Why Booktok is the bane of literature
As someone who enjoys both reading and watching TikToks, I often find myself in the corner of the app nicknamed “Booktok.” While I’m picky about books, I decided to give the novel “Fourth Wing” by Rebecca Yarros a chance after seeing it in countless TikToks. I reserved it through my local library’s app this past summer, knowing that it’d arrive eventually but not particularly invested. The novel’s endless clichés, two-dimensional characters and plot, and unsophisticated writing left me questioning its popularity.
“Fourth Wing” follows Violet Sorrengail as she is forced to attend Basgiath War College where she undergoes intense training and relentless trials in order to become a dragon rider. Born with chronic pain and a condition that affects her connective tissues – resulting in frequent dislocations and broken bones, Violet’s fear shifts into determination to succeed.
Standing in her way is Xaden Riorson, the son of a rebellion leader, who considers Violet as his greatest enemy and supposedly wishes to kill her on sight. Old relationships begin to crumble and new ones form as Violet trains alongside both friend and foe, but everything becomes more complicated when Violet finds herself bonded to not one, but two dragons – the first human in history to do so.
While clichés in a novel can be comforting in their predictability, Yarros’ novel is predictable when one wants intrigue, and unpredictable when one desires stability. To begin with, the plot and tropes of “Fourth Wing” are laughably transparent. Now, I know the old saying – “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – but in the case of this novel, I’d say the clichés have a foot in the grave with how overused they are.
To sum up a few of the plot points and tropes in Yarros’ novel: a heroine that is somehow strong and weak and “not like other girls”; the male childhood friend love-interest who is turned into a villain purely for plot purposes (usually to break up a love-triangle); the heroine falls in love with the bad-boy (this must include the revelation of his tragic backstory) who is revealed to be a really great person; plot points that exist simply to exist; and sex scenes that do nothing to move the story along.
Foreshadowing in “Fourth Wing” lacks all subtlety. As soon as tall, dark and handsome Xaden Riorson first appeared, described so eloquently by Violet as “flaming hot. Scorching hot. Gets-you-into-trouble-and-you-like-it level of hot,” there may as well have been a flashing neon sign above his head with “LOVE INTEREST” on it.
I found myself bombarded with poor attempts at foreshadowing that instead left me bored and unengaged. Perhaps Yarros underestimated the average reader’s ability to analyze, but I often found myself five steps ahead of the characters and skimming along as I waited for something more exciting.
In contrast to the predictable plot, I now need to see a chiropractor from the amount of whiplash I experienced in regard to the whirlwind characters and their motives. Even Violet, the first-person narrator of the novel, swiftly changes from one attitude to another with very little reasoning.
How is it that a novel like “Fourth Wing” has gained so much popularity? I know I enjoy casual reads, especially after all the reading required for classes, but I find myself unable to enjoy a book that assumes the reading comprehension of a fourth grader and has a writing style worse than my Lit Trad IV short story.
A popular argument I’ve seen for “Fourth Wing” is that the rise in unsophisticated, easy-toread YA novels makes reading more accessible – but I would like to argue against this. Yarros’ writing style may have been easy to read, but this was because of its immaturity. Books can be accessible and still have depth, meaning and good writing. There are so many middle grade and juvenile fiction novels, like “Howl’s Moving Castle,” that require a lower-level reading comprehension but don’t sacrifice other elements of the novel in order to do so.
Despite my complaints with “Fourth Wing,” it’s just one example of poorly written fiction that has shot into popularity on Booktok. It’s time for readers to redefine what makes a novel popular.