January 22, 2024

Review: Iron Flame

Iron Flame Iron Flame by Rebecca Yarros
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As far as I can tell, the first book of the Empyrean series, Fourth Wing, started the whole "romantasy" craze (in fact, Goodreads invented a whole new "romantasy" category for the Goodreads Choice Awards last year, which Fourth Wing of course won). This book is the second in the series--of a projected five books, according to what I've read--and it is a honking doorstopper of a volume at over 600 pages.

This is the story of Navarre and their dragon riders, and their war with both gryphon riders and evil mages who drain magic from the land (and people, killing them). This war was first fought over 600 years ago, and afterwards Navarre retreated behind its borders, sealing them with magic to protect both its people and its dragons. They also set up a brutal war college, Basgiath, to train (and weed out) potential dragon riders to continue the fight. The protagonist, the general's daugter Violet Sorrengail, is sent against her will to Basgiath and becomes a rider, in the process falling in love with the ruthless wingleader Xaden Riorsen and discovering the truth behind the war.

To be honest, I didn't like this book as well as the first. There are good things about it--the action scenes are suspenseful and well written as usual, and I appreciated the deepening of the worldbuilding and history, and the central mystery of exactly what happened during the first war with the evil "venin" centuries ago. The dragons, especially Violet's two, grumpy Tairn and moody adolescent Andarna, are well drawn. However, this story began to drag. The series is much better when it focuses on the world of Navarre and the war plot, and the romance between Xaden and Violet just drags it down. I mean, Yarros writes explicit sex scenes tolerably well, but I don't need more than one or two to get the point across, you know? And their ongoing trust/relationship drama (she doesn't trust him because he won't reveal his secrets etc) got tiresome after a while.

Also, in this book Violet begins to feel a little....over the top. Part of that may be because the series is written from her first-person point of view. But after a while, it seems like she is the only one who can come up with the near-miraculous solutions to solve their problems, even though she is a second-year cadet and is surrounded by all sort of military people and strategists who would presumably have ideas of their own. Also, the book's climax--where Violet realizes her second dragon Andarna is the "seventh" breed of dragon that can restart Basgiath's wardstone and save the day, and she herself is some special super-strong Chosen One Andarna has been waiting for--had me rolling my eyes a bit. "Chosen one" tropes are also getting tiresome.

All this made this 600-page doorstop a bit of a slog, despite the fast, almost frantic pacing. I think future books would do better to be about half its length, or many readers (including this one) might drop out.

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