Book Review: Fourth Wing

Unfortunately, I’ve fallen a little behind again on the books covered in the Sword & Laser Book Club, from a review standpoint, so it’s time for me to get caught up with some of the past books that I’ve read and finished. The first of these is Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros.

The Book cover for Fourth Wing

Fourth Wing is something of a fantasy romance novel. The plot follows Violet Sorregail, a young woman who has several physical disabilities that limit her physical abilities. She becomes a trainee dragon rider at the insistence of her General mother. This leads to her having to go through a literal gauntlet of intense training programs meant to cull any candidates too weak to hold up as dragon riders – by killing them – combined with a highly toxic culture that incentivizes murdering rival dragon rider candidates.

On top of all of this she ends up having to contend with the rival romantic attentions of her overly protective childhood friend, and the son of the leader of a military uprising who as punishment for his father’s sins has ended up becoming a Dragon Rider candidate himself. And to put the icing on top of the cake, there is the issue of some secrets that the government that Violet is pledged to serve, the government her mother does serve, that could rock the foundations of their country, and their military clashes with their neighbors.

So, here’s the issue. It’s not so much that the story is particularly fascist – the society contained within the story certainly is, but the story is also critical of that society. It’s that society where the story is set is fascist in really dumb ways that even most fascist states generally aren’t. When you’re creating an expansionist myth around your enemies to satisfy a narrative for constant armed conflict for your neighbors, you need grist for the mill. Meat for the grinder – and lots of it. I completely got within the story the sort of “Ninja Warrior from hell” training program that Violet and her classmates have to go through – and with their country’s… lack of respect for human life, I also understand why they chose a program that would kill those who failed.

What didn’t work for me was the constant incentivization within the story within the program of killing your classmates. Yes, killing classmates eliminates competition for dragons you could bond with. However, the Dragons are sentient and they ultimately choose with whom they bond, and absolutely nothing the government can do can change anything about it. Meanwhile, you’ve got all those front-line troops who are presumably being sent out to die in more conventional battles – so why not send the rejects to them?

Everything else is great. The character dynamics with the romance in the story are nice. Within the context of the story the Ninja Warrior nonsense makes sense. Even to an extent, the context of the government’s plan to keep the secrets that they are also weirdly works – the nature of that secret would require the government to stop their expansionist conflicts with their neighbors and ally against this common threat – and would require the government to reveal that their nations were once allied.

There are a few minor prose issues – the author uses “Fists” and fisting as a verb so much that I felt my brain bouncing between “You keep using that word, I don’t think it means what you think it means,” and “Phrasing!” – as in all of those contexts they’re not referring to the sex act. That feels like something that Yarros’ editor should have caught, but didn’t.

Fourth Wing is available from Amazon, Kobo icon, and Alibris icon. Buying anything through those links helps to support the site.


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