematurely greying hair. Underestimated by everyone she encounters, including her own mother and supposed best friend, Violet proves to her naysayers time and time again that she’s not to be messed with—that she has what it takes to survive. Yarros handles the additional difficulties Violet faces due to her condition with effortless skill and beautiful empathy. Strong, sassy and seriously smart, her heroine’s successes feel justified, plausible and, most importantly, earned:

“I’m used to functioning in pain, asshole. Are you?”

Speaking as someone who also lives with daily chronic pain, this made for a joyful and cathartic read.

If you’re a fan of brutal war games, smart-talking dragons, swooning ‘enemies to lovers’ romances and unstoppably angry women with knives, Fourth Wing is the book for you. Please go pick it up immediately—I promise you won’t be disappointed.

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Sally Berrow

Sally Berrow

Sally presently resides behind a mountainous pile of books in Greenhithe, UK, kept alive only by tea and surrounded by a menagerie of animals. A lifelong fantasy lover with a tendency towards the darker side of the genre, she hopes one day to write a grimdark fantasy of her own, inspired by the Golden Age of Piracy. She considers wringing an apology from Joe Abercrombie to be her greatest achievement.