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Review: Romantic fantasy novel 'Iron Flame' brought me to emotional extremes


Last week, the months-long wait for Rebecca Yarros’s "Iron Flame," the sequel to this summer's literary phenomenon "Fourth Wing" and the second installment of the Empyrean series, was finally over. 

The adult fantasy sequel follows Violet Sorrengail, a powerful dragon rider, as she reconfigures her world of Navarre and her war college, Basgiath, in the aftermath of the first book. "Fourth Wing" ended with an uncertain fate for the romance between Violet and her enemy-turned-lover Xaden Riorson, among many other shocks and tragedies, so the wait for "Iron Flame" was a cruel, uncertain purgatory.

The sequel is a dense read, more than 600 pages. I took my time reading because I knew I would be left an empty shell in the wake of its whirlwind events and emotions, but the book was just as crushing as it was enthralling. Even as I sobbed through the last 40 pages, its plot twists were some of the most riveting I've ever read. 

However, the publication of this book posed some problems. "Fourth Wing" quickly sold out everywhere and, even before its publication date, had received an Amazon TV series deal . Because of this, Yarros and publishing house Red Tower Books rushed to publish the sequel to sustain the momentum of the series. 

The rushed timeline made parts of the dialogue — especially Violet's — feel juvenile in this book. There were uses of extremely colloquial slang, like calling something an “era” and going so meta as to directly mention the “love triangle” featured in the first book.

I hated this.

Navarre is a fantasy world full of dragons, magic and war, so the characters should not be speaking like they’re going to see Taylor Swift between their violent battles. 

The hurried publication might have also led to misprints in the special edition copies of both books, which many readers preordered months in advance. Book communities on TikTok and Instagram have been flooded with people showing mistitled copies of "Iron Flame," upside down pages and chapter headings missing their uniform icons. 

"Iron Flame" is split into two parts, and each had me in hypertensive shock. My Apple Watch practically had to check in on me as I finished the novel. Before I read "Fourth Wing," I could never get into the high fantasy genre. But after this series, I've been converted, and my body is taking the toll.

Long gone are the days of my cozy, smutty contemporary romances — now I read books that bring me to emotional extremes. 

Foes old and new drive the plot of "Iron Flame."

The brand new enemy, vice commandant Burton Varrish, made a thrilling villain. He was both violent and calculated in his attacks on Violet and the other members of the rebuilding rebellion, and his malice created the most satisfying end to Part One.

A surprise brings back a major problem from the first book that further complicates what the characters know about their world.

Throughout the book, the relationship between Violet and Xaden is tested when they’re only allowed to see each other weekly, as Xaden has graduated from Basgiath and is now an active lieutenant along the border of Navarre. This did make Xaden feel like a secondary character in Part One, but each of his appearances validated the time spent away from him. 

Even with Xaden’s on-page perfection spurring my adoration of his character, the author's hot-and-cold take on their dynamic was annoying to read. Violet was wishy-washy in her anger toward Xaden after the events of the first book — all talk and no action in her feelings of betrayal following “Fourth Wing.”

I thought Violet either needed to forgive him much earlier in the book or be genuinely resentful towards him, but the situation we got was frustratingly in between until the second part of the book. 

Finally, the ending.

I’m a mess, an emotional wreck, a ravaged shell of the person I was before finishing this book.

The final battle changed everything — I've even been forced to consult Reddit to see what other fans are theorizing about the impossible situation created in the last five pages. 

Because "Iron Flame" has left me in such a state, I have very little known truths and emotion to rely on when thinking about the future of this five-book series

This book was a phenomenal torture, and yet, I'm still recommending this series to what seems like every person I know.

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It has left me even more wrecked than its predecessor, and any reader looking for the next great romantic fantasy to drag them through the pits of despair and back again can find it in "Iron Flame."

@dthlifestyle |