Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros has received an incredible amount of hype online. It's had over 50,000 reviews on The Storygraph. That's a lot of attention and a lot to live up to when one sits down to read. The publisher's blurb sets it up for us:
Twenty-year-old Violet Sorrengail was supposed to enter the Scribe Quadrant, living a quiet life among books and history. Now, the commanding general—also known as her tough-as-talons mother—has ordered Violet to join the hundreds of candidates striving to become the elite of Navarre: dragon riders.
But when you’re smaller than everyone else and your body is brittle, death is only a heartbeat away...because dragons don’t bond to “fragile” humans. They incinerate them.
With fewer dragons willing to bond than cadets, most would kill Violet to better their own chances of success. The rest would kill her just for being her mother’s daughter—like Xaden Riorson, the most powerful and ruthless wingleader in the Riders Quadrant.
She’ll need every edge her wits can give her just to see the next sunrise.
Yet, with every day that passes, the war outside grows more deadly, the kingdom's protective wards are failing, and the death toll continues to rise. Even worse, Violet begins to suspect leadership is hiding a terrible secret.
Friends, enemies, lovers. Everyone at Basgiath War College has an agenda—because once you enter, there are only two ways out: graduate or die.
I listened to the audiobook and enjoyed the narration by Teddy Hamilton. The writing is good and the familiar tropes made it an easy story to follow and enjoy. Nothing new or life-changing, but a good tour of a familiar landscape.
The book was billed to me as an epic fantasy but definitely ought to be classed as fantasy romance; the relationship occupies a huge amount of the space in this story. Unfortunately, it wasn't a relationship that made a lot of sense to me. It seemed unrealistically accelerated from where it started to where it arrived, mostly for sake of advancing the plot. The enemies-to-lovers trope is much beloved, but this one is confusing given the claims the lovers make about one another, usually in the throes of passion. Kudos to Yarros for having the sexual content actually contribute to some character advancement. But, the spicy sections were not the best writing in the book, relying on a great deal of uninteresting, repeated vocabulary. The sex scenes also seemed, to me, unnecessarily long. I'm not opposed to erotic content, even graphic stuff, but it needs to be done well and this wasn't it for me.
The book is set with primarily 20-something-year-old characters but the behaviour often felt more like high school than a high-stakes and dangerous college/university experience. The main character is definitely a Chosen One and is consistently having the most exceptional, unique, improbable experiences anyone has ever had. This is a common trope in fantasy novels but as the book went on, I found myself rolling my eyes at some of the exceptionalism that seemed gratuitous. Of course it's the biggest/most powerful/rarest/never-before-seen situation/thingamajig ever, because that's all this MC ever experiences. The frequent references to her "brittle body" followed by her accomplishing feats impossible to anyone else quickly became tiresome and were never adequately reconciled.
All in all, Fourth Wing is worth a read if you're up for a fantasy romance novel. It didn't live up to the hype and buzz that I've seen surrounding it, which is always disappointing and not necessarily the author's fault.