I am a sucker for a good fantasy book in a school setting. I am sure a lot of that is due to Harry Potter, but I think an academic setting provides a good skeleton for a story. They almost always start shortly before a school year, and run all the way until a final exam. I am sure Fourth Wing will invite many comparisons to Harry Potter and the Hunger Games, but it reminded me quite a bit more of The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang, a book I have to admit I enjoyed much more.
The story follows a young woman name Violet Sorrengail, who was ready to enroll in a college for academics until her mother mysteriously decides to send her to military school instead. Only this military school has dragons, which some lucky students eventually bond with to become riders. And if you thought it was weird how unsafe Hogwarts was for its students, just wait until you get a load of Basgiath War College, where some students die just on the walkway into the building. Violet has to find a way to navigate and survive this ruthless school, and hopefully bond with a dragon of her own.
Fourth Wing is entertaining, and a very quick read. It wastes no time getting into the meat of the story, and it really never takes a break once the school year begins. I also do kind of enjoy the callous disregard for human life this school has. It is essentially designed to “thin the herd” because there are always more students in the college than there are available dragons. The only place that cares less for its participants’ survival is the Squid Games. The story itself is serviceable. You will probably see the twists and turns coming if you’ve read a few fantasy/YA novels before. I have heard complaints that some readers went into this expecting an epic fantasy and were turned off by how much romance sub-plot there is. I went into this completely blind, and I thought it was balanced pretty well, with the exception of one or two chapters in the last quarter of the book.
As for what didn’t really work for me, the prose tops the list. The characters feel a bit like they were pulled right out of an edgy CW show and plopped in a fantasy setting. They all speak like moody teens in the 2010’s, rather than young adults in their 20’s living in a fantasy setting. I don’t require the use of olde English, but it just feels wrong reading things like “badass” or “for the win” when they’re in a medieval setting. It is just a bit too anachronistic for my taste at times. That critique also goes for one of the main characters being named “Xaden”. Aiden, and its variations became such a fad for kids names in the 2,000’s that naming a tough-guy fantasy character that feels like a bit of a joke. That writing unforunately also extends to the dragons. While they don’t actually speak, we do eventually get to hear their thoughts, and they don’t feel markedly different than the rest of the characters. They speak like slightly older adults more than ancient magical beings.
Overall, again I think it was an enjoyable enough read, but it did not leave me with a feeling of needing to know where the story goes from here. I will probably not be continuing in this series.