Series: The Empyrean #1
on May 2, 2023
Genres: Fiction / Fantasy / Action & Adventure, Fiction / Fantasy / Dragons & Mythical Creatures, Fiction / Fantasy / Epic
Source: Seven & One
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.
The Empyrean series is best enjoyed in order.
Book #1 Fourth Wing
Book #2 Iron Flame
I should give up reading hyped-up books I hear about on BookTok. It never works out for me, and I set my hopes low for this book before starting it.
I will review this differently than other books by separating the two main genres: fantasy and romance.
The fantasy aspects of the book were okay. Based on only the fantasy, I would have given this 3/5 stars, especially considering this is the author’s first fantasy book. The fantasy elements have a more young-adult feel, which doesn’t match the characters’ age group. Most everything fell into the typical fantasy tropes of YA books. The girl who doesn’t feel special or good enough, the brooding “bad boy” whom the girl immediately has feelings for, the token black girl that doesn’t have anything to do with the story, the government is corrupt and keeping secrets, and there’s someone alive that we all thought was dead. Now, many books can fall into this trope, and there are some that I’ve probably rated favorably in the past that follow this method. That was after reading a lot of fantasy and getting tired of the typical way of doing things, as well as having characters or world-building that kept me engaged enough to suspend my disbelief. I didn’t have any of that with this book. The world-building was okay; the dragons were the strongest part of the novel and were a big part of why I finished this book.
Going back to a note I made during my reading, fantasy novels work better with 3rd person omniscient narration (novels generally work better this way; romance is the one exception that makes first-person work). Having the point of view of Xaden, Rhiannon, and even General Sorrengail would make it more interesting to the plot as we see them hiding information or trying to figure out how to resolve if they’re doing the right thing. With the focus on Violet, it felt so narrow (and boring), especially when it came to the secrets and corrupt government. For example, General Sorrengail forcing Violet into the rider’s quadrant still doesn’t make sense. Yes, she says all Sorrengails are riders (except they are NOT because Violet’s dad was a scribe, but why have logic in a book), but what does that matter? Also, if the General was always going to make Violet join the riders, which it sounds like, why does she only give her fragile daughter six months to train before conscription day? It’s probably so the readers realize how horrible Violet’s mother is, and we hate her for what she’s pressuring Violet to do. Seeing characters grapple and struggle with what they have to do gives depth to those characters. With all of this, General Sorrengail felt more like a caricature than a realistic person, and having her voice in the mix would’ve helped mitigate that.
Now on to the romance:
I was hoping for more on this romance, considering this is her area of expertise. I’m trying to be kind in this review because writing an entire book and sending it out there for judgment is a leap of faith, and this author is already brave for doing all of that. But the romance was blah for me. It read more like lust than romance to me. They both hate each other for understandable reasons. It was brilliant having the romance between the son of the rebellion leader and the daughter of the general who killed the rebellion leader like so much angst and tension could’ve happened between these two characters. Xaden and Violet had such great potential for a slow-burn romance. Instead, we have a few scenes of them one-on-one before Threshing Day, where Tairn chooses Violet, whose mate had chosen Xaden. So, now their lives depend on the other staying alive. But this doesn’t mean they start being around each other more; instead, we have Xaden assigning other children of the rebellion to protect and train Violet. Then they start making out one night because their dragons are in heat, and they can feel that through the bond (was that necessary?!?!). There are scenes where they train together, but Yarros tells us after the fact instead of showing us this. We never see the development of their relationship from enemies to lovers or the moments between just the two of them that would’ve made me want them together. Not trying to beat a dead horse, but this again goes back to 3rd person or even alternating chapters in the first person, where we could’ve read about Xaden’s conflicting feelings about protecting his people and his burgeoning romance with Violet. It all feels too surface-level for me to care about this relationship.
I want to end on this note: none of the above means that you cannot like the book. I am not saying that Yarros is a bad writer or that she shouldn’t write anything again. Obviously, there’s something here that I’m missing since so many people loved her books. Ultimately, if a book or author brings joy, happiness, or knowledge into your life, that’s all that matters. This statement probably seems dumb, but on such a popular book, I want to make sure people understand I’m not attacking this author or the readers who did love this book.