Marie Lu talks returning to Legend with Rebel: 'I didn't realize I wanted closure'
The No. 1 New York Times best-selling author launched her career with the dystopian series, drawing thousands of readers into the epic, romantic saga of Day and June, two 15-year-olds from very different backgrounds who come together in a future ruled by the totalitarian Republic. The final book in the original trilogy, Champion, published back in 2013, and it ended with the heroes in an ambiguous, open-ended place.
Lu went on to write new series (most recently, the sci-fi Warcross duology), but never entirely left Legend behind, percolating over the story and characters’ fates and publishing shorter novellas in the interim. Now, at long last, the author is returning with the fourth book in the series, Rebel. Writing it, she says she found real closure.
The book centers Day’s brother Eden, with the action pushed 10 years ahead of where Champion left off. As we meet them, Eden has been living in the shadow of Day for years, while Day, the boy from the streets who led a revolution that saved the Republic of America, is no longer the same young man who was once a national hero. These days he’d rather hide out from the world and leave his past behind. All that matters to him now is keeping Eden safe ― even if that also means giving up June, the great love of his life.
Eden’s story takes centerstage, but fans’ top question remains what will become of Day and June. For Lu, that feels just right. In a wide-ranging interview with EW, the author discusses how she came around to writing Rebel, why it felt like the time to tell Eden’s story, and just what we can expect for Day and June. Read on below. Rebel publishes Oct. 1.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start with your decision to return to Legend with Rebel.
MARIE LU: I started thinking about writing Rebel way back when I first finished the original trilogy. It just took me a while to find the right story. After I wrote Warcross and Wildcard, which was kind of my way of exploring that society again, I realized that I wasn’t done telling this story of Day and Eden. There was more I wanted to find out, about how they recovered from the aftermath of a war and how they end up healing. All those ideas came together at the same time. I realized that was the story that I wanted to write.
Here, you shift the focus primarily to Eden. How did that come about?
He was never a point-of-view character in the original trilogy, but everything he was involved in was the catalyst for the story of Legend. He was the reason why the originally met June; he was the reason why they broke into a hospital and started the chain of events that led to the rest of the trilogy. A lot of his decisions as a child changed the course of history for the Republic. I wanted to explore his mind: What is it like to be that kid? What is it like to grow up after experiencing a childhood like that? And how is that different from his brother’s experience? They’re very much opposites, in that way, and I always knew that they would be opposites. Eden is the gentler of the two brothers. He loves flowers, he’s very soft, he’s quiet and kind of unsure. I wanted to explore that contrast between them and develop them a little bit more.
It’s very true that he was always an important player, if more in the background. Did you have this voice, this story for him in your mind that you’re now channeling in Rebel?
You know, I didn’t. When I finished writing Champion, I didn’t know where they would go from there. I had this weird feeling after I finished the original trilogy, that their voices left my head, which made me feel a little crazy. [Laughs] I didn’t know when they would come back to me. That was part of the process of finding the story, too. I knew I wanted to explore their society more, but I didn’t know if they wanted to do that. It took a few years for me to start hearing their voices again, and it was intimidating at first. It sounded different. I had grown older, so their voices sounded older. Eden has changed from a 9-year-old to [someone] in his early twenties, in Rebel. It was unusual to hear him in that way; how different he had become. It took a while to get there.
Day and June have grown up here, too. What was it like returning to those characters’ head-spaces, especially given the reader interest in their dynamic?
It was the same — a little intimidating! I left them in an open spot at the end of Champion. They had met each other again, but I left it to the reader, what happened to them in the future. That was how I left them in my head as well. I didn’t actually know if they were going to reconnect again. Not that I have a college-aged kid, but it felt like when you send your kids off to college. “Good luck, don’t drink too much!” That was very much how I felt at the end of Champion. I wanted to see how they had changed and grown. And I also wanted to explore my own thoughts for how they get back together, and how they find each other again, and whether they can reconnect. It’s been 10 years since the end of Champion. How have they changed? How do their different lifestyles clash with each other? Can they find their way back to each other? These were all questions I knew I had but didn’t know that I wanted to explore until recently.
Did you find the questions came to you as you were writing? Having taken this break from these characters, what kind of answers did you find you were coming to?
A few years after Champion, I realized I was thinking about them [again] every now and then, just because I got so many reader questions about them. They started coming back to my mind because I kept hearing about them. I ended up writing a couple of short stories about them. One about when Day was younger; [another] was Champion‘s epilogue from Day’s point of view. I wrote one about after they reconnected and were living in Antarctica. Those stories were just me exploring the what-ifs that were swirling around in my head. They were the initial seed for me, starting to revisit the characters. Those scenes started triggering memories of what I wanted to do.
I am curious about your experiences with fans these past few months. There was such a huge reaction to the initial Rebel announcement. In terms of your vision for these characters and this story, and the excitement and theories and hopes of fans, what has that felt like?
It’s been really restorative to hear from fans again about the Legend characters. I don’t think I realized how much I missed them until we announced the book; I realized there were readers who were waiting for the conclusion of these characters. It meant a lot to me. My writing career started off with these characters. These readers found me at a time when they didn’t know anything about me or my writing. Legend readers will always have a really special spot in my heart. I have grown with them. I’m nervous to give them this story again, and revisit characters that mean something to them. I hope I give them something that is satisfying and worth their time. And the wait.
Did you personally find closure?
I did. That’s a really good question because I didn’t realize that I wanted closure with them. Over the years, as I was exploring this book, there are times where I cried over writing scenes; I realized what I was putting them through, and that these things do happen in real life, to real people. Being able to write a truly conclusive ending for them was deeply satisfying for me. I didn’t think it would be. I’m a fan of open endings. I’ve always enjoyed the what-if. But I realized that I wanted to know that they were going to be okay. It was a cathartic experience, writing that for them.
That speaks to my next question a bit. You mentioned your writing career launching with Legend. How do you think you’re a different writer now, compared to then?
In some ways a lot has changed, in some ways it hasn’t. The thing that hasn’t changed is that I still feel just as nervous and anxious putting a book into the world now as I did when I first started. The writing itself remains challenging as it has ever been. I have those moments in every book, where I think, “This is where I’m not going to make it, this is where I’m going to be exposed as a fraud.” Those thoughts have never really gone away. But the thing that’s changed is I know that feeling is going to come with every book. For that, I’m really grateful. “I felt exactly like this in the last book, at this spot, and it’s going to be okay because I got out of that one. I can get out of this one.” That has been a great comfort for me.
What was the most challenging thing to figure out about Rebel?
Getting their voices right again. This was my first time revisiting the same characters after a pretty long gap. That was hard, trying to write the same characters in a different tone, with different personalities.
We’re a little over a month from publication. What can you tease this far out for fans?
[Long pause] I think Day and June will come back together again. But maybe there will be surprises along the way as well, in terms of how they get together. I’m not done messing with them. [Laughs] But hopefully by the end it’s worth it.