By Mary Kate Carr
March 27, 2018 at 10:00 AM EDT
Captured Moments by Rita & Company

If you’ve been missing the world of Alexandra Bracken’s The Darkest Minds series, you’re in luck. On top of the first book being adapted into a film (starring Amandla Stenberg and Mandy Moore), the author has returned to her Darkest playground with a new standalone novel, and EW has the exclusive cover reveal.

The Darkest Legacy is told from the perspective of fan-favorite character Zu, and picks up five years after the events of the final novel in the series, In the Afterlight. Since Ruby, Zu, and their Psi friends helped overthrow the corrupt government of President Gray, the country has slowly began to piece itself back together — but rebuilding isn’t going to be a simple task.

Check out the official cover for The Darkest Legacy below, and read on for EW’s Q&A with Bracken about the world since In the Afterlight, where we find Zu in Legacy, and whether or not we’ll be seeing other characters return from the Darkest series.

Hyperion/Disney Publishing Worldwide

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When did you decide to return to the Darkest world? Did you know you would pursue it before finishing the original trilogy?
ALEXANDRA BRACKEN:
When I wrapped up the original trilogy, I felt very done with the series and its world … but I also recognized that feeling was likely rooted in the fact that I’d been working on it nonstop for four years. Back then, I was anxious to push myself to try something new, and I was too close to the original trilogy to see how I could potentially break the world away from Ruby’s journey. Ultimately, I felt very “never say never” about coming back, but wasn’t about to make any promises. It was always going to have to be the exact right story.

After the last book of the trilogy, In the Afterlight, released, I wrote one last novella in 2015 (Beyond the Night) that was meant to wrap up the world. I tend to carefully plot my stories out these days, but, occasionally, an idea will jump out at me while I’m working and I can’t resist it. That was definitely the case with that last novella — there was one minor plot thread that really intrigued me, and I wanted to chase the rabbit, so to speak, and follow the idea through even though there wasn’t room in the novella for it. It felt like a natural way to continue the story without it being the original trilogy 2.0. But, like I said, I felt ready to move on. So, it went on the backburner until early 2017, when it started poking at me again.

My original plan was to actually jump far into the future and leave the original cast behind completely. That was the idea I first pitched to my editor last winter, and everyone was on board … but I was the one that ultimately got cold feet and pulled it. Somehow, it just didn’t feel right to me, and for once I actually listened to my gut. What I had been envisioning as a “reboot” to the series felt almost too different. At that point, though, I’d been seriously thinking about this world again and was excited about the idea of returning to it. A few weeks later, it just clicked: I could use the basic framework of my original idea, but make it feel more immediate and finally give Zu the spotlight. Once I had her in place as a narrator, the story and themes came together in a very natural, wonderful way.

What brought you to the time jump? What were the pros and cons of picking up years later?
There were a few reasons I wanted the story to jump ahead five years. The primary one was simply that I wanted Zu to be older, so readers could meet her again at the edge of adulthood and see how she has (and hasn’t!) changed. From a storytelling perspective, that jump also added an exciting layer of tension to the story, because readers don’t know what’s happened during those in-between years. (Spoiler: A LOT.) Carefully laying out the clues and reveals about the changes in the world and Zu’s life was a blast for me.

The only real con I found with the time jump was more of a challenge than a true con. My goal with this story was to have everything feel somehow both recognizable and fresh to readers. Easy, right? Yeah, in my dreams. I immediately knew how the characters had changed over those five years, but I had to really sit down, revisit the notes I made at the end of Afterlight, and logically plot out the way their world had evolved. One somewhat frightening thing is that, while you’ll notice some similarities to our current political climate, I ended up altering a few of the things I’d envisioned for the future of the story back in 2014, simply because it hit too close to our current world.

Can you hint at what the world is like since the events of In the Afterlight?
I’ll give you the basic setup, which hopefully won’t be too big of a spoiler! You might remember that, at the end of Afterlight, President Gray’s government is brought down by a coalition of forces from the United Nations. That peacekeeping force then stayed on to help stabilize the country through the intense pains of recovery. Five years later, things are genuinely looking up and even the Psi find their situation improved, even if they don’t wholly fit in with the rest of society.

Unfortunately, there’s some major tension brewing. The United States is preparing to hold its first free election since Gray held onto office past his two term limits, and the United Nations is finally starting to withdraw. But, at the same time, unseen forces are working to destabilize what progress has been made, and Zu has to face the possibility that there might still be some rot beneath the new, glossy coat of paint the country has been given.

There are so many rich characters in the original trilogy that could sustain their own stories; what made you choose Zu as the protagonist for this book?
First and foremost, I just love her. It’s bothered me for years that Zu wasn’t in book 2, Never Fade, and that the novella that featured her, In Time, still wasn’t really her story. At the time, I just couldn’t find a natural way to bring her back into the main plot arc before the third book. At least not a way that wouldn’t haven’t felt too easy, or caused readers to side-eye me for doing some kind of hand-wavy explanation for how she could magically be in the same place, at the same time, as the rest of the group.

More than that, though, I felt like Zu had the biggest potential arc ahead of her. There was so much left to discover about her because we really only see her starting to figure out the kind of person she wants to be in the original trilogy. One thing I’ve always found fascinating about Zu’s character is that she’s experiencing all of the same things her friends are, only at a much younger age. It has a different, lasting impact on her. In the years between Afterlight and Legacy, we see a Zu who has watched all of her older friends head out into the world to do meaningful work while she’s made to wait and hang back because of her age. It reinforces a feeling in her that she’s falling further and further behind and won’t ever catch up to them.

She felt powerless for so long that I was really, really eager to bring her to a place where she [could] truly harness and embrace the strength she’s always had inside of her. Put another way, I wanted to take this chance to move Zu from the back seat to the driver’s seat, both literally and figuratively.

Zu struggled to find her voice in Afterlight. Does that struggle still affect her now that she’s older?
You’ve hit on the reason why Zu is the natural narrator for this particular story, and it actually ties into why we chose this cover too!

In The Darkest Minds, Zu’s trauma manifests in her choosing to remain silent. It’s her one small way she can feel in control of her otherwise uncontrollable situation. In Legacy, she elaborates more on this, and describes herself as sometimes wanting to slip back into those quiet, comfortable depths. As the story opens, she’s working as a spokesperson for the government, so it’s not so much that she’s struggling to use her voice, it’s that Zu now has to figure out what she wants to use her voice for. This ties into a wider idea in the story, which is that you can’t sit idly by and just hope for the best or brace yourself the worst — you have to continually fight for, and speak up for, the things you believe in.

This cover looks very different from the others in the series, right? My publisher and I really struggled to come up with a symbol that would bring it in line with the original trilogy covers. I’m talking endless months of back-and-forth and trying out new ideas only to reject them and start from scratch. The symbols on the trilogy covers all tie back into the central theme of each book, and, as strange as it sounds, I couldn’t figure out what that overarching symbol was, or could be, in Legacy. To try to shake us out of our cover rut, my publisher hired Jonathan Bartlett to come up with a few concepts. I actually gasped when I saw the sketch for what ultimately became the final cover.

Zu looks so strong and striking surrounded by her own power, and it finally clicked for me that she herself is the symbol. Throughout Legacy, other people are constantly trying to use her name, her voice, and her image to make some greater point about the future or about the Psi. Ultimately, Zu makes the decision to be a symbol for something else entirely.

We know the novel is from Zu’s perspective, but can we expect other fan favorite characters to appear?
Maaaaaybe.

Just kidding. OF COURSE. I think readers will be very happy to see some of these faces pop up again, including one I’m hoping will be genuinely unexpected. You’ll also get to meet two new characters I love, Roman and Priyanka, who arrive with their own mysteries and dark pasts. They and Zu make for a truly dynamic trio.

Now that the Darkest world has opened up in a standalone novel, can we expect other stories that might be set in this world?
I think you already know the answer: Never say never! This particular story is very much self-contained, but I can never resist leaving a few little plot threads dangling.

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