Courtesy of Red Tower Books.

September 25, 2023

The Two Biggest Fantasies of 2023: Which Is For You?

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In the world of Book-tok and Book-stagram, there is always a popular new book that creators are raving about. In the past few months, two books have risen to the top of the charts amongst fantasy and romance readers. Both books are deemed to be “romantasy,” or romance fantasy, with strong world building and enemies to lovers storylines. But what sets them apart from one another, and which one might be best for you?

The first book that has blown up is Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros. This book came out in May and quickly rose in popularity, making it nearly impossible to find in most stores, including Barnes & Noble. Fourth Wing is the first fantasy book Yarros has written, which many readers may find shocking. It follows the main character, feisty Violet Sorrengail, as she is thrust into learning how to become a dragon rider at Bagsliath War College. She is forced to become a dragon rider by her domineering mother, despite her training to become an archivist, which could be considered similar to a real life librarian or researcher. When Violet meets Xaden Riorsen, an older dragon rider, she recognizes him as the child of rebels. Since Violet’s mother works as a general, this means that their families are essentially enemies. 

One thing I liked about this book is that the reader is thrown directly into Violet’s first trial from the first chapter. The book also develops excellent character relationships as Violet interacts with Xaden, her childhood friend Dain and other new characters. I also appreciate that this book has substantial disability representation, as Violet is confirmed by Yarros to have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. The presence of a love triangle and significant side characters in the novel added a sense of reality to the fantastical setting. As for the setting of Fourth Wing, Yarros does an excellent job setting the scene of Bagsliath by detailing the different trials Violet goes through and her encounters with the dragons, while also keeping the plot moving forward.

The second book that has taken the book community by storm is Divine Rivals by Rebecca Ross. This book came out in April 2023 and went through a similar rise to fame as Fourth Wing, with creators on all different platforms arguing that they thought Divine Rivals was even better than Fourth Wing. Ross has written other fantasy books before, but none as popular as Divine Rivals

This book follows Iris Winnow as she lives through a war between gods. With her brother off at war, her mother facing addiction and an annoying rival at her job named Roman Kitt, Iris has a lot on her plate. She begins writing letters to her brother on her typewriter and absentmindedly shutting them in her wardrobe. One day, she gets an answer to the letters. Little does she know, it is Roman himself writing her back, as they have magical typewriters that are somehow connected to one another. One of my favorite parts of the novel was getting to see Iris’s and Roman’s relationship evolve, while also learning more about the war and the magic at play in the story. The two main settings in the book, Iris’s home town and the front line of the war,  contrast nicely with each other  and  succeed at keeping my attention. 

When comparing these two novels, it is important to note that they both have their own merits, and I myself gave both books a five star rating. On Goodreads, Fourth Wing currently has a 4.66 star rating, and Divine Rivals has a 4.28 star rating — these are both extremely high. The first comparison that can be made between the books is focusing on their fantasy elements. If you are coming into these novels as a strictly fantasy reader wanting to dive into more romance, I recommend Fourth Wing. The world building is slightly more developed, and the plot is more centered on the fantastical elements of the college and Violet as a dragon rider. If you are coming into these novels as a strictly romance reader wanting to dive into more fantasy, I recommend Divine Rivals. The world is less complicated, and the plot is a little easier to follow. While both books have excellent romance, Divine Rivals is less raunchy than Fourth Wing. The romance between Iris and Roman is best for readers who are looking for a deep emotional connection, rather than a more physical one. 

In terms of pacing, both books are very fast-paced, with the reader being dropped right into the action. Since the fantasy in Divine Rivals is a little easier to understand and the book itself is a little shorter, I would argue that it is a less intense read compared to Fourth Wing. Both Iris and Violet are extremely strong and ambitious female leads, and Roman and Xaden are great love interests, with Xaden being more morally gray than Roman. Divine Rivals does focus less on side character development than Fourth Wing, so that is another aspect to keep in mind. Both books are also part of series, with their sequels releasing in the coming months, so they do both end in cliffhangers. 

Overall, both books are great reads for romantasy lovers or anyone looking for a cozy fall book. It is really up to the reader which one you prefer, and I have heard a range of opinions. If you are in need of a fast-paced magical book with enemies to lovers, both are excellent choices. 

Emma Robinson is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].