Marie Lu on Returning to The World of The Legend Trilogy
In late 2011, Marie Lu’s debut, the first book in a YA dystopian trilogy, hit shelves. Legend is the story of two teenagers, June and Day, whose paths cross in an unimaginable way as they attempt to uncover the secrets their country, a nation which used to house the western United States, will go to great lengths to protect.
It debuted to high praise from readers (with a 4.2 star rating on Goodreads) and professional reviewers alike (the New York Times Sunday Book Review by Ridley Pearsons said, “Legend doesn’t merely survive the hype, it deserves it.”).
Now, nearly eight years later, Lu is gearing up to publish a fourth book in the series, called Rebel. This, after publishing The Young Elite trilogy, a different duology, and a standalone novel.
Rebel tells the story of Day, one of the original protagonists and point-of-view characters of the trilogy, as well as his younger brother, Eden, ten years after Legend. The experience of writing it allowed Lu to find something she said she didn’t even realize she needed: closure for her characters.
She added of the setting, a futuristic society in Antarctica which was introduced in Champion, book three of the trilogy, “I knew I had more to say about that setting than I gave myself room for in the original trilogy."
“I also always knew that Eden [Day’s brother] and Day would experience some upheavals there,” Lu added. “So this standalone was swirling in my mind for quite a while, waiting for me to gather my thoughts to write it.”
As for the process itself, Lu’s intimate knowledge of the characters and world made it relatively easy to write (as easy as any book can be, really). Challenging, though, was writing in the voice of characters who were older than when she’d last left them.
“They were not the same teenagers, but young adults trying to heal in the aftermath of a war,” she said. “Learning how to translate their new voices and getting reacquainted with them took longer than I thought.”
It is the first time in her career that she will return to an established world, and Lu said she’s “looking forward to hearing what both old and new readers think of a story [she knows] so well.”
That said, the return also means she is writing a new story in her first created world; with that, of course, comes the knowledge that Legend’s readers were her first, and many of them may have followed her throughout her career. Those who didn't follow will likely return to revisit the world they loved years ago.
“I definitely felt the pressure!” Lu said of the indebtedness she feels toward those readers. “I was quite anxious to write something worthy of their time investment in the series.”
Rather than make things more difficult, Lu channeled that pressure into writing joy.
“I actually enjoyed the sensation that readers out there were cheering this book on.”
And isn’t that something every writer craves — the knowledge there are readers out there, excited to read our next works?
As excited as she has been writing this book with fans of Legend in mind, Lu says she is also happy she was able to work with the trilogy’s original editor, Jen Besser.
“I’m incredibly lucky to get to work on this book with my original editor and wonderful friend,” she said. “Aside from myself, no one else understands this world and story better than Jen, and she and the Macmillan team hit the ground running with this book.
“No matter how long I’ve been writing or how much I learn about publishing, I couldn’t keep doing it without the support and hard work of so many others. It takes a village!”
Legend was originally published during a big boom period for YA dystopian literature. Between The Hunger Games, Divergent, and countless other series, it seems like the late 2000s and early 2010s were a breeding ground for stories about teenagers trying to remake the world after its break.
Lu is aware of her series’ similarity to other popular franchises. And she doesn’t think of that as a drawback, stating instead that it likely landed with readers precisely because it contained several of the elements they were looking for and finding in other places as well.
“YA is a category where young characters can overcome incredible adversity, and especially where female protagonists can win and challenge and be powerful,” Lu said. “[It] pushes boundaries—complex female characters and diverse stories—so I’m honored that the Legend series gets to be a part of that.”
Both the original series and this fourth installment are written from two points of view, something Lu said she really enjoyed exploring. In the first three, she says she especially enjoyed the dramatic irony of writing from both June and Day’s perspectives.
This time around, it was “a fun challenge exploring the mind of Eden, Day’s younger brother.” The second point of view character in Rebel is Day, and Lu said she enjoyed “making these two brothers both come together and clash.”
Rebel is out October 1st, 2019 from Roaring Book Press.
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