Iron Flame Chronicles: A Rollercoaster of Hype and Critique
Unpacking the Highly Anticipated Release, Quality Woes, and Character Quirks in Rebecca Yarros' Latest Novel
Okay, friends. Gather round. It's time to discuss Iron Flame. Wow, what a week it has been. To be honest, this book was disappointing. I have a lot of feelings about it. I still want to emphasize that I liked this book, but there were some real problems here.
Iron Flame Release
There is nowhere else I can start, but with all the highs and lows of the release. This was one of the most highly anticipated book releases in years, if not decades. There were midnight release parties. There were cosplayers. Everyone anxiously waited by the door, counting down for their pre-order to arrive. I know I definitely was.
Being a part of the moment was one of the most fun things I've done lately as an adult. It brought back the nostalgia of waiting for the midnight release of the latest Harry Potter book or Twilight when I was young. It was heartwarming to see the outpouring in public and on social media of people theorizing. Readers came together to trade tips for release parties or how to braid your hair like Violet (yes, I tried that too).
We relished the excitement, but they botched the launch. The production value of the physical book for Iron Flame was way lower than what readers received with Fourth Wing. Luckily, my copy didn't have the problems others mentioned. The maps, text, and pages were all correct. Yet, even without the defects, the pages are thinner and the printing is less opaque. The cover appears to be of lower quality, and the sprayed black edges are easily marred.
I was one of the readers whose pre-order book did not arrive. At 4:30 p.m. on November 7, I found out my book wouldn't be delivered. This made me very angry. But luckily, my local bookstore had it available. In the future, I will only pre-order from my local bookstore to avoid problems.
Considering the issues with the book's publication and the rapid release, it's clear that this release was rushed. I was eagerly waiting for the release, so I appreciate Red Tower's desire to take advantage of the current hype and provide new content for readers to binge on. But in the future, my vote would be to be patient. It's better to wait and get something worth waiting for.
The Writing and Editing
I am definitely not the first person to say that the writing seems amateur in Iron Flame. I enjoyed Yarros' modern English in Fourth Wing, but the writing in Iron Flame felt out of place.
I'd feel jealous, which is something you have a unique ability to bring out in me. And then I'd kick his ass, partially because that's what I do when someone challenges me, and more importantly for implying there's any other future besides the one where you and I are endgame.
The use of "endgame" broke my focus here. As readers, we may think they are endgame because we experienced the rise and fall of the Avengers. But, in Navarre's context and history, chess is not even mentioned as a game. How did "endgame" become colloquial for these characters?
This felt like it was living on repeat in all Booktok's collective hive minds. When I read the book, it felt more like commentary about Iron Flame than actually reading Iron Flame.
The pacing and the writing are all over the place in this book. There is so much going on, and we are jumping from major plot point to major plot point so fast that it feels unearned.
Red shirt characters were introduced at different points and given a sad background. They were then killed a few pages later. Nadine is a prime example of this. Do you remember watching The Walking Dead? They would have an episode dedicated to a character backstory so when they died next episode, the viewers felt something. That's what it felt. I felt annoyed and manipulated.
I'm optimistic that are a byproduct of the rushed production. If they had invested time in editing, they could have avoided these issues.
In Part 1 of the book, there were many times when things seemed to go well for Violet because of Plot Armor.
First off, is Violet the poisoner from Forth Wing is constantly getting poisoned. She spent so much energy to find out who she would be matched with and poison them ahead of time in Forth Wing, so I expect her to consider others would also poision her. Yet, when she is handed a beverage she drinks it without thinking.
The water is crisp and cold...but there's something else there, too. Pungent. Earthy. And something bitterly floral that I can't quite place.
The first time it happens I understand. It's easy to think your teacher's have your best intentions. But after that, I expect our rider with the mind of a scribe and the skills of a poisioner to sniff everything she drinks. The fact that she does not even think before taking the drink from Nolan after the heist is the dumbest move. I either need to understand that Violet is not as smart as people keep saying or she needs to start acting smarter.
I'm glad Violet needs to try a few times to find good information about wards. I wanted to scream at my book when she complained about the first book lacking information. I expect Violet, to understand that you should check other books even if you find something in the first one.
I was always surprised at how Violet avoided Varrish without any consequences. Violet is able to keep Andarna hidden for months with Varrish waiting for her to show up. But, Varrish accepts that they keep moving their maneuver training? Much of the Varrish storyline felt rushed because we needed to get to bigger issues. That's a disappointment. He was definitely the Umbridge of this world, and he could have been a lot more interesting. I'm disappointed that his secrets died with him. The character was positioned to be a boss, but he was too easy to avoid, survive, and defeat. It didn't feel earned.
Finally, we are repeatedly told in Fourth Wing that dragon mates cannot be separated for too long as it weakens them. When Tairn and Sgaeyl are apart for three days, Xaden shows up because the dragons cannot stand to be apart. In Iron Flame, when they are apart for a week or more regularly, we still do not see them as weak or unhealthy. We're only told that Tairn is being grumpy. It seems like they only did it because they had to, which makes the distance less important.
The Expanding World
I expected Iron Flame would show us Yarros' world getting bigger and more interesting. On this aspect, she did not disappoint.
We pick up right where we left off from Fourth Wing which builds a cohesive story from one to the next. Yarros does a good job of refreshing readers' memory at the beginning of the book.
I loved going to Poromiel and getting to know how flyer drifts work. When I remember how beautiful it was to watch Rings of Power, I get excited for the Amazon adaptation. Poromiel especially will be beautiful on screen.
I love RSC as a training class. Of course a military academy would train you on how to survive behind enemy lines. Introducing the idea of torture and survival as a class was brilliant. I relished the torture class in the world and what it contributed to the story. Although, I did feel like this could have used more depth though. This is a pretty common complaint I have with most of the book. The interrogation tactics excited me. I was especially intrigued by Varrish's signet's involvement. Yet, it could have been more creative. Maybe I'm a particularly dark minded individual, but I'm surprised that a college that forces candidates to walk through the parapet doesn't have more inventive forms of interrogation.
Violet, Xaden and Their Romance
Their whole romantic struggle throughout Part 1 feels so cheap and manufactured. Every week, they would argue about his lies and her unwillingness to ask for information she needs. It became repetitive and frustrating. The saving grace is that Xaden is so perfect. He accepted that they would end up together and patiently waited for her, which was admirable. It was exactly what Violet needed and it fit his confident and relentless character.
If we could read the letters they exchanged, this whole thing would have been easier. I know that we got excerpts in the chapter headings, but that is not near enough. Maybe it's because I began this right after completing Divine Rivals, but I want the complete letter right away.
Adding Cat for jealousy was a cheap move, but the sex scene on his throne makes it worth it. I spent hours trying to explain the plot to my husband, so I could complain. When he asked what I liked about the book, this came to mind first. Well, I did also love her comeback to Cat.
I was relieved that Violet rescued herself from Varrish after stealing the journal before Xaden was able to reach her. Don't get me wrong. I love that he went in to save her. Dropping wyvern all over the Contient as a distraction was brilliant. It would have been too sweet and expected for him to come in on his dragon and save the day. Violet is more capable than that.
Violet deserves praise for her ability to endure torture and withstand strong blows. While reading the whole thing, I imagined Rocky getting hit a lot but never giving up. I love that they brought Liam back to give her someone to talk to in those scenes and bring back a beloved character. But I hope that we can trust Yarros when she says that he was a hallucination. It would be disappointing plot armor if her second signet turned out to be resurrection and this is it starting to manifest.
Since we're talking about second signets, this brings us to.... Xaden's second signet. But, I need to know so much more. Xaden as a style of intinnsic is perfection. I love that he's a subset and that it's people's intentions. How come we have seen him respond to direct questions in her mind if he only understands intention? Where did he learn to wield this signet? But most importantly, how did it take so many hints for Violet to figure it out?! She's supposed to be smart, but she can't see what's right in front of her. It was almost painful to read this scene. It took her a long time to understand what he wasn't saying.
I'm still shipping them (yes, even after the end). I love Xaden. I can't imagine him as the villain in our story. I hope Yarros makes him one without going too far. But I'm begging for our protagonist to start acting as smart as she should be.
I need to say a few things about some of the other characters in our story.
I enjoyed his redemption arc. I'm so glad that she came back furious at him and that she resfused to let him touch her. I'm glad that when he's asked to read her memories during the RSC interrogation for the first time, he avoids it because of her broken arm. It rebuilds trust and felt like real character growth. It was satisfying when Violet used her power to show him Liam's death during the interrogation. It was a nice callback to Violet and Dain's history together when they had to work together to translate the journals.
I loved the extra involvement we got from Jesinia in this book. I thought it was wonderful that they included scribes for the rebellion. I appreciate the world that Yarros is building and that Jesinia is telling us about in the books. The scribes seem to be spreading false information about history in Navarre. This makes me scared because Jesinia will become Curator of the Scribe Quandrant. I hope that our friend here is proof of a happily ever after and a chance to rewrite history. But also Violet attested to how much she can trust Jesinia a lot in Iron Flame. Are we trusting her too much?
New First-Year Cadets
We have two new cadets. One is Sloane Mairi, Liam's younger sister. Violet promised to protect her. The other is Aaric Graycastle. Violet somehow recognized him as Cam. I truly enjoyed getting to know these characters. One of my only complaints is that we did not see them enough. Like most of the characters, these ones were brought back and left behind based on what the plot needed. I wonder if Yarros decided the journal would be in the royal vault before or after she added Aaric as a character. I regret the missed opportunity to see some of the letters Liam left to Sloan. I thought they were forgotten for a few hundred pages. They were part of Sloan's agreement to train with Imogen. They were not mentioned again until the last 25% of the book. I hope we get more character development and engagement from both of these two in the next books.
Brennan & Mira Sorrengail
I loved the sibling team up this book. When they go together to Krovla to negotiate, it's a beautiful moment of their strong bond as siblings. But I regret that we still didn't catch up with Brennan. There are many questions about how he survived and what he's been doing in Aretia.
I am convinced that one of the things he had been doing is trying to figure out how to save the love of his life Naolin. This is the real reason I think he changed his last name. I think he and Naolin were wed and chose a new last name together. I refused to be convinced that Naolin is dead until either Tairn or Brennan specifically say so or I see a body. I believe Brennan and Naolin love each other. Naolin got power from the earth and saved Brennan's life six years ago which turned him venin.
He succeeded but it cost him everything.
I especially love this theory because it will mirror what Xaden has done to try and save Violet. It will give Violet someone who understands how torn she is about Xaden being venin. It will unify Violet and Brennan in their mission to save their loves.
This infuriated me. The fact that we are even talking about Jack is so dumb to me. It is one of the major complaints I have about this book. His survival minimizes the point of Violet's signet being one of Violence. Coping with the death and destruction from her signet was a point character growth for her in Fourth Wing. He was her first kill, except he wasn't really since he isn't dead.
It also makes me feel like it will be easier to bring back other dead people. Generally, when you start raising the dead, I get a terrible taste in my mouth.
I did go back again and look at Violet's fight with Jack in Fourth Wing. I like that in retrospect you can tell he is venin. Violet see's red around his eyes and he is manipulating power in a way that is confusing. I also like the aspect that he can be a character to info dump to us about venin next book (where we will surely need it). But I still don't like it.
We learned that Jack is the secret patient Nolan is trying to help. Nolan says that "mending a soul is hard work."" I liked that line and the hinting that he was trying to find a way to fix venin. I also liked that Jack's existence as venin shows that menders can't cure venin. Brennan and Nolan can't help Xaden either. This makes his predicament even more interesting. At the end, I'm annoyed because Jack as the enemy means that we miss out on it being someone better, someone in leadership.
As I've already said, that Varrish was way too easy of a villian to beat. Each time there was a reasonable way for Violet to avoid being alone with him or being at his full mercy.
The plot moves too fast, so we missed chances to know characters and history better. I have a theory about why Varrish is a venin. It's not because of the alliteration.
Varrish scolded Violet on many occassions for her inability to control her dragons. He indicated that truly strong riders are ones that can indeed make their dragons do what they want. Did Varrish order Solas to burn the cadets after the parapet? I suspect he came to Basgiath to oversee Jack's recovery because he was a venin. It would also explain why he forced Nolan's exhaustion to mend Jack.
If there is any canon behind this then it infuriates me that he is dead (and his secrets along with him). I would love to hear from someone in leadership why they were experimenting on venin. Is Jack the first one they've tried with? I doubt we will get these answers because if they don't go back to school, we'll be separated from leadership, especially without General Sorrengail.
Who had Lilith Sorrengail sacrifices herself for the rebellion on their bingo card? It was not on mine. I had high hopes of seeing more of her in this book, but it shocked me when they killed her off. This seems like a derliction of duty from our author. If her secrets die with her then like we are missing a lot of answers about exactly who and what Violet is.
Besides the opportunities to better understand our heroine, her death also felt unnecessary. Maybe if I think about it more and read it again, I'll understand it better. If a character is going to make the ultimate sacrifice in a climactic moment, it should be more impactful. I regret the missed opportunity for us to understand Lilith and her goals. I wanted to know why she put Violet in the rider's quadrant and if her dad is who she thinks. I guess those answered died with her? Could the answers be in the research that we haven't found yet?
I love the recovered correspondence between Lilith and Nolan about the venin cure. This gives me more hope that answers to some of my Lilith questions will come in future books.
We have tried every method we know of, as you requested. There is no cure. There is only control
- Missive from Lieutenant Colonel Nolan Colbersy to General Lilith Sorrengail
It is implied that we should understand this based on when Nolan tried to mend Jack. But it's signed from Lieutenant Colonel, not Colonel. I have a theory, that this is from when Lilith was pregnant with Violet. I hope we will find out more in future books that answer the question of Violet's hair and health condition. I believe Lilith was pregnant with Violet at that time. During a battle, Lilith drew energy from the earth. This caused Violet to become part-venin.
Andarna & Tairn
To make it clear, I will read all these books specifically for Tairn and Andarna. Throughout most of the book, Andarna is in the Dreamless Sleep and Violet constantly drinks separation elixir. Even so, I still hope for more of them. They are the Ellie and Joel of this entire story and I'm here to watch them walk through this world together.
"You must save yourself," Tairn demands. "I chose you not as my next, but as my last, and should you fall, then I will follow.
Every time I read that line it gives me chills. Tairn is the best. I will keep coming back for the Tairn.
I loved cute and cuddly baby Andarna last book. I was drooling with excitement as the thought of snarky teenage Andarna at this book. I was completely said without her while she was in her Dreamless Sleep. But when she told us she had waited 650 years for Violet. Oh holy fuck. I need to know more, right now. I need to know if she's a different bread or a different type and what we're calling her. I need to understand why she's so rare and how she is sentient inside her egg. Are all dragons sentient before they hatch? This is why they let her bond and do whatever she wants as a feathertail. But I still need more information. I hope we get more answers about this next time, so please let Violet have learned to ask questions.
Wow, that was a lot. We haven't even talked about Xaden being venin. I'm shocked and I'm not sure I will know how I feel until I finish the next book. I kind of love it. I love the idea of him being a villian (although I doubt anyone's ability to make me dislike him). I love that when Violet feels his pain from fighting and considers stealing magic, he does too. At the same time he sees her struggling with the pain, but he makes the opposite choice. He is willing to sacrifice his soul to save her. Instead of burning out he channels from the earth and turns venin. There is something deliciously poetic about the entire thing.
At least three times, someone has told us that there is no cure, so that will be our mission. Since they have figured out to create an elixir that prevents a rider from channeling magic from their dragon, does that mean the same elixir will prevent venin from channeling from the earth? The only thing I'm furious about is that we somehow don't get Violet's reaction. She looks him in the eyes and sees he's venin and then we cut to Xaden's point-of-view where he is sleeping in bed with her. Like what the actual fuck? Did you really not learn how to communicate as a couple, because fuck.... it's about damn time.
I still liked this book. It would not have taken up all this space in my brain if I didn't. But this was not near as good as Fourth Wing. I expect better in the next book in the series. I'm willing to wait for the next book from Red Tower Books and Rebecca Yarros. I hope they take their time to make it better than anything before.