Let me start by saying that I did not have reviewing one of my wife’s new favorite books; Fourth Wing, by Rebecca Yarros on my 2023 Bingo card, but here we are.
I am an audiobook guy and have been for well over a decade. I have tons of windshield time, which lends itself to podcast and audiobook consumption. In recent years, I’ve primarily stuck to sci-fi, but have listened to other genres in the past. I have the Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones series, and more under my belt.
My wife, who had really enjoyed the book, suggested (mostly in jest) I get Fourth Wing on Audible for our recent trips to Greenville, SC.
As I was looking for something new to listen to, and had a credit to burn, I obliged.
I don’t think she expected me to finish the book, but I did. I’ll also admit that overall, I enjoyed it.
Some controversy has arisen over the audiobook and the narrator, Rebecca Soler, being sick during certain parts of the reading. They reported re-recording those sections, which must have been the version I listened to, as I noticed no such issues. In fact, I was completely unaware of any controversies with the audiobook until my wife informed me. So for me, the audiobook was a pleasant listen, and I feel Rebecca Soler did well portraying the emotion and individual characters. I enjoyed listening to her narration, and consider her one of my top-tier narrators. I’ll likely check out one of the Star Wars novels she has narrated in the future.
Now, for the story itself.
The story isn’t earth-shattering. The author doesn’t aim to revolutionize anything, and that’s acceptable. Sometimes you just need something easy to ingest and enjoy, and for me, that was Fourth Wing.
When listening to audiobooks, ease of listening is more important than the complexity of the story in my view. There have been some books, New York Times bestsellers, that have been a struggle to get through. Nothing against the author, or even the narrator of those books. I believe audiobooks can not just elevate but affect the story and enjoyment of a novel negatively.
The audiobook of Fourth Wing, as a whole, was enjoyable to listen to and consume. It was an easy listen.
The story itself revolves around twenty-year-old Violet Sorrengail, who is thrown into the competitive world of dragon riders at Basgiath War College, despite her fragility and smaller stature. Dragons don’t bond with humans whom they consider fragile, making survival a constant battle. Violet faces danger from both allies and enemies who all have their own hidden motives. With her life on the line, she must rely on her wits to survive in a realm where only two outcomes exist: graduation or death.
Think Hunger Games mixed with Harry Potter and Game of Thrones, with a bit of eye-rolling mixed in. It’s not exactly Divergent with Dragons, but it’s not far from it either. There is actually a surprising amount of death, even within the characters we meet. In the end, all you need to know is that they have telepathic dragons that enjoy going at it! (If you know what I mean!)
Like I said, I found it an easy listen, because it doesn’t take a lot of mental gymnastics to follow. I don’t read or listen to books with any real level of spice or sex scenes, so the few scenes that are in the book are of no consequence to me. If anything, the dialog was difficult to listen to for me as the wording didn’t fit and took away from the moments. At one point I even asked my wife how she reads this kinda stuff. She informed me that Fourth Wing is tame compared to other things she has read, so I left the conversation at that. For my own sake. I’ll also say Violet has plenty of horny commentary that I could have done without. I guess the point of that was for the buildup. The story is written in contemporary language, despite this world, based on magic and dragons, still using scrolls and quills. At least for me, that probably helped me digest the spicier stuff easier. I couldn’t have finished even listening to it if it was constantly “I anguish over the lack of my lord’s thickness in my presence as I crave him like spring craves the summer sun” or some hokey thing like that.
Considering Rebecca Yarros is known for romance, it’s not surprising that Fourth Wing is a contemporary romance disguised as a fantasy. This is her first foray into fantasy, and while she follows expected tropes, this book is the first of five and seems to exist simply to establish characters and begin to build the world around them.
While most of the big swings of the book are foreshadowed and can be anticipated, you still end up with one or two questions left unanswered. For the sake of fans of this book and series, I’m hoping some of this is actually a slow burn with good payout versus the transparent “one plus one equals two” type of storytelling that the book primarily relies upon.
Looking online, I know responses to this book were mixed. Some weren’t crazy about it, some found the story weak and dragging. All I can do is review it from my perspective of the audiobook, which, as I’m consuming it differently, could be interpreted differently. It is not earth-shattering. It takes elements of an already successful series and attempts to weave them together. While the story drags at times, and the constant lusting of Violet towards Xaden gets repetitive, it has redeeming qualities. Even the determination to make Dain unlikeable drags on but accomplishes the point. There are still aspects of the story that are simply too transparent. What is meant to be the shocking cliffhanger at the end of the book is something you saw coming if you paid attention to the foreshadowing. Although I will say, I enjoyed the shift of perspective for that reveal.
The last chapters of the book shift from Violet’s perspective to that of Xaden. By doing that, you lose a bit of the unknown with Xaden and learn his true thoughts and feelings. The fact that the author goes and pulls back the curtain on this rather than draw out the thread of lingering doubt for the reader is a curious step. It will prove to be a bold step if the payoff proves to be worthwhile.
The thing is though, this is book 1 of 5 in Yarros’ planned Empyrean series. So going in with that knowledge, and giving the author the benefit of the doubt that this is only ⅕ of the story she’s telling, I’m willing the give a bit of leeway. Fourth Wing might simply be the author getting certain chess pieces in order early to tell the full story in later books.
I will say, however, that I’ll likely have to find out the full story from my wife, as I do not anticipate completing the entire series. The spicier aspects, which I know are a big draw for this series, just aren’t my cup of tea. Although I plan on giving the second book Iron Flame a chance, if only to get on my wife’s nerves.
Fourth Wing is not anything groundbreaking in the world of fiction, but not every book has to be for it to be successful. I listen to audiobooks to help pass the time and to make the miles go by faster, and I may have, at one point or another, sat in the car for an additional five minutes to finish listening to a section of the book. If an audiobook can accomplish all those things, then it is entertaining and a success.
While I reluctantly admit to this, I consider Fourth Wing an entertaining and accomplished success. It has been an enjoyable break from my typical listening choices.
Now, on to Iron Flame!