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The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Fourth Wing: Really the New Fantasy Sensation?

Rachel Choi

This article contains spoilers.

“Graduate, or die.” 

So reads the subtitle on the cover of the fantasy novel “Fourth Wing” by Rebecca Yarros, released on May 2, which has since become an internet sensation. The novel became immensely popular among book creators on TikTok and Instagram and currently has a 4.68-star rating on Goodreads. 

Why did this book, which is seemingly another run-of-the-mill adult fantasy novel, blow up so wildly?

“Fourth Wing” follows cadet Violet Sorrengail as she enters Bagsith War College in the fantastical country of Navarre, which has been at war for four hundred years. There, she defies the odds and survives long enough to discover a secret that will reveal the truth about the war and the people closest to her. 

Though I had never picked up the novel, I felt it hyped up so much that I was bound to be disappointed—I saw “Fourth Wing” as another somewhat brainless mainstream read. However, it’s safe to say I was somewhat proven wrong.

One of the novel’s most appealing elements was the inclusion of dragons. The cadets’ main goal at the War College is to bond with a dragon and become a rider, which gives them unique powers. I feel the dragons elicit a feeling of nostalgia within readers, who may have grown up reading children’s books that involved them. The college setting also felt similar to novels such as “Harry Potter,” where the school plays a significant role in creating the atmosphere. 

Then, the more adult aspect of the novel warrants discussion. The inclusion of explicit scenes, or “smut,” puts the novel firmly in the adult fiction category. This assigns the novel a concrete fan base, as some entire accounts and creators read and rate exclusively “spicy” novels. As a whole, I find including these kinds of scenes in mainstream novels largely purposeless and unenjoyable, as they are frequently put there so the book can be marketed as what modern-day readers call “spicy” and, therefore, people will buy it. In Fourth Wing’s case, I felt these scenes contrived and, at points, cringy. 

My thoughts on the novel overall are mixed. I will admit that the novel had me hooked by the end. I was on the edge of my seat, enthralled by the action unfolding on the page. The ending rendered me speechless, my mind spinning with the revelations of the ending’s cliffhanger. 

On the other hand, the love triangle between Violet’s childhood friend Dain and her newfound enemy Xaden comes very close to being cliché, and I did not care for Dain, Violet’s childhood friend whose entire motivation in the novel is to protect her, as a character, weakening the overall appeal of the love triangle. Xaden resembled most other bad-boy archetype characters, though I will give him that he is one of the few characters who rarely refers to Violet as frail

That leads me to the biggest issue I have with this novel. Violet is described as having some form of disability involving her ligaments and muscles, which makes her training as a cadet especially dangerous. She is constantly called frail, weak, the weakling, etc. The world she lives in is obsessed with violence and survival, to the point where she is hunted down and almost killed for her “weakness,” though she holds her own time and time again despite the pain her disability causes her. 

The constant focus from characters such as Dain on her “frailness” was irritating at best and verging on ableism at worst. And I mean constant comments from almost every character, including Violet’s family, her best friend, Dain, and the leadership of the school and government of this fictional world. Disability representation is important in fiction, and I feel that in such a popular novel, more people would call out the less-than-perfect representation of Violet’s disability.

So, why in fact, is this novel so popular? It’s mostly because of the loyal fanbase and because it’s an easy read.

People who grew up reading novels about dragons and magical schools are looking for a way to relive that nostalgia in a context that fits them now as adults. This fanbase is practically built for novels like these and capitalized on with the proper marketing. Add in that the book is easy to read (perhaps a bit too easy, in my opinion) and relatively fast-paced: the book was published in the right market at the right time and, therefore, blew up. 

The response to the release of “Iron Flame” on Nov. 7, 2023, the sequel to “Fourth Wing,” was overwhelmingly positive. Booksellers held midnight releasings for the novel with an attendance not seen in years. Despite the novel’s flaws, the public appears to be clamoring for more of Violet and the world of the Dragon Riders. 

Last note: Violence is the worst nickname for a character that I have ever seen in a novel. Please, just no. No

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About the Contributor
Danielle Bartholet, Assistant Living Arts Editor
Danielle Bartholet has been passionate about writing as long as she can remember, writing on her high school newspaper and then for the Berkeley Beacon since 2023. She is currently a freshman at Emerson as a WLP major and a marketing communications minor. She is from Houston, TX, and enjoys reading and writing, as well theatre.

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