Even if you aren’t interested in dragons or dark academia, chances are you’ve heard about “Fourth Wing” by Rebecca Yarros. It is all over social media and the holds list is quite long. There are read alikes at the bottom of this blog to check out in the meantime, but first I’m going to give a mostly spoiler-free review, so skip ahead if you want to go in knowing nothing.
Violet Sorrengail was supposed to enter the Scribe Quadrant, but the commanding general (her mother) has ordered Violet to join the hundreds of candidates striving to become dragon riders. But when you’re smaller than everyone else and your body is weak, death is only a heartbeat away because if the training doesn’t kill you, the dragons will. And the other candidates would kill her just for being her mother’s daughter. 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.
I really didn’t love this book.
The premise of a fantasy military academy with dragons sounded so promising, but on a whole, it’s poorly executed. There’s a list of tropes that will get people talking about your book and Yarros just methodically checked them off in a very predictable manner: Love Triangle, Enemies to Lovers (for five minutes and then it’s Instalove), Spicy, Dark-haired and Tattooed Bad Boy, Overly Powered Heroine, Probably Corrupt Organization, Big Secret, etc. It’s tedious and rather than being a fantasy novel with a romantic subplot, this is a young adult romance with jarring modern language that happens to have dragons.
Why are the dragons even there? They have all the power and all the magic, why are they bothering with humans anyway?
Don’t get me wrong, the dragons are delightful and definitely the best part. One of the main dragons is sarcastic and snarky and I adore him. The concept of bonding to a dragon, getting awesome magic, and then training to ride said dragon in battle? Yes, please. But this is the most absurdly bad battle college. They allow the deaths of the majority of the potential dragon riders as a normal practice. If you’re really low on people to fight your war, you don’t kill them off. If they can’t hack it as a Rider, then funnel them into the Infantry, Healers or Scribes.
It is filled with ridiculous exposition. Violet info dumps when she’s nervous and so you get paragraphs of history and lore just dropped in the middle of the page. For someone who was trained to be a scribe and is repeatedly described as the smartest person in the room, she is incredibly dense. There’s a difference between book smart and common sense, but this girl is really not good at connecting the dots.
Something I really did appreciate is the disability representation. Violet has brittle bones along with weak and hypermobile joints. It’s never named, but readers could recognize it has Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, which is something the author herself has. Violet uses speed and poisons to level the physical playing field where she can.
There are some fun bits, but they do not outweigh everything else that is not good about this book.
If you want to try something else or you’re 75 people down the holds list, here are some titles to hold you over!
Riding dragons into battle? You got it. In “Fireborne” by Rosaria Munda, Annie and Lee were just children when a brutal revolution changed their world, giving everyone — even the lowborn — a chance to test into the governing class of dragonriders. Growing up in the same orphanage forged their friendship, and seven years of training have made them rivals for the top position in the dragonriding fleet. But when survivors from the old regime surface, Lee must choose to kill the only family he has left or to betray everything he’s come to believe in. And Annie must decide whether to protect the boy she loves, or step up to be the champion her city needs.
This trilogy is finished, so you can burn through it without waiting!
If you’re looking for an actual slow burn romance and political intrigue, look into Brigid Kemmerer’s “Defy the Night.”
King Harristan and Prince Corrick were thrust into power after their parents’ shocking assassination. The brothers have learned to react mercilessly to any sign of rebellion — it’s the only way to maintain order when the sickness can strike anywhere, and the only known cure, made from Moonflower petals, is severely limited. Out in the Wilds, apothecary apprentice Tessa is tired of seeing her neighbors die, their suffering ignored by the unyielding royals. Every night, she and her best friend Wes risk their lives to steal Moonflower petals and distribute the elixir to those who need it most. As rumors spread that the cure no longer works and sparks of rebellion begin to flare, Tessa makes a desperate attempt: sneaking into the palace. But what she finds upon her arrival makes her wonder if it’s even possible to fix the kingdom without destroying it first.
Say you don’t just want battle dragons. Maybe you want the Napoleonic wars reimagined as an epic historical fantasy series and battle dragons. Then you definitely want to check out “His Majesty’s Dragon” by Naomi Novik.
When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes the precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Captain Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature. Thrust into the world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.
Yes, it’s nine books long and they’re all out!
If dark academia is the vibe you’re after, “Ninth House” by Leigh Bardugo fits the bill.
Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex Stearn dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug-dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and worse. In fact, by age twenty, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most prestigious universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her? Still searching for answers, Alex is tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. Their eight windowless ‘tombs’ are the haunts of the rich and powerful. But their occult activities are more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive. They tamper with forbidden magic. They raise the dead. And, sometimes, they prey on the living.
If the military academy aspect has your attention, try “An Ember in the Ashes” by Sabaa Tahir, the first in her finished quartet.
In a brutal world inspired by ancient Rome, Laia’s grandparents are murdered and her brother arrested for treason by the empire, the only people she has left to turn to are the rebels. But in exchange for their help in saving her brother, they demand that Laia spy on the ruthless Commandant of Blackcliff, the Empire’s greatest military academy. Should she fail, it’s more than her brother’s freedom at risk, Laia’s very life is at stake. There she meets Elias, the academy’s finest soldier. But Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined — and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.
You want a dragon book and don’t necessarily want/need romance, but don’t mind a dash of slow burn, check out “The Last Namsara” by Kristen Ciccarelli, another finished trilogy.
These are the legends that Asha has grown up learning in hushed whispers, drawn to the forbidden figures of the past. But it isn’t until she becomes the fiercest, most feared dragon slayer in the land that she takes on the role of the next Iskari — a lonely destiny that leaves her feeling more like a weapon than a girl. Asha conquers each dragon and brings its head to the king, but no kill can free her from the shackles that await at home. When she’s offered the chance to gain her freedom in exchange for the life of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard, she finds that there may be more truth to the ancient stories than she ever could have expected. With the help of a secret friend, Asha must shed the layers of her Iskari bondage and open her heart to love, light, and a truth that has been kept from her.