Read a full summary of Fourth Wing, book #1, in Rebecca Yarros’s The Empyrean series. This page is full of spoilers, so beware. If you are wondering what happened in Fourth Wing, then you are in the right place!
Special thanks to Morgan Boeh for providing this recap! Check her out on Instagram at @literarymorgan.
***** Everything below is a SPOILER *****
What happened in Fourth Wing?
Fourth Wing starts off with our protagonist, Violet Sorrengail, getting ready for Conscription Day. Despite training her whole life to enter the scribe quadrant, where people study and make meaning of history, her mother (also the General of Navarre’s army) has forced her to enter the rider’s quadrant at Basgiath War College where riders bond to dragons to defend the nation of Navarre. Navarre’s enemies include other nations, who ride gryphons. Violet’s older siblings Mira and Brennan (who has sadly now passed) both joined the rider’s quadrant. The siblings’ father was a scribe and also has passed. Mira greatly protests General Sorrengail’s order, not only because she fears for Violet, but because she knows that Violet’s condition makes her more prone to injury. We learn that Violet is “frailer” than most people, as her bones break and ligaments tear more easily than usual. This results in Violet being familiar with pain, causing her loved ones, like Mira, to fear for her life as she attempts to join the rider’s quadrant.
Resigned to her fate, Violet packs her bag before she leaves for Conscription Day. In her pack she has many of her favorite books, including a book of fables that her father had given her. Mira starts going through her things to eliminate items for a lighter, more strategic pack. While packing, Mira offers Violet advice and provides her with a special armor made of dragon scales and boots that will help her maintain her balance while crossing the parapet. Mira cautions Violet to avoid a man named Xaden Riorson who will kill her because of who their mom is. Xaden’s father, Fen Riorson, led a rebellion and was executed along with others who participated by General Sorrengail.
Before crossing the parapet, Violet meets a fellow candidate named Rhiannon. Violet realizes that Rhiannon’s shoes are not ideal for the parapet’s slick conditions, and she switches one shoe with her so that Rhiannon has a better chance of surviving. As the candidates line up, Violet sees a third-year rider and is instantly attracted to him, thinking to herself that he’s the most exquisite man she’s ever seen. She quickly realizes that this man is Xaden Riorson, the man that Mira warned her about. He overhears someone calling Violet by her last name and they have a brief confrontation about their family history, where we learn that her father was also responsible for getting her brother, Brennan, killed.
Violet is attempting to cross the parapet, but the candidate behind her, Jack Barlowe, is ruthless and determined to make her time as difficult as possible. He nearly chases her the whole passage across, but Violet thankfully makes it. Before he can jump down to safety, she quickly turns around and holds her dagger to his balls. She lets him down, but he warns her that he is going to kill her eventually.
Now that she has crossed the parapet, she looks for her childhood best friend, Dain Aetos, who is a second-year rider. They reunite and he is concerned for her welfare and confused since she was always supposed to be a scribe. Violet thinks about how at one point they could have been more than friends, and their brief reconnection stirs these feelings up for her again. Dain tries to convince her to run off to the scribe quadrant, but Violet says that it is too late and the decision is made. Dain insists that she become a part of his squad, which she does. The only problem is that Xaden insists that Dain’s squad switches with another, making them join Fourth Wing– which Xaden is the wingleader of.
The dragons arrive to evaluate and intimidate candidates. A few candidates start to run away, prompting the dragons to kill them with fire. The next day training and classes start, where Violet realizes they will be doing a lot of one-on-one sparring matches. This causes her to feel nervous, because of her condition and also because she doesn’t know how to fight. Violet excels in history due to her scribe training and Rhiannon is a promising fighter, so they agree to teach each other these skills. Mira gives Violet a journal that Brennan wrote during his time in the rider’s quadrant. From this, Violet realizes that she can figure out the sparring schedule ahead of time and she starts poisoning her opponents so that they are easier to take down.
One night, when she is trying to locate bark for a poison, she has to hide because she spies Xaden and other “marked ones’ gathering. Marked ones are the children of the separatist rebels like Xaden’s dad. They are called marked ones because they each possess a relic (similar to a tattoo) that General Melgren’s dragon gave them to remind them of their betrayal of Navarre. Violet finds this meeting interesting because ‘marked ones’ are not allowed to gather in groups of more than three people, because General Melgren’s signet power is to see the outcomes of battle, which he cannot seem to do when groups of marked ones gather. She stays hidden and eavesdrops. Once everyone has left but Xaden, she thinks she is almost in the clear, when his shadows pull her down to him. He asks her if she is going to turn them in. She says no. He supposes that now he owes her a favor.
At her next sparring match, Violent has to face Xaden since she accidentally poisoned her opponent too soon. He says that he knows what she’s been up to and that she is going to have to find a way to beat them without poisoning them. There are undercurrents of attraction and sexual tension between both of them.
Violet and her squad train for the Gauntlet, which tests riders before they can proceed to the Threshing, where riders bond with their dragon. They get numerous attempts to practice this- if they survive. Violet struggles throughout the gauntlet obstacles, but one of her squadmates, Aurelie, falls to her death.
At the final gauntlet, Dain pleads with Violet to not go through with it, as he fears for her life. She says she has a plan and to trust her. Violet uses the gauntlet structures and a dagger to her advantage to survive, but knowing that her method is not the typical way riders pass the gauntlet. Amber Mavis, the wingleader of Third Wing, wants Violet to be punished because what she did was not in adherence to the rules. Violet argues that it is, citing the Rider’s Codex. Violet ends up in no trouble because her cleverness resulted in a perfect loophole.
The riders’ next challenge is to walk in front of the dragons so that they can observe in what is called “Presentation” day. Violet sees a smaller golden dragon, and is instantly curious. The gold dragon is called a feathertail. Everyone is confused because the dragon looks smaller than full-grown dragons, so they debate what she is. Pryor and Luca are killed by dragon-fire.
Threshing occurs on October 1st. This is the day where dragons pick which riders they want to bond to. Violet overhears Jack, Tynan, and Oren plotting to kill the small golden dragon because she is a “weak link.” Violent battles the trio to protect the gold dragon. Xaden appears with his dragon, Sgaeyl, though he cannot interfere with the Threshing. Jack runs away, Violet stabs Tynan and manages to knock Oren out, but her arm and leg are hurt. Tynan advances, and Violet sees Xaden take a step forward as if to save her, despite the rules. He doesn’t get a chance to though, because suddenly a large black dragon lands behind Violet and starts communicating with her- indicating that he has chosen to bond with her. The black dragon kills Tynan with his fire. Violet and the dragon, named Tairn, fly off.
Violet falls off Tairn’s back a couple times, but the dragon makes accommodations for her- which dragons seldom do. Violet makes it back the the rest of the riders and is about to tell the record-keeper her name and what dragon she is bonded to when another voice speaks in her mind. It is the small golden dragon speaking to her, named Andarna. Andarna tells Violet that she is also bonded to her, meaning that Violet bonded two dragons, which is unheard of.
The human leadership is in uproar over this news, but Violet’s dragons argue that it is up for the Empyrean (dragon leadership) to decide.
Dain meets Violet afterwards to congratulate her for surviving and he stuns her with a kiss that she doesn’t return. They argue over her safety. Violet learns that she is now tethered to Xaden whether she likes it or not because their dragons are a mated pair.
In class, Violet and other riders learn how to ride their dragons. Violet struggles, but Tairn does his best to help her. Imogen, a marked one who previously hated Violet, now helps Violet train at Xaden’s insistence. Violet goes to the Archives to ask her scribe friend, Jesinia, about the book of fables she could not bring with her on Conscription Day. Jesinia is confused because she has never heard of that book before and there is no record of it existing.
A rider named Jeremiah starts panicking because he can read everyone’s thoughts. A professor quickly steps in and snaps his neck. We learn that Jeremiah was an intinnsic, which is an illegal signet power in Navarre.
Violet is sleeping one night when Tairn speaks to her in her mind. He urges her to wake up. She does, and a group of people wanting to kill her are in her room. It isn’t illegal to kill a fellow rider in sparring or combat, but it is against the Rider’s Codex to kill a rider in their sleep or to kill a squadmate. It is especially jarring, because there wouldn’t have been a way for them to open Violet’s door. Violet attempts to fight them but she is severely outnumbered. Andarna speaks into her mind and Violet is able to stop time using Andarna’s power. Violet moves out of the way as Oren is about to slit her throat. Xaden rushes in, and while a person manages to slip away, he kills the rest of the assailants.
Xaden notes to Violet that she never went for the kill on any of the assailants. Violet admits she hasn’t killed before. Xaden tells her that she is going to have to outgrow that to survive as a rider.
Xaden and Violet go to visit their dragons to uncover the truth about Andarna’s rare ability. Xaden and Violet learn that Tairn and Sgaeyl were omitting the truth about Andarna. Andarna is a feathertail, but feathertails are actually juvenile dragons and not allowed to bond typically because they can accidentally gift their power to humans. This is why Violet was able to stop time.
Xaden asks Violet about the identity of the rider who got away earlier. Violet hesitates, but admits that it was Amber Mavis. Since what she did was explicitly forbidden, Amber is executed by the dragons. This causes a rift between Dain and Violet because Dain doesn’t believe that Amber was involved and asks Violet to “see” by trying to touch her face. Dain possesses a classified signet- the ability to read recent memories. He can only do so while touching someone’s face. Violet rears back from his touch, appalled that he doesn’t believe her word. Tairn shows everyone at Basgiath Violet’s memories, making the truth known.
Since Xaden and Violet are tethered through their dragons’ bond, Xaden enlists further protective measures on Violet. His friend, and fellow marked one, Liam escorts Violet everywhere now. Violet and Liam quickly become friendly and she learns from him that all children of rebels are automatically enlisted into the rider’s quadrant. She also learns that there are 107 marked ones. When visiting the Archives together, Violet and Liam read a part of a scroll that mentions a recent attack. Attacks and battles are usually discussed in Battle Brief, but for some reason, this particular attack was never discussed, prompting Violet and Liam to wonder what else doesn’t make it into Battle Brief.
Violet agonizes over when Tairn is going to channel. Channeling refers to the process in which dragons gift their power to their riders.
At sparring training, Violet and fellow riders ogle Xaden and Garrick as they spar together, shirtless. Jack Barlowe tries to pick a verbal fight with Violet and she defends herself. Xaden comes up to her and tells her that she needs to protect herself. When he turns around, Violet sees that he has many horrible scars on his back.
Later, Violet gets waves of energy rippling through her because of Tairn. Tairn has channelled and Violet now has access to his power.
Awkwardly for Violet, when Tairn’s emotions get too strong, they effect her. Violet is hit with a wave of lust, and realizes that Tairn and his mate, Sgaeyl, are engaging in sexy times.
Violet leaves her room to get some fresh air but then runs into Xaden. Xaden also knows what is going on because of Sgaeyl, but he isn’t as affected by it as Violet because he is used to it. Their dragons emotions augment Xaden and Violet’s growing attraction to one another, though, and the two share a passionate kiss. Xaden stops things before they can go further.
Violet and Rhiannon catch up and we learn that Rhiannon’s signet allows her to summon things. Violet is still frustrated with herself because even though she can channel now, she still doesn’t have a signet power.
At sparring, Jack Barlowe challenges Violet. He almost kills her, but Violet was prepared. As he nearly gets the better of her, she shoves a vial of oranges into his face. He is allergic to oranges and starts to have an allergic reaction.
Xaden decides that he’s had enough of Violet’s near-death experiences and steps in to train her himself. They train together and there is a lot of romantic tension.
Violet and her squad participate in a competition which gives them permission to fly to the outpost, Montserrat, where Mira is stationed. While visiting, Mira gives Violet her book of fables. The outpost is attacked by gryphons and Violet fears for her sister’s life. Once back at Basgiath, Violet begs for news of her sister. She learns that Mira is unharmed.
Because of their dragons’ bond, Violet and Xaden can mind-speak to one another. Tairn and Xaden surprise Violet with a saddle fit for her, because she has still been struggling to ride Tairn. She reluctantly accepts, but is happy when she tries it out.
The War Games commence and Violet’s squad is tasked with retrieving an egg, in a game similar to capture the flag. Jack Barlowe starts targeting members of Violet’s squad. Liam is in danger and Violet rushes to save him when he falls off his dragon, Deigh. Violet saves him and then goes after Jack. Her emotions and power stir within her, and she unlocks her signet power- lightning. She strikes the tower Jack was standing on, effectively killing him. Violet is excited that her signet power manifested, but worries over the blood on her hands.
Grappling with her conflicted feelings, Violet throws daggers at a target in her room when Xaden enters. Violet kisses him. They exchange words- he doesn’t want to complicate things or hurt Violet. Violet doesn’t care and can handle herself. They have sex. While talking, Xaden reveals that his scars, 107 of them, are to take responsibility for all of the children of rebels.
Violet moves stuff around in her room when she stumbles upon the book of fables. A cryptic note from her dad slips out, saying “It only takes one desperate generation to change history- even erase it. I know you’ll make the right choice when the time comes.” This leaves Violet with many questions.
Violet and Xaden struggle to define their relationship. Violet is fully ready to admit that she wants Xaden, but he is not there yet.
Basigath hosts a day of celebration on the anniversary of when the rebellion was stopped. This is understandably hard on the marked ones and Xaden. Violet finds him on the parapet and tells him that she understands his pain and is sorry. Xaden and Violet progress more romantically and emotionally.
They have sex again and Violet tells Xaden that she loves him. They want to enjoy the rest of the night together, but before they can continue, Garrick interrupts them because Basgiath is under attack.
It turns out that it’s just the final test of the War Games. Violet was originally supposed to go with Dain and her squad, but Xaden has her join him on his journey to Athebyne because their dragons cannot be separated for very long due to their mated bond.
Outside Athebyne, Xaden and Violet stop for a moment to kiss when a group of gryphon riders stumble upon them. It quickly becomes clear that Xaden knows them and has been working with them for a long time. Other members of the riders group, like Liam and Imogen, also have known which leaves Violet feeling extremely betrayed.
Xaden explains that the gryphon and their riders are not the enemy that Navarre needs to worry about. He tells Violet that he is only working with them because venin, the evil species from Violet’s book of fables, actually exist and are the biggest threat to the continent. Violet also is surprised to realize that her dragons knew this, and didn’t say anything.
How did Fourth Wing end?
The group arrives at Athebyne and realizes that something is wrong. Colonel Aetos (Dain’s father) left a message saying that their mission is to “survive if they can.” A group of venin is coming. They can stay and fight for the nearby town, Resson, or they can leave and try to join other riders in the war games.
As a group they decide to stay. It becomes clear that the venin are even more powerful than Violet’s book of fables let on. And despite prior beliefs, the wyvern from the folklore are also real. The wyvern are similar to dragons, except they have two legs instead of four.
Violet and the group battle the venin and are nearly overpowered. A wyvern attacks Liam’s dragon, Deigh. Violet and Tairn try to help but Deigh succumbs to his wounds. A dragon can live without its rider, but a rider cannot live without its dragon. Liam dies as a result, breaking Xaden and Violet’s hearts.
Violet and Xaden continue to battle the venin. Violet realizes she can kill multiple wyvern at a time if she kills the venin controlling them. She is able to kill several venin with her lightning, but in her last battle she has fight one in hand to hand combat using a special dagger designed specifically for killing venin. Violet defeats the venin, but not before being stabbed by a poisoned dagger.
She passes out, and the book switches to Xaden’s point of view.
Xaden and the surviving group take Violet to a mysterious place to be healed. Time passes, and Violet wakes up healed and not knowing where she is. The book ends as Violet’s brother, Brennan, walks into the room and welcomes Violet to the revolution.
There you go! That’s what happened in Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros. We hope you enjoyed this Fourth Wing summary with spoilers.
Special thanks to Morgan Boeh for providing this recap! Check her out on Instagram at @literarymorgan.
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