Escape Velocity

A curated Collection of Fantasy and Science Fiction Media

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Violet Sorrengail has spent her entire life training to be a scribe like her father, but when conscription day comes around, her mother forces her to join the Rider’s Quadrant. Because she’s so small and weak, Violet has to use all her wit to survive and one day become a dragon rider like her mother and sister. Meanwhile, she finds herself impossibly attracted to the son of her mother’s worst enemy.

I spent a couple of days in Glasgow a few weeks ago. During that trip, I spent a significant time at Waterstones, and Fourth Wing was being promoted everywhere. I couldn’t escape it. Usually, a popular book has something going for it. Unfortunately, I was already listening to the audiobook at the time and already knew that this book is bad. I’m not sure why they were marketing it so much when they could have spent that space marketing literally anything else.

Fourth Wing takes place in the country of Navarre, which is at war with another country. I don’t remember the name and it’s not important enough to be in any of the plot summaries I’ve found on Google. This all to say that the war isn’t really relevant in this story about Dragon Riders at a War College.

“Basgiath War College” is where Violet Sorrengail is sent to learn to become a Rider. If she survives, that is. Violet is the weak, weak daughter of famous General Lilith Sorrengail, and she truly does not care if Violet lives or dies. Lilith, I feel ya.

The first challenge she faces is crossing a super dangerous bridge, the “parapet”. Most people don’t even make it to school, they just fall off the bridge.

Because Violet is such a weak loser, many of her fellow students want to kill her. People wanting to kill Violet for no good reason is one of the main themes in this book.

Someone who doesn’t want to kill Violet is major hottie Xaden Riorson, whose dad is known as “The Great Betrayer” for leading a rebellion against the government. Of course, Violet is convinced he wants to do her harm, but secretly he’s super into her. Half of the book is just Violet being horny for Xaden yet they have NO chemistry and NO realistic emotional buildup to their “relationship”. Spoiler: they eventually hook up. Who saw that coming?

Look, Yarros clearly wanted to write a book with the same kind of grim setting as The Hunger Games. A world in which young people die because the government doesn’t value their lives! What she, unfortunately, didn’t think about is the fact that you need to do good world-building for this to make sense in a story. And unfortunately, Fourth Wing does NOT have good world-building. There is no political commentary that Yarros is trying to make in this novel, or at least none that she’s trying to make properly.

At Basgiath War College, you either graduate or you die. And lots of people die during Violet’s first year at dragon rider school. Why wouldn’t the government care even a little bit about hundreds of potential soldiers dying? Probably because Yarros just needs Dragon School to be scary and dangerous for the plot. As mentioned before, the war is but a backdrop for Violet and Xaden getting it on.

A lot happens “for the plot” in this book. There are all these silly rules and inconsistencies that make zero sense until Yarros explains why they’re there: to move the plot forward. Killing your classmates is obviously fine, UNLESS they’re asleep, in which case your punishment is death. Sleeping with a superior officer is also clearly not allowed (because tension), but I suppose you would be allowed to kill them and that would be fine?? There’s a scene where Violet “bends” the rules by bringing a knife to a challenge where she’s not allowed to bring any weapons. However, because she brought this knife with her across the parapet, she argues that it’s fine, because “any object brought with a rider across the parapet is part of the rider”. All the rules feel made up to fit whatever scene Yarros wants to write.

Meanwhile, all the bad guys are comically evil. You’re gonna be a dragon rider, why are you so obsessed with killing the boring protagonist?

I can’t end this review without mentioning the elephant in the room. Fourth Wing features some “spice” as the kids call it. On the whole, there isn’t a lot of sex in this book, but the scenes that were there were awful.

The first sex scene was the worst 20 minutes of my life. I was half glad that I was listening to the audiobook because I could yell things like “noooo” and “make it stop” and the narrator would still just drag me through it. On the other hand, I might have been able to skim the scene in a paper book. This scene was TWENTY minutes of straight up smut. I hated it. It served no purpose in the book.

Fourth Wing doesn’t make me want to be a dragon rider, which I think is one of its main failings. One of the most positive things I can say about it is that at times, it is fine. However, I don’t think I’ll ever again pick up a book that gets marketed as “romantasy”.

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