Editor’s note: This article contains major spoilers for “Iron Flame” and “Fourth Wing.”
Everyone’s heard of “Fourth Wing” (2023) by now; the fantasy novel by Rebecca Yarros has gained much attention and praise on social media since its release this spring. The novel is fast-paced, creative, intelligent and endlessly entertaining. “Fourth Wing” is a must-read for any “Divergent” (2011) or Sarah J. Maas fans. The novel is packed with a badass heroine, dragons, romance, magic — everything readers need in a fantasy novel.
Trident Booksellers & Cafe hosted “Fourth Wing” fans on Nov. 6 for the release of the sequel, “Iron Flame” (2023), which arrived just seven months after the first book. Party attendees were encouraged to dress in costume, and some followed through, wearing dragon wings or sparkly golden pants. A small bar was set up in the corner with a menu of two themed drinks: Midnight Violence and Andarna’s Spritz. The Midnight Violence featured purple iridescent sparkles, adding to the magical ambiance.
Fans competed in a trivia contest and discussed reactions and theories for the series. At midnight, the books were handed out to the eager fans. The cover of “Iron Flame” is stunning, with a vivid red and gold design, and the pages are solid black on the edges. The details of the physical book embody the mystical energy created in the novel.
“Iron Flame” picks up right where “Fourth Wing” left off, but the pace is slow at first. The opening of the book is light in terms of action and heavy on the information. Most of the tension in Part One of the story comes from protagonist Violet Sorrengail and wingleader Xaden Riorson. Readers’ emotions will seesaw as Violet battles her longing for Xaden and her deep distrust after his betrayal — lying about Violet’s brother Brennan along with the revolution’s plans.
While the first novel followed an ‘enemies-to-lovers’ trope, the sequel falls into the ‘will-they-won’t-they’ romance plotline. The chemistry between Violet and Xaden is undeniable, but their mutual distrust is constantly in the way, as Violet questions, “How the hell am I in love with you when I feel like I barely know you sometimes?” Even so, fans will root for this couple and fall in love with Xaden all over again in the sequel.
The pace picks up toward the end of Part One, and by Part Two, “Iron Flame” has the same high-energy, high-stakes feeling as the first novel. As expected, Yarros shocked readers with several twists, including Dain Aetos’ switch to the ‘good side,’ Jack Barlowe’s resurrection and Violet’s mother — General Lilith Sorrengail — sacrificing herself to repair the ward. This was the most dramatic death of the novel and a really powerful moment. Violet’s mother was so cold to her children for most of their lives, and yet this act was her ultimate display of love for them.
Part Two also featured exciting battle scenes which will leave readers holding their breath. In classic Yarros style, the novel ends with a huge shock when Xaden reveals he’s become venin. This revelation has sparked much conversation in the fandom. It was a brilliant choice, but Yarros should have ended the novel after that reveal. The final chapter, which is written from Xaden’s perspective, is confusing and distracting. Violet falling asleep after learning the truth about Xaden feels unrealistic and out of character.
A major strength of this novel is the development of the side characters in Violet’s fierce friendship group. Readers will gain a new appreciation for characters like Jessenia, Sawyer and Garrick. Yarros left potential for Violet’s best friend Rhiannon and others to have their own side plots in the future. There are several hints about a romance between scribe Jessenia and rider Sawyer; perhaps they’ll have their own love story incorporated later in the series.
Violet’s growth since the first novel is significant; she’s more confident, strong — physically and mentally — and powerful. Her power strengthens as she hones her lightning-wielding, though her second signet wasn’t explained in this novel. In a recent interview, Yarros informed readers that Violet’s second signet has manifested in the second novel, sparking many fan theories. Yarros ultimately leaves fans eager for more explanations, fight scenes, romance and shocking reveals in the rest of the series.