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Book Review: ‘Iron Flame’

Fueling Fandom’s Fire
Photo courtesy of Rebecca Yarros.
Photo courtesy of Rebecca Yarros.

Iron Flame by Rebecca Yarros, the second book in The Empyrean series, once again took the internet by storm in November following the smashing success of the first novel, Fourth Wing

There was a lot of ground Yarros needed to cover in this novel, and the result was an insanely action-packed novel from start to finish. It’s divided into two parts, which were originally books two and three. After reading the first half of the book, Yarros’s publisher urged her to combine the two, and I’m so glad she complied. 

Readers can tell where the original manuscript ends and the second one begins because of the separation of parts I and II, but the two still flow together quite well. There is a change in scenery that helps distinguish the two parts. 

As it’s only the second book of a five-book series, there was still tons of worldbuilding that continuously had my jaw on the floor. The main character, Violet’s, perception of the world she lives in continually changes throughout the novel, and just when you think she has figured out her new worldview, a new fact completely changes the trajectory of her thoughts. 

You would think readers have a thorough understanding of the world by the end of this book, but knowing Yarros’s writing, I highly doubt we know anything. I just know she’s laughing at all the fan theories that are never fully accurate. 

That’s one thing I love about Yarros’s writing and development of this series; she lays so many breadcrumbs, and yet no one has ever fully guessed what would happen next. You might get close, but she always throws a curveball. 

I am going to shamelessly plug my favorite podcast right now, Fantasy Fangirls. They do deep dives into The Empyrean series and will soon be starting analysis of other book series. I mention them because they spend hours analyzing every detail of this universe and yet even they can’t crack the code of Yarros’s brain. 

I love being surprised by my literature, and Yarros does the best job. I was continually engaged and on the edge of my seat. 

Speaking of surprises, the ending had my jaw on the floor. Like, oh my god? What was that? 

I don’t think anyone could have predicted that turn of events. 

I loved Violet’s character development throughout this novel and how she handles life-altering events while managing her relationships. She experiences so much self-growth, finally communicating and relying on her friends and Xaden. 

Her character is genuinely relatable. She can definitely get annoying at times and makes some questionable choices, but I think that is so realistic for an early-20s-aged girl who is dealing with relationship problems and literal life-or-death events. 

Violet is faced with so many difficult moments that I can’t even keep track, and I admire the fact that her character takes every insufferable situation in stride. My respect for her shot up during her time with Varrish, when readers truly see how strong-willed she is, how much she values her friends, and the secrets she must protect. 

Along with these external struggles, Violet also struggles internally. She’s feeling like a failure as her entire worldview deteriorates before her eyes, and I felt so bad for her when she said she had never failed at anything before. As someone similarly aged to her, I really understood her thought process. This is just another way that Yarros builds relatability and representation. She creates imperfect characters for imperfect readers to relate to. 

Along with Violet, Xaden had tons of development in this book. We learn a lot of his secrets. His character has become so compelling, and I can’t wait to explore his development more in the next few books. 

The dragons were much less prioritized in this book compared to the first. The human characters had so much development that it was difficult to focus on the dragons. Especially Andarna, who wasn’t in the first half of the book at all and was only rarely present. 

However, getting to watch Andarna enter a new era of her life was so awesome, and seeing Tairn banter with her provided so much comedic relief at the perfect times. Andarna has morphed into an entirely new character from the first novel, and I wish we could have seen more of this development. Part of me misses the version of Andarna from the first novel, but I am hoping to get much more of her on the pages of future Empyrean books. 

Obviously, we don’t get as much of Sgaeyl because she and Violet don’t talk as frequently, but I was devastated for her at the end of the novel. The emotional turmoil she experienced has to be explored in the next novel, and I am anxious to see how she reacts going forward. I’m also very interested in seeing her, Xaden, and Violet’s relationships develop in the next books. 

The development of Xaden and Violet’s relationship in this novel was truly nice to see. It was realistically messy and I loved the trope of a long-distance relationship (LDR) as someone who was in an LDR at the time of reading the novel. 

I have never seen this type of struggle in a novel, especially a fantasy novel. Their fights were realistic because they were both holding onto ways of operating that just weren’t possible within their relationship. Their fights went in circles throughout the novel, and while it was repetitive, it was oh-so realistic. 

Seeing such realistic representation on the pages, not just of relationship struggles but also of Violet’s chronic illness and other diversity, really was heartwarming and not something you see in many novels, unfortunately. 

The love story was messy, but that’s what I liked about it. They faced struggles head-on and despite arguing with each other, were willing to fight for what they believed and what they wanted. By the end of the novel, they were able to better understand each other as a result of the fighting. 

The level of devotion these two characters have for each other is truly admirable, and I can only dream of finding someone as devoted to me as Xaden and Violet are to each other. 

The development of Violet’s relationships with her friends was also beautiful to read, especially with Rhiannon. The trust that they were able to rebuild was very well done and truly was the support that Violet needed during such difficult times. 

Also, her relationships with Sawyer and Ridoc were well developed, and the four of them fighting together really emphasized the trust they hold in one another not just as squadmates but as best friends. 

The introduction and development of Cat was not something I was expecting within this novel. I know that Yarros doesn’t like love triangles, so at first, I was shocked by the introduction of Cat’s character and the jealousy that Violet was feeling.

However, Yarros developed a storyline around these characters that never truly was a love triangle. Xaden never had any feelings for Cat and only had eyes for Violet. I think this was one of the turning points of their relationship and was necessary for Violet’s own character development. 

The ending of this book had me in absolute shambles, and I was not prepared for what happened. I think that was the biggest plot twist that could have happened. I won’t spoil anything, but I can’t wait to see how this changes the trajectory of the rest of the series and how the characters will recover from both the emotional and logistical implications. 

A factor of The Empyrean Series that I enjoy is the notes at the beginning of each chapter. I love that they add so much context to the greater universe while also not being necessary to understand the main story arc. It is a creative way to provide more context and fan theories as we uncover more of this universe. 

This book was super rushed by the author and publisher, resulting in some typos and messy sentences that took me out of the story. I get that they wanted to capitalize on the popularity of Fourth Wing and meet readers’ demands by getting the book into their hands, but part of me wishes Yarros would have taken more time to develop the material. While the story is great how it is, I wonder what could have been if Yarros had sat with the storyline a bit longer. 

Overall, I rate this book a 4 out of 5 stars!

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