By David Canfield
August 28, 2019 at 02:00 PM EDT
Penguin Young Readers

“The peculiars are in serious trouble.”

Ransom Riggs gets right down to it when asked what he can tease about The Conference of the Birds, the fifth book in his best-selling Miss Peregrine series, landing early next year. Coming off the big cliffhanger in the previous installment, A Map of Days, and with fans as energized as ever, anticipation on this one is high.

Here’s what we can safely reveal about The Conference of the Birds: With enemies behind him and the unknown ahead, Jacob Portman’s story continues as he takes a brave leap forward. We’ll have to leave the rest to Riggs himself.

EW caught up with the author for an exclusive preview of his next book. You can read our full interview on The Conference of the Birds, the series’ longevity, and much more, below, and in case you missed it, see the intriguing cover at the top of this post. The novel publishes Jan. 14 and is available for pre-order.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’re now on your fifth book in this series. Tease what lies ahead for us.
RANSON RIGGS: The peculiars are in serious trouble. War is brewing between fractious clans of Americans. Evil that Jacob and his friends thought they buried hasn’t been buried quite as deeply as they’d hoped. Jacob’s skills as a hollowgast hunter are put to the test like never before. There are some joyous reunions and homecomings. And a dark prophecy involving the newest peculiar of them all, Noor Pradesh, threatens to turn the whole peculiar world upside-down.

You ended A Map of Days on quite the cliffhanger. Did you always know how you’d resolve that here? Or did that work itself out in the writing process?
I had a very clear idea about what would happen in Conference when I ended Map — though in the writing I ended up revising and sharpening things. I tend to make lots of plans before I start a new book, but the best ideas always come to me in the midst of writing a draft. I’ve found I have to be prepared — but flexible.

This is a huge literary universe now. With so many books set in it now, did you imagine it would ever get this big?
I always imagined it to be big, but I didn’t realize, especially in those early novels, that I would have the pleasure of fleshing it out to this degree. It’s been, and continues to be, immensely fun and satisfying, and I often have the resist the temptation, while I’m in the middle of some big action scene, to stop and describe everything for pages and pages. I love big worlds, and love the feeling that they’re real not only in the scene you’re reading but out to the edges of the known universe. That’s when you can really lose yourself — as a reader, and if you’re lucky, as a writer.

How has the series evolved in your mind? Particularly in A Map of Days you once again expanded the world into uncharted territory.
The introduction of a whole new continent of peculiars forced me to think about and engage with politics in the books in a way I never had before. I don’t get too deep into the political nitty-gritty — I’m happy to leave that to our exhausting 24-hour news cycle — but the dissent and divisions between various peculiar societies has been fertile ground for new stories and new problems in way I never envisioned early in the series. It’s been a fascinating challenge. Because the world has grown along with Jacob’s discovery of it, this gradual expansion of the peculiar world has felt pretty natural, I think.

The fans have been there right along with you. Do you feel pressure to keep delivering for them? Do you look forward to surprising them?
I’m writing these for the fans as much as I am for myself. I think writers of long series have a responsibility to their readers — it’s because of them that we have the opportunity to write a book four, book five in a series. At the same time, you can’t only do what you think readers will want you to do; you’ve got to torment them a little. But I’ve tried to keep the reader in mind as much as I can, while also servicing the story, pushing into new territory, and keeping myself as entertained as possible while I’m doing it.

How long do you see the series running now?
As of now we’ve only got this trilogy planned. I’ve got other books I want to write, other worlds and ideas that have been bubbling on the back burner of my brain for a while now, and I’m anxious to service those. That’s not to say I’ll never return to the world of the peculiars, though…. it’s just so much fun to write, and I’m already thinking of what the final book will be.

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