Bracken’s newest installment of The Darkest Minds manages to weave a complex story filled with political awareness, compassion, thrills, romance, and a narrator that comes into her own.
The last time I read The Darkest Minds series, which was about four years ago, the dystopian society that Alexandra Bracken had crafted was nothing more than a far-off lesson in “what could happen if the wrong people are in charge.”
Fast forward four years, and I feel like I’m living in the beginning of a dystopian novel where the intelligent speak out and the ignorant pretend as if there’s nothing wrong happening in our society right now.
So the timing of The Darkest Legacy, Bracken’s companion novel to The Darkest Minds series, couldn’t be more perfect. It couldn’t have been planned to be released at a better time. Though granted, we never could’ve planned for a dystopian world to unfold before us in reality, either.
The world hasn’t changed much in The Darkest Legacy. Not really. While society has been in a rebuild, so-to-speak, it’s obvious that the fear is still present, the discontent still evident, and those with powers are still looked upon as dangers ready to ignite. And as we soon learn, the camps still exist and a corrupt government aims to recreate the past – where these kids were caged – rather than look to the future – where real change could be impacted by coming together through human compassion and compromise.
While The Darkest Legacy is certainly lengthy – which is exactly how I like books, to be honest – it doesn’t waste its nearly 600 pages when it comes to telling this story or exploring these characters the way that Bracken has always done. There was a point around 200 pages – into the nearly 600-page novel – where I just could not put the book down. I spent the rest of my day devouring the remaining 400 pages filled with enough emotion and pain and thrill to power the lights in my bedroom in which I read.
What I loved about The Darkest Legacy was that Bracken returned to this world as it attempted to rebuild itself. This novel takes place five years after In the Afterlight, which gives a good idea of just how long it’s taken for even the small change that we see in the beginning to have happened. While Ruby’s story was over – the first step in rebuilding a broken society – there was still more story to be told in this world. I loved that this was Zu’s story to tell. Getting to know Zu through her own thoughts was eye-opening in a way that seeing her through Ruby’s eyes never was. It delivered some amazing character exploration and growth that added a unique perspective to the story unfolding around her.
Bringing in two amazing new characters like Roman and Priyanka added to Zu’s character exploration in an intriguing way that seemed to return some sense back to her world. And we also got to see our favorites return in a way that never felt like they were taking away from Zu’s story or taking the focus off of her. Getting to see Ruby, Liam, Chubs, and Vida among others made my heart full and served as a reminder of what’s happened in the past as much as it reminded me of those years ago when I devoured the first three books.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that The Darkest Legacy’s ending left me with the overwhelming feeling that this story isn’t over. While it wasn’t touted as a new trilogy, the way Legacy ended was just inviting you in for more. There was a sort of resolution in Through the After Light that The Darkest Legacy didn’t possess. So it could be that or a combination of wishful thinking that there’s more to this story. I truly hope there is.
Let’s discuss The Darkest Legacy further:
Zu’s at the Helm
Perhaps the best thing about The Darkest Legacy is that the narrative has now shifted to Zu, who is now 17 years old and at the center of the destruction that’s unfolding around her. I’ve loved Zu since the beginning of this series and having her at the center of this story is as satisfying as it is engaging.
There’s still so much we didn’t know about Zu even after three books, but that was due in large part to the narrative being told from Ruby’s perspective. In The Darkest Legacy, it’s Zu telling the story and you really feel every bit of this now young woman. The pain, the fear, the determination, the strength, and the yearning.
Zu’s point of view presents a unique perspective of the world that we find in The Darkest Legacy some five years after In the Afterlight. Zu’s position at the start of the novel and how she finds herself at the center of this new struggle gives this story the sense of urgency and emotion that it needs. And watching how Zu navigates this new world with these new allies, old allies, and hearing her thoughts guides this story.
The New Story
How do you write a new story after you’ve wrapped up this society in which you presented a possibility of progress and solution? Easy: You use common sense and the reality unfolding around you. Because while most books might end with a “happily ever after” or a “potential happy ever after” or just closure in general, typically in stories of corrupt government, it’s practically impossible to get back to how things used to be. Because things have changed. And you can’t ignore that change.
That’s what made The Darkest Legacy so intriguing. It didn’t pick up immediately after the events of In the Afterlight. It allowed five years to transpire and for Zu and these characters to reflect upon how things have changed and how they haven’t. Not to mention the basic rule of a controlling government: Once a person of power steps down or is forced to step down, there will always be someone else that craves that power willing to step up.
In The Darkest Legacy, things have changed. But they also haven’t. Zu is a part of a tour attempting to persuade society that, now, the Psi kids aren’t to be feared. That co-existing in society is possible – if they can do their part. Mostly, it’s about convincing society that they shouldn’t be afraid of Psi. But when someone attempts to murder Zu, she’s forced to use her abilities to stop him, and, unfortunately, catastrophe happens as a result. Basically, wrong place, wrong time.
This new installment introduced new threats and new allies while continuing to warn the characters and readers that an illusion of solution isn’t reality. And when people start trying to convince you to embrace this illusion, the danger is a very real threat.
Meet the New Characters
While I know most people’s initial questions are: Do Ruby, Liam, and Chubs appear? – and I admit I was one of them – this story isn’t about them. They’re not heavily featured as our two new characters, Roman and Priyanka, who make for intriguing and complementary characters to Zu.
The way that Roman and Priyanka come into Zu’s life is similar yet different to how Ruby joined up with Liam, Chubs, and Zu in The Darkest Minds. I found the parallel quite interesting. In both instances, it was the main protagonist that happened upon a new group almost by coincidence that also could’ve been fate. Both of them also took time to open up, as there was an obvious distrust given the circumstances. While Ruby didn’t trust the trio at first, she was forced to come along pretty quickly. But Zu, given her immense trust issues, viewed Roman and Priya as the enemy for quite awhile and there was always some doubt in the back of her mind because she couldn’t afford for them to actually be the enemy.
But the thing I loved about Roman and Priya is that they’re characters that compliment Zu in the very best way. Priya has this sass and swagger about her that could grate at Zu. And Roman had this ease and sense of genuineness with a hint of mystery that made him the perfect match for Zu.
The ship. God, the ship. I knew it was going to be Zu and Roman. I just knew it. But that didn’t bother me because, in the end, it’s not about the endgame. It’s about the journey that they take to get there. And Zu and Roman’s journey was expected and unexpected; thrilling and calming; and dangerous and romantic.
Old Favorites Return
Now of course given that this is a Darkest Minds novel featuring a fan-favorite and familiar character, there was always going to be a desire to see familiar faces like Ruby, Liam, Chubs, and Vida. But it was important to ensure their cameos wouldn’t take away from the fact that The Darkest Legacy is about Zu.
The thing that I took away from The Darkest Legacy and how they integrated these familiar faces into the story was that their appearances never took away from this being Zu’s story. While there was always a part of me waiting for, say, Liam’s appearance, I also understood that this wasn’t Liam’s story. This is Zu’s story.
But, then again, there was no way that The Darkest Legacy could not include these familiar faces. Not only are they a part of what’s happening in the grand scheme of things, but, more importantly, they are people that are incredibly important to Zu. Given that this is Zu’s story, it’s natural to expect her to internally worry about those she loves and expect to see these familiar faces at one point.
Is There More to the Story?
When The Darkest Legacy was first announced, it was touted as a standalone, companion novel to The Darkest Minds with Zu behind the wheel. I went into The Darkest Legacy believing that this story could and would be told within the confines of those nearly 600-pages.
But as I read through this story and the beats it was hitting, I found myself believing that there’s so much more to this story that could be explored. And I’m not even talking just about the end and how it was left. The fact that there are more camps out there, the fact that NAME OF EVIL GUY is trying to take control of the government and impose his own beliefs and laws, the fact that there’s a new threat in AGENCY that has yet to be resolved, the fact that there’s a beautiful romance between Zu and Roman that I need more of. How could The Darkest Legacy be the beginning and end of this new story? It’s not possible.
Please tell me that there’s more, Alex. Please. I need more.
The Darkest Legacy is available now wherever books are sold.