Fourth Wing

The Empyrean series

Rebecca Yarros


"Fourth Wing"
"Iron Flame" 

Doomsayers have been predicting the demise of printed books since the arrival of eBooks in 2006 but print books seem to be holding their own. Every five or ten years a book or book series will come along that, like the rising tide that floats all boats, causes an uptick in all book sales. Think the Harry Potter series. The bestselling book of all time is the Bible with a conservative estimate of over 5 billion copies sold. (Since Bibles were sold long before records were kept this is a very fuzzy number.) Harry Potter clocks in at over 600 million. A few more well-known examples include The Twilight series 160 million, The Hunger Games series 100 million, George RR Martin's Game of Thrones series 90 million, The DaVinci Code 80 million, Divergent trilogy 35 million and Dune series at 20 million. When Thornwell Books opened almost 3 years ago the big sensation was still "Where the Crawdads Sing" which has sold 23 million copies. (All figures are as of 2023.) Interestingly, most of these books are fantasies and/or young adult reads.

The newest book sensation is the Empyrean series by Rebecca Yarros. The first book, "The Fourth Wing", was released on May 2, 2023, and the second, "Iron Flame" on November 7, 2023. Exact sales figures are difficult to pin down, but best guess is that in less than a year the two books have sold close to 3 million copies. Both titles were initially released with painted deckled edges and the first had stenciled black dragons as well. These are considered collectors' editions. It is too early to predict how successful the series will be but the author has said she plans five titles in total. 

With all the hype about this series, we have been asked by customers whether these are books they should read. Like most of the bestsellers listed above, this is a fantasy series and, while it is not classified as young adult, it is very close kin in the adolescent behavior and dialogue of the protagonists. That said, the world building is beguiling, and the plot moves along at a good clip. The heroine of the story is Violet Sorrengail, a twenty-year-old woman who intended to spend her life as a scribe. Instead, her mother, who is a commanding general in the army of Navarre, forces Violet to enter the Riders Quadrant of the War College whose purpose is to train dragon riders. The college is a cross between Hogwarts and the Dauntless enclave of Divergent. Only a small number of students survive until graduation. Violet, like her creator Yarros, seems to suffer from Ehlers-Danos syndrome, a disease that causes constant tissue and bone pain, and yet she survives the college and bonds with two powerful dragons. She also develops a relationship with the orphan son of a rebel leader who is the most powerful rider in the Quadrant. Dragons are popular in fantasy writing and these are appealing with their own backstory and powers. With lots of magic and plot twists, magical creatures and evil magicians and sex, it is not surprising that Amazon is adapting "Fourth Wing" for television. Book three, "Onyx Storm", will be released on January 21, 2025.

If you like fantasy and have a reasonable tolerance for teenagers, these books are fun reads. Like all guilty pleasures you may find these books hard to put down.