67 pages 2 hours read

Rebecca Yarros

Fourth Wing

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2023

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

The first book in the Empyrean series written by Rebecca Yarros, Fourth Wing is a New Adult fantasy novel that follows the struggles of Violet Sorrengail and her fellow cadets as they fight for their lives to become dragon riders for the kingdom of Navarre. As the daughter of a famed war general and sister to two war heroes, Violet must overcome her physical frailty and push aside her scholarly inclinations, for both her surname and her perceived weakness make her a prime target for the violence of her bloodthirsty peers. Not only must Violet prove her strength, but she must also navigate an increasingly complex war that disrupts her understanding of the Navarre Kingdom and the world beyond. Prior to writing Fourth Wing, Yarros established a strong name for herself as a romance writer. Fourth Wing draws on both her past writing experience and on her life as a military spouse. The novel is a New York Times bestseller and was originally released on April 5, 2023.

Content Warning: This text contains descriptions of violence as well as implied ableism.

Plot Summary

Violet Sorrengail approaches her mother’s office on Conscription Day, the day on which all 20-year-olds across the Navarre must select their branch of military service. Although Violet’s late father initially trained her for the Scribe Quadrant, her mother, General Sorrengail, orders her to enter the Rider Quadrant, in which Violet will spend the next three years fighting for her life against her fellow cadets as she prepares to become a dragon rider. Entering her mother’s office, she finds her sister Mira, who is already a dragon rider, arguing with General Sorrengail about Violet’s low prospects, given that an illness during Violet’s infancy caused her to be frail and small. General Sorrengail maintains her decision, even when Mira evokes the memory of her brother Brennan, who died serving on the front lines as a dragon rider. Mira then helps Violet prepare to enter the Basgaith War College and gives her a corset lined with dragon scales to protect her from injury. Mira also advises Violet to seek out Dain Aetos, their childhood friend. She warns Violet against interacting with anyone who bears a tattoo on their arm marking them as the child of a rebel; all such children are forced to enter the Rider Quadrant on Conscription Day as an institutionalized form of punishment for their parents’ previous attempt at insurrection.

All cadets must first cross the parapet, a narrow wall between the rider school and the rest of the college. Violet meets Xaden Riorson, the son of the leader of the rebellion who is also a high-ranking third-year cadet. Although they feel an instant attraction, they loathe each other because Xaden’s father killed Brennan, a crime for which Violet’s mother executed Xaden’s father. As Violet crosses the parapet, a fellow cadet named Jack tries to kill her—an action that reflects the harshly competitive nature of the war college—but she escapes his murderous attempts and is found by Dain. He urges her to join the scribes, then accepts both her and her new friend Rhiannon into the squad he oversees. At the last minute, his squad is transferred from the Second Wing to the Fourth, putting them directly under Xaden’s command.

The next day begins their training. Dain privately warns Violet that Xaden wants to kill her. He also reveals that his connection to his dragon gives him the power to see other people’s recent memories when he touches their temples. Violet stands out in class due to her superior knowledge and intellect but continues to be a target during sparring as other cadets try to kill her, due to her physical weakness and her mother’s reputation as a general. She makes a deal with Rhiannon to teach her history if Rhiannon helps her learn to spar. After initial training, the professors allow the cadets to engage in challenges, some of which become deadly. Violet uses her late brother’s journal to determine her challengers’ identities before the fights and poisons them to give herself the advantage. One night while collecting ingredients, she overhears a mentorship meeting between the children of the rebels. When the gathering breaks up, Xaden calls out to her, swearing her to secrecy in exchange for a later favor.

Cadets are challenged to climb the Gauntlet, a vertical obstacle course meant to mimic the difficulties of riding a dragon; squads are timed on their climbing, and the results of the challenge determine the order in which they will first be presented to dragons who are willing to bond with humans. Violet twists some rules during her climb, frustrating one of the wingleaders. Her squad is presented to the dragons, and several cadets are incinerated for being impertinent or rude. Among the gathered dragons is a small golden feathertail, a breed of dragon known for its refusal to bond with humans.

When the event called Threshing arrives, cadets are released into a valley in the hopes of bonding with a dragon. Because there are so few dragons willing to bond, many cadets resort to murdering fellow cadets in order to improve their chances. Violet hides from Jack and his cohorts but realizes that they intend to kill the golden dragon because of its perceived weaknesses. She goes to the dragon’s defense and is severely injured before Xaden and his dragon, Sgaeyl, arrive and observe. Violet fights off Jack and a second cadet before a rare black dragon named Tairn arrives and kills the third cadet, then takes Violet back to the college. Both Tairn and the golden dragon, Andarna, give their names as Violet’s bonded dragons, making her the first rider in history to have two bonds. Dain kisses Violet. Violet also learns that Tairn is Sgaeyl’s mate, which gives Xaden a vested interest in keeping Violet alive.

Although Violet’s physical prowess improves, she cannot remain seated on Tairn during flying practice. One evening, Tairn wakes Violet as six unbonded cadets try to kill her; Andarna uses her power to stop time until Xaden can come to her rescue. Violet tells him that a senior cadet let the others into her room. The next day, Xaden accuses the cadet in question in front of all the students; when she is found guilty, she is executed.

Xaden and Violet meet with their dragons and learn that Andarna is a child, not a rare breed; therefore, her time-stopping power must be kept a secret, because until she reaches maturity, her ability is vulnerable and can be stolen. Meanwhile, new developments come thick and fast. Xaden asks Liam, a fellow rebel’s child, to act as Violet’s bodyguard. Xaden and Violet spontaneously kiss during a moment of passion caused by their dragons. Violet is forced to fight Jack and exposes him to an allergen to save herself. During the annual Squad Battle, cadets are instructed to steal something that their enemies would desire; Violet’s squad steals General Sorrengail’s map of military outposts, winning the chance to shadow soldiers on the front lines. Once there, Violet reconnects with her sister, but gryphon fliers from the enemy country of Poromeil attack, cutting their visit short. During a later game of capture-the-flag, Violet saves Liam from Jack’s attempt to murder him. In doing so, she finally manifests her “signet,” the unique power she gains from being bonded to a dragon. Her signet is the ability to control lightning; she kills Jack. That night, Xaden and Violet have intercourse; Violet later insists that they will only be intimate again if Xaden confesses that he has romantic feelings toward her.

Reunification Day comes—the commemoration of the day upon which the separatists were defeated and the rebellion overcome—and the college hosts a celebration. As it is also the anniversary of the day Brennan died, Violet seeks Xaden, who is mourning the death of his father. The two confess their mutual romantic attraction and have intercourse; however, they are interrupted by the announcement of the final stage of the War Games, which is a battle simulation. Xaden leads a group of rebel children and Violet to an outpost outside of the empire. There, they meet gryphon fliers, and Xaden admits that he has been supplying them with weapons to fight the venin, evil beings from folklore who forcibly take magic from the earth and corrupt it for their own gain. Violet is heartbroken that he lied to her about his collaboration with Navarre’s enemy to combat this greater enemy to humankind. They find a letter from the college telling them of an upcoming venin assault; Xaden realizes that Dain read Violet’s memories and informed the college that they were helping the fliers, and this mission is meant to kill them.

Although given the option to flee, the group decides to stay and fight alongside the fliers. In the battle, Liam is killed, and Violet is stabbed with a poisoned knife. She manages to ensure their victory by using her lightning abilities. The survivors take her to an abandoned fortress to heal. When she awakens after three days, Xaden swears his loyalty to her and his devotion to helping her trust him again, although she resists his advances and doubts his intentions. Violet’s brother Brennan, whom she thought was dead, arrives and welcomes Violet to the revolution. The novel thus ends on a cliffhanger, and the story will continue with the next book in the series, Iron Flame.

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By Rebecca Yarros

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Rebecca Yarros
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Rebecca Yarros
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Rebecca Yarros
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