Iron Flame by Rebecca Yarros

The basics

Title: Iron Flame


Series: The Empyrean #2

- Fourth Wing (2023)
- Iron Flame (2023)

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Goodreads Summary:

Everyone expected Violet Sorrengail to die during her first year at Basgiath War College—Violet included. But Threshing was only the first impossible test meant to weed out the weak-willed, the unworthy, and the unlucky.

Now the real training begins, and Violet’s already wondering how she’ll get through. It’s not just that it’s grueling and maliciously brutal, or even that it’s designed to stretch the riders’ capacity for pain beyond endurance. It’s the new vice commandant, who’s made it his personal mission to teach Violet exactly how powerless she is–unless she betrays the man she loves.

Although Violet’s body might be weaker and frailer than everyone else’s, she still has her wits—and a will of iron. And leadership is forgetting the most important lesson Basgiath has taught her: Dragon riders make their own rules.

But a determination to survive won’t be enough this year.

Because Violet knows the real secret hidden for centuries at Basgiath War College—and nothing, not even dragon fire, may be enough to save them in the end.

Here is a spoiler summary of what happened in Iron Flame by Rebecca Yarros to help refresh your memory before you read the sequel. If you need help remembering what happened in Iron Flame then you’re in the right place. The next book in the Empyrean series is slated to come out at the end of 2024, so take the time to read this plot summary to prepare you for that!

This recap was a joint effort between Amber @ Books of Amber and Judith @ Paper Riot who made her Recaptains comeback because of this book series.

What happened in Iron Flame?

Part 1

  • Iron Flame opens with Violet munching on biscuits, trying to process the fact that her brother Brennan is alive.
  • Brennan is now a lieutenant colonel and goes by a new name to stay under the radar so that everyone still thinks he’s dead.
  • Brennan and Xaden meet with the Assembly of the revolution. Violet listens in. She hears them talking about a vote, the fact that their forge isn’t working, and that they need a luminary. A guy called Viscount Tecarus apparently has a luminary to trade, but Xaden insulted him somehow last summer so he probably won’t want to trade now.
  • The Assembly votes to send the cadets back to Basgiath, but they will all have to lie about what happened to them with the wyverns and venin and stuff.
  • Brennan explains that Tairn’s previous ride, Naolin, healed Brennan and died. Marbh and the other dragons hid him in a network of caves under Aretia.
  • Violet learns that Aretia has a non-working wardstone, and thinks she can find out how to make it work from books in the Basgiath Archives.
  • Before heading back to Basgiath, Violet talks to Andarna who is now a moody teenager who needs to go into a deep sleep.
  • The group returns to Basgiath for graduation. Tairn carries Andarna back to the Vale.
  • Xaden announces to everyone that Colonel Aetos (Dain’s father) sent them into combat. General Sorrengail is very unhappy with this.
  • They tell the people in charge that Liam and Soleil died in a fight with gryphons at Athebyne.
  • Xaden is stationed in Samara, and Violet and Xaden are only allowed to visit each other once a week because of Tairn and Sgaeyl’s mating bond.
  • There’s a graduation party for everyone to celebrate making it through the year.
  • Colonel Aetos introduces Vice Commandant Varrish who is apparently there to “tighten the ship”.
  • Aetos also threatens Violet and Mira’s lives to try to keep Violet in line.
  • Professor Grady joins the school and heads up a new class for second years called Rider Survival Course. It’s a classified class where students learn to survive getting lost in the woods and being tortured. They can expect to be tested at any time.
  • Violet asks her scribe friend Jesinia for some books on Basgiath history so she can start learning about wards.
  • Violet is stationed at the parapet for the first years’ Conscription Day. Here she meets Liam’s sister, Sloane, who immediately dislikes her for getting Liam killed.
  • Aaric also arrives, whose real name is Cam and he’s the king’s son. Violet and Dain recognise him but agree to keep his identity a secret.
  • After crossing, everyone gathers in the courtyard. Varrish’s dragon, Solas, seems unstable and he burns a load of students. Tairn steps in and threatens to take Solas’ other eye if he doesn’t behave.
  • Violet decides to take up running so she can stay alive in future fights. Imogen joins her. 
  • In Battle Brief, they learn the outpost near Athebyne (where the final battle in Fourth Wing took place) was attacked by gryphons. They were looking for the armory, because the weapons there can be used against venin.
  • Violet’s friends are hurt that she’s not talking to them. Violet is trying to read up on Navarre’s history (this is the case for much of the book, so I won’t repeat it until it’s relevant). 
  • A random first year kills Nadine, thinking she is Violet. Violet kills him. Before he dies, he says “Secrets die with the people who keep them”, which Dain’s father said to Violet, meaning he sent the first year to kill Violet.
  • Xaden writes Violet letters explaining his life, because she whines about trust.
  • A rider is killed by leaders of the scribe quadrant because he requested a book about a border attack that supposedly didn’t happen. Jesinia recorded his request. She’s not recording Violet’s book requests in order to keep her safe.
  • Violet receives a letter from Mira but it’s censored. Some parts are blacked out. 
  • Major Varrish approaches Violet and tells her he wants to see Andarna. Violet says dragons don’t listen to humans (and wants to protect Andarna’s age and feathertails in general) but he orders her to make Andarna show up.
  • In their new class, Dain shows them how to jump off a flying dragon.
  • The riders from the Athebyne attack are being targeted. Colonel Aetos is still trying to kill them all off for what they know. So far, none of them have died.
  • Violet leaves for Samara to see Xaden. Major Varrish shows up and searches her bag. But they are smuggling things on Tairn’s saddle bags so everything is safe. Varrish is terrible. 
  • At the Samara outpost, Violet finds Xaden fighting for time off to spend with her (and Sgaeyl with Tairn). They kiss, but Violet still doesn’t want more than that. He tells her the weapons can be used to extend and power the wards. Aretia needs wards because it’s still unprotected.
  • When they get back to Basgiath, Varrish is pissed Violet won’t show him Andarna. He punishes her by making her produce lightning over and over again until she burns out and almost dies.
  • Violet and her squad still try to help Liam’s sister Sloane, but she still blames Violet for his death.
  • They’re kidnapped for a class assignment. The riders have to work together with the infantry, healer and scribe cadets to navigate a map in a forest. The riders have to drink something that takes away their connection to their dragons, which is new. They encounter Jack’s dragon, who kills one of them because she’s still pissed Violet killed Jack. 
  • Violet poisons Sloane’s opponent in sparring, so she wins. She tells Sloane to train with Imogen in exchange for Liam’s letters for Sloane that Violet saved. Sloane is currently fairly weak and bad at fighting because she was raised separately to Liam and the people she lived with weren’t good at combat.
  • Navarre is sending propaganda to the border villages to keep foreigners out. There are also reports of dragons across the border ruining villages (see: wyvern). 
  • Violet is still researching how to power the wards, but it wasn’t recorded by anyone but maybe the first Six (the dragon rider founders of Navarre).
  • Varrish tries to punish Violet again but Tairn almost kills his dragon Solas until Varrish gives up. 
  • Mira gets stationed at Samara where Xaden is. Violet mentions to Mira that she’s worried that the dragons across the border are actually wyvern, but Mira tells her not to worry. 
  • One of the Athebyne cadets is killed. 
  • During sparring, Dain wants to fight Violet. He said he didn’t know about Athebyne.
  • Aaric reveals he knows what’s really going on in Poromiel and that’s what’s driving him to become a rider. At least someone is in the know!
  • The squad has interrogation training, so they can resist if they are ever captured. They are put in a chamber and tortured to see if they break. Then Dain comes in with his mind reading, but he refuses to read Violet’s mind. Varrish then beats Violet up. 
  • Nolan, the mender, heals Violet, so they can keep breaking her. Violet tells him in secret that she has vital information that can’t be shared. He leaves the door unlocked and they escape.
  • Jack Barlowe returns. Nolan has spent a year trying to mend him, and now he’s alive again. Fucker.
  • Samara is attacked. Battle Brief professor Devara signs to Violet that Xaden is injured. Violet gets up, walks out of class and she and Tairn leave immediately. 
  • At Samara, it’s chaos, but both Mira and Xaden are alive. Xaden was healed by a mender. Violet and Xaden have sex in the shower.
  • Xaden takes Violet with him when he goes to bring more illegal weapons to the gryphons. They meet with Syrena, who was there in the last book, and her sister Catriona, who turns out to be Xaden’s ex. We hate her.
  • Viscount Tecarus of Poromiel has a luminary that the revolution needs to forge more weapons. He wants to see Violet call lightning as a price. Xaden says no.
  • By the way, during all this, Andarna is still in her Dreamless Sleep, which she needs to grow into a big dragon.
  • When Violet returns, Varrish is livid that she left without permission. He wants to punish her but dragon professor Kaori steps in.
  • Violet finally tells Rhiannon, Sawyer and Ridoc everything, except about Brennan and Aretia. The squad are super supportive of Violet and honestly the best. They decide to help her. Ridoc mentions the first Six kept personal journals that might have information on the wards. Jesinia finds out that they’re in a vault in the Archives, but only one of the king’s bloodline can enter.
  • It’s Threshing for the first years. Afterwards, Violet has watch on a tower with one of the other rebel cadets. Infantry students show up and kill the other student. Violet nearly falls off the tower, but Jack Barlowe saves her.
  • Violet, Xaden, Jesinia and the rest of the squad rope Aaric into the mission to get into the vault. Aaric hates Xaden for killing his brother a while back. They find the two journals and have to escape before they get locked into the vault.
  • Xaden takes one journal to Brennan, Violet keeps one for studying. But then she runs into Nolan, who gives her a drink that cuts off her connection from Tairn. Nolan discovers the journal. 
  • Violet is kidnapped and tortured in a chamber by Varrish and his minions for five days. She can’t contact Tairn or anyone else. In excruciating pain, she hallucinates Liam, who stays with her throughout this. IT’S HEARTBREAKING. She doesn’t break.
  • They call Dain, who (to everyone’s surprise) is horrified, but still reads Violet’s memories. She shows him the truth, including the wyvern and the revolution. Then he TAKES DOWN VARRISH. Surprise redemption arc, bitches. But a good one.
  • Xaden is there too, finally. He kills all the minions and helps rescue Violet. He then gives Violet the choice of killing Varrish but she’s too weak to do it herself so they do it TOGETHER.
  • Then General Sorrengail, who wasn’t aware of any of this, is there. She says she’ll do anything to protect her children, including have a war with a neighboring country to protect Navarre’s wards. She says she made a deal with Xaden to protect Violet in her first year. She also knows they have been smuggling weapons.
  • It’s time to leave Basgiath and go to Aretia, but Violet wants to give all students a chance to make the right choice. They make a speech in the courtyard, and about half of all students (including Dain, Jesinia and some of the teachers) decide to join the revolution. They fly for Aretia. 

Part 2

  • All the cadets move into Riorson House. The cadets’ families are contacted and told to move to safety in Aretia. 
  • Xaden and Violet meet with the Assembly. They are angry at Violet for exposing their secret. They decide to continue schooling for the cadets at Riorson House. Violet is going to translate Warrick (from the First Six)’s journal. 
  • Andarna wakes up! She’s now a moody teenager and it’s great. But because she didn’t complete her Dreamless Sleep the right way, she has a weaker wing and can’t really fly so will never bear a rider. 
  • Xaden and the rebels dropped wyvern carcasses at many of the border outposts, in order to reveal what is actually happening. Navarre hid this from the general public, but the military now knows. 
  • Mira arrives at Aretia and learns Brennan is alive. She punches him.
  • Violet thinks she knows how to raise the wards, with the most powerful riders sending their powers into the wardstone. They try, but fail. She hasn’t translated the text right. 
  • Violet has a training session with one of the Assembly to learn to target her lightning attacks, because they are still random and untrained. It’s very hard. He gives her an orb conduit that she can release her power into when it gets too much. 
  • The Tyrrish used to learn runes in order to do different kinds of magic. This gets implemented into the new school curriculum, because of course Navarre wasn’t teaching Tyrrish things before. 
  • Violet decides to secretly take off to Viscount Tecarus to get the luminary, even if Xaden says no. Mira and Brennan join her. But then when she arrives, Xaden is already there.
  • It turns out Viscount Tecarus and Xaden’s dad made an arrangement where Xaden was engaged to Tecarus’s niece, Catriona (whom we still hate). But Xaden broke this off. But Xaden has spent A LOT of time at the Viscount’s house and even has his own room. He didn’t feel the need to warn Violet about any of this in advance.
  • Tecarus holds a banquet that they attend. Catriona is there as well. Cat has the signet to intensify emotions, so Violet is suddenly VERY jealous and VERY angry. Cat does this on purpose, of course, because she still wants Xaden, but only his power and not his love. 
  • Violet has to prove her power in some kind of amphitheatre. She has to target a large chest, but then it turns out there’s a venin hidden in that chest. The Sorrengail siblings fight together for a bit and then Violet kills the venin by electrocuting him. BOOM.
  • As Violet was successful, they negotiate the terms for the luminary. In return, Tecarus wants weapons and for them to take in the cadet gryphon flyers whose academy was destroyed to be trained with the dragon rider cadets so they can all fight the war together. Xaden and Violet agree, because it’s the only way.
  • The rider cadets meet the gryphon cadets in Poromiel to climb the cliffs into Tyrrendor together, because gryphons can’t fly up the high cliffs themselves. Unfortunately, Cat is one of them cadets.
  • Violet befriends (ish) a flyer called Maren. She tells them that at the Poromiel academy, things are a lot less deadly than at Navarre. Why is Navarre killings its students?
  • A hatchling is born in Aretia. This apparently alerts all magical beings nearby that there are dragons at Aretia. It changes the game. 
  • During the climb, a really sweet flyer in Violet’s group dies. Cat blames Violet for this. Ridoc is injured and Brennan mends him, thank god.
  • Then the wyvern show up (it’s basically that cloudy scene in House of the Dragon, if you’ve seen it), because they’ve also been alerted about the hatchling (at least, that is assumed). Violet kills them by electrocuting the clouds they fly in. 
  • Rune training begins. Flyers and riders are paired up to form new combined squads, and obviously Cat’s squad is merging with Violet’s. Fucking great.
  • Dain helps Violet re-translate the journal. 
  • Because the riders and flyers hate each other, the professors give them one chance to fight it out on the sparring mat because they need to stop being little bitches. Cat challenges Violet and uses the entire fight to make Violet jealous about her and Xaden. It’s the worst scene. Because Cat uses her power (which is not allowed on the mat), Violet almost kills her and they have to be separated. 
  • Xaden goes down on Violet while she sits ON A THRONE. Then he tells her he never liked Cat. Oh, and that he’s technically the king of Tyrrendor. 
  • The venin/wyvern keep taking cities closer and closer to Aretia. They are coming for them. 
  • Dain and Violet supposedly figure out how to raise the wards, but if they do that, the gryphon flyers will lose their powers, so they hold off as long as possible. 
  • There’s a “school” assignment where the flyers and riders have to find hidden runes in an area. Violet, Cat, Visia and Sloane are a team. They track one to a cave. 
  • Sloane tells Violet that if a rider is bonded to a dragon who was previously bonded to a family member, they have the chance to either 1) go insane or 2) develop a second signet. Sgaeyl was bonded to Xaden’s grandfather! Violet puts this information away for later.
  • Then fucking SOLAS shows up in the cave. He kills Visia and the rest of the group try to escape. 
  • Then ANDARNA shows up and is BRILLIANT. She KILLS Solas by herself because she is fucking awesome. She is now, however, a dragon slayer, which among dragons is a terrible thing, but the elder dragons agree not to punish her.
  • Violet and Xaden have more trust issues, whatever.
  • The wyvern are coming. They raise the wards, with not the most powerful riders, but the most powerful of each of the dragon types. 
  • Tairn, Violet, Sgaeyl and Xaden go to fight the wyvern. Right before the wyvern arrive, Violet asks Xaden if he has a second signet. Turns out Xaden is an inntinnsic (someone who can read other people’s thoughts, except with him it’s reading intensions). People are usually killed instantly for this signet, so no one else knows. 
  • The wyvern try to attack, but apparently the wards worked, because the ones who fly through die. The venin retreat.
  • There is clearly something wrong with the wards because the gryphon riders still have their power.
  • At Riorson House, a message comes from General Melgren (the general of the Navarre army who can see the outcome of battles). He has seen that the wyvern/venin will attack Navarre and Navarre will lose the attack. He asks the revolution to help him. 
  • They go to meet Melgren and his minions, including Violet’s mother. Brennan says the revolution refuses to help Navarre. This is the first time Violet’s mom realizes Brennan is alive. 
  • Violet’s mom gives Violet the journal she was tortured for stealing from first Six’s Lyra. She says Warrick wanted to keep the power, but Lyra said it had to be shared. 
  • Violet finally gets her act together and tells Xaden she loves him, even with his signet. He also tells her his mom disappeared, which I’m feeling will come back to haunt us at some point.
  • Violet realizes that the wyvern won’t attack Navarre until the wards at Basgiath fall. Basgiath is where the dragon hatching ground is, and it must be protected. In order to protect the wards and the dragons, they have to go fight to protect Basgiath.
  • Brennan and some of the Assembly disagree. Some of the riders head to Basgiath. The flyers stay behind.
  • Melgren has pulled ALL his military personnel to the border that will be attacked, which is kind of stupid because he already knows they’re going to lose, but this means that Basgiath is undefended. There’s only a few students and teachers left. 
  • General Sorrengail is still there, and they convince her Basgiath will be attacked and must be protected. She says the wards are safe, but when they check, the guards have been killed and fucking Jack Barlowe is there. He turned VENIN and he destroyed the wards by killing his dragon.
  • They use the serum from before to cut off his powers and capture him, but the wards are already down.
  • The riders and Violet’s mom and anyone who is there prepare for battle. They sleep, make strategies and then it’s fight time. Brennan shows up with the flyers to help, finally. 
  • The battle is here. They kill loads of wyvern and some venin. Sawyer’s leg is ripped off but Violet saves him. 
  • Cat attacks one venin by intensifying his emotions and he goes insane. Then Andarna kills him.
  • Jesinia figures out how to raise the wards. Apparently it’s not six types of dragons, but seven, and Andarna is a special kind of dragon who was waiting for 650 years to be hatched and be Violet’s dragon. Instead of black scales, her scales are iridescent and she can fade into the background like a chameleon. 
  • If they choose to fix this ward stone, they won’t be able to also fix the one at Aretia, because there’s only one Andarna. The dragons can’t ignite multiple ward stones. Violet asks Xaden to choose, even though if they don’t choose this one, they will die anyway. They choose to save Basgiath instead of protect Aretia. 
  • Violet goes to raise the wards with seven types of dragons. The first years from her squad are there. Violet’s mom uses Sloane as a conduit to fill the ward stone with power, which drains and kills General Sorrengail, in order to protect her children. The ward is fixed.
  • At this point Xaden is battling the super powerful venin, and he’s about to lose.
  • The battle ends. Violet goes to find Xaden. Sgaeyl asks her to be gentle with him. Violet is a bit confused and Xaden refuses to look her in the eye until eventually he turns around and HE IS NOW VENIN.
  • The book ends with Xaden asking a captured Jack Barlowe how to go back to being a normal human. Jack says there’s no cure.

That’s what happened in Iron Flame! Check out our recap list for more recaps. If you can’t find what you need, you can request a recap from us!

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