Yarros Cracks the Fantasy Romance Code (Fourth Wing Book Review)
September 7, 2023
Fourth Wing is an incredible fantasy romance debut that will surely secure Rebecca Yarros a spot on the #BookTok "feed-of-fame." Action, mystery, passion and heartbreak pull you deep into a world where magic and dragons can be earned through pain and sacrifice. Fierce battles and devastating losses have readers flocking to social media to discuss conspiracies and predictions about what will happen next with Violet, Xaden and the others in book two, Iron Flame. But, for a book that uses numerous cliched romance tropes and worn out archetypes, what makes this one so popular?
Fourth Wing's triumph is not one of complexity; instead, Yarros's simplified world building, familiar setting, and slow burn romance angle opens the door for contemporary readers to enter the fantasy genre, unlocking a new demographic and creating excitement for a world we can only imagine.
Success in the fantasy romance genre does not depend on originality. After all, there are only so many ways two enemies can become lovers in the face of imminent worldly doom. Instead, Yarros leans into the conventional, upping the ante on a classic tale with dragons, magic and mysteriously evil forces, crafting a brilliantly unique story from famliliar fabric. She wrote a fantasy story for romance readers, building an open door for a whole new audience.
Read on for my take on how Rebecca Yarros cracked the romantasy code!
Suggested: 10 Fantasy Romance Books Like Fourth Wing
Yarros's simplified world building allows readers to dive right into the action without unnecessary front-loading.
If you're a fantasy fan, you're sure to have encountered a series with so much detail, the first fifty pages feels like a history textbook about a civilization you've never even heard of, and frankly don't yet care about. High fantasy novels with complex magic systems, including limitations and flaws, such as Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy, require far more explanation and drawn out detail to correctly convey the physical laws that govern the new world. On the contrary, many popular fantasy romance series like A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas focus more on the romance and utilize soft magic systems where powers merely exist without needing to be explained.
In a lecture about world building, Brandon Sanderson shares one of his personal laws for worldbuilding - he advises young writers to convey their magic system in a manner driven by their character's emotions, naturally providing information about the setting along the way. In Fourth Wing, Violet almost immediately enrolls in the Rider's Quadrant of the Basgiath War College, and we are brought along in first person POV as she experiences daunting tests and trials for the very first time. In essence, Violet is almost as sheltered as the reader - she's never been close to a dragon, has no idea what will happen during her years in the Quadrant, and she barely knows how to fight. Everything that happens during the story is new to her, and the natural laws of this new world are portrayed through Violet's reactions and emotions as she learns more about the history of her society and the truth of their government.
While reading Fourth Wing, I almost felt like I was a first-year cadet, right there with Violet, Xaden, Rhiannon, Sawyer, Liam, and Ridoc. I wanted to be there with them, even though I probably would have died, but that's the magic of Yarros's writing. It's so good, it makes you want to risk your life. The depth of the story far surpasses the romance between Xaden and Violet, and the heartbreak we experienced in the last few chapters left us angry and hungry for revenge. When you fully understand the people of a world, you can understand their pain and their desires, and that creates a closeness to the story that rivals complex magic systems any day.
Basgiath War College feels barbarically violent yet strangely nostalgic.
Violet and I had wildly different freshman year experiences, but her story still feels reminiscent of my college memories, finding myself throw into a sea of strangers and new challenges. Though Basgiath War College is far deadlier than Grand Valley State University, it created a kindred spirit between us, allowing me to relate to her through my own memories in the classroom and making new friends. This enhanced my understanding as a reader, giving me an inside view on her emotions throughout the story. It made me wonder what I would have done if I were in Violet's boots, attempting to stay alive during every exam instead of filling in the correct bubbles on a Scantron.
Violet's story also evokes nostalgia for fans of the Top Gun movies, especially for readers like myself who are partial to Miles Teller's role in the recent sequel. The similarities between the Rider's Quandrant and various military training units such as the US Naval Air Force help readers envision the events in full color, creating a vivid cinematic experience.
Of course it's enemies to lovers; is there another option?
I've read more romance books than I could ever count, and I will always love the enemies to lovers trope the best. And that is because I am a slow burn woman, and I will be a slow burn woman until the day I die. I want the tension, the "will they, won't they," the "fuck it" kisses when they can't deny their attraction for each other for even one second longer. I want to gasp and scream and giggle to myself while I'm sitting on the train or waiting in the dentist office, emotionally combusting because the main characters finally admit they love each other, because I knew it all along! Of course you love her, you idiot! It really is a pleasure that only a fantasy romance girly will ever truly understand, because it can't be replicated outside of the genre. Coworker rivals are not (im)mortal enemies, they just don't like each other. And Rebecca Yarros knew what she needed to deliver here, because Fourth Wing does it exactly right. At the heart of every great fantasy romance book, our main characters will literally tear the world apart at the very seams of existence for the ones they loves. Unless the stakes are love or death, I don't want it.
I gave Fourth Wing 5/5 stars for the action, setting and authenticity. Yarros creates a story with dynamic characters and a rich atmosphere that feels so lived in and genuine that my heart filled and broke right alongside Violet's, fully immersing me in a cinematic adventure through a world where dragons are real. I won't say that Fourth Wing is a literary masterpiece, because nobody can say that. Some aspects were left shallow, but in my opinion, it felt intentional and necessary to create the story that Yarros delivered for us. I would have loved to dive deeper into the history or Navarre, learn more about Rhiannon and Liam, or spend more time with Xaden and the other marked cadets. Some aspects ready more YA than adult, but that's also the genre, so honestly it was exactly what I expected when I picked it up.
But most importantly, I had fun reading Fourth Wing. And for a debut to capture my attention so completely, I have to commend the author, and I will 100% be reading the sequel when it releases later this year.
When a book rises to fame as quickly as Fourth Wing has, there are bound to be some readers that won't buy into the hype. And as I write this review, I'm looking at their comments and I completely understand their arguments. At the end of the day, your opinion of Fourth Wing will largely come down to your preferred genre. If you are an NA fantasy romance fan, then this will be a win for you, because it is fantasy romance at its finest.
But, as always, I'm curious what you all think. Let me know if you agree in the comments!
When will Fourth Wing book 2 release?
The second installment in the Empyrean series, Iron Flame, is set to release on November 7, 2023.