Readers first met Jacob Portman 10 years ago in Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. A story intermixed with traditional word and quirky photographs, the book and its sequels quickly became pillars among children’s titles during the last decade. Six books later, Ransom Riggs is ready to close the chapter on his peculiar adventure.
The Desolations of Devil’s Acre is the sixth and final book in Riggs’ series. Releasing on Tuesday, Feb. 23, the book is expected to wrap up the stories of Jacob Portman, Miss Peregrine and their peculiar friends in epic fashion.
After spending a decade writing, what’s it like to say goodbye to a story filled with rich characters and a world to match? We caught up with Ransom Riggs to get his thoughts on the experience of bringing the iconic book series across the finish line.
Check out our spoiler-free interview below!
Your books are famously inspired by dozens of vintage photographs that were even included in the pages of the book. Did you find any unexpected sources of inspiration while writing the conclusion of the series?
At this late point in the series, it’s the narrative that drives what photos I go looking for rather than the photos inspiring much of the story — but I did go down some research rabbit holes that sparked various sequences in Desolations. There are extensive scenes set in the trenches of World War I, for instance, and I did a lot of research on unusual funerary rites, spurred by a trip to Madagascar last year (mere weeks before COVID shut down the world!), where people make the houses of the dead more elaborate and solid than those for the living. But for the most part, the story had so much going on internally already, with so much that needed resolving, that there wasn’t a lot of room for new outside ideas. I had enough on my plate!
I still remember picking up the first Miss Peregrine’s novel in a store back in 2013 and flipping to the front page to read, “I had just accepted that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen.” What an amazing opening line! (Naturally, I left the store with the book.) Authors obviously put a lot of thought and care into those first words, but I imagine that must be the same with the final words as well. What was it like to pen the closing words of your series all these years later? Have you always had that final line planned, or did you discover it in the moment as you wrote?
That’s kind of you! It was emotional, finishing the book, and writing that last chapter in particular. I planned it in broad strokes, but the final few lines didn’t take shape until just before I wrote them. I’ve found that extensive planning in advance is usually wasted effort when it comes to writing fiction, and even ideas or lines that seem to have a ton of potential will have grown stale or won’t quite fit for one reason or another by the time I get around to writing whatever scene they might’ve been in. My best lines always seem to come in the moment, in the flow of writing.
I suspect bringing a series to a close is difficult — you have plot lines to wrap up, mysteries to resolve, character arcs to complete — and it all has to be satisfying! In your case, there are visual and historical elements as well. Did you find it difficult to balance all of those elements?
There were certainly a lot of plot lines and character arcs to resolve! That’s part of the reason this is the longest book in the series. As for the visual and historical elements, they are always secondary to the story and characters, so as long as they serve and enhance the main plot, they don’t get in the way too much.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in writing The Desolations of Devil’s Acre?
Crafting an ending that felt both surprising but inevitable, and satisfying without being too easy on the characters. That’s always a tough balance.
You’ve spoken a lot in the past about how the series is a sort of “fish out of water” story, with Jacob entering a strange world in the first trilogy and the peculiars entering Jacob’s world in the second trilogy. What made you want to tell a “fish out of water” story; what drew you to the concept?
When we get used to a place or a way of living we stop paying close attention to it — but to a fish out of water, everything and everyone around them is new and strange and noteworthy, and that discomfort can make them a great observer of the world they’re being immersed in. I wanted the reader to feel they were exploring the peculiar world along with Jacob, and in the second trilogy, I wanted to reverse that and explore our world through these outsiders’ eyes.
Throughout the series, Jacob visits so many interesting places in the UK and in America. From Miss Peregrine’s home in the first book to the Library of Souls of Abaton and even Devil’s Acre itself, you’ve created such an imaginative world for the peculiars to live in. Of all the locations you’ve created, which has been your most favorite as a writer, and why?
I think Devil’s Acre was my favorite. It’s so nasty and horrible in so many ways, and it was really fun to play with the Dickensian Victorian slum archetype. But it’s their home, too, so it had to become cozy and familiar to them, after a time. It also became a kind of magical box in which I could invent almost anything, and from which I could send the characters almost anywhere, thanks to the Panloopticon. It became this nexus point for the series that represented home, squalor, and endless possibility all at once.
It’s been 10 years since the first book was published, that’s a long time to stick with a series. As you bring it to a close, what do you think you’ll miss the most about Peculiardom?
Definitely the characters. I’ll miss the scenes where they’re just having fun and hanging out with each other. After all these books, they’ve come to feel almost like real people to me, and every time I dive into a new story, it’s like catching up with old friends.
One more question — and this one’s photography-related rather than book-related (forgive me!) You’re obviously into vintage and retro photography. I received my grandfather’s old Kalloflex (“the poor man’s Rolleiflex”) a few years ago and have loved discovering the world of film ever since. I even recently purchased a Kodak Brownie from 1911 and found a roll of used 116 film (still looking for a place that can develop it, I’m dying to know if there are photos on it!) I’d love to know what your favorite vintage camera is, and why?
I’m pretty sure Richard Photo Lab can develop that roll of 116 — I’d love to know what’s on it, too! My favorite at the moment is a Rolleiflex wide angle. It’s so compact and fun to use, and it takes beautiful pictures. And those old cameras are built like tanks; it feels good to hold something so overbuilt and substantial in your hands. The whole process of taking and developing film feels like an antidote to the digitalization of everything else in our lives. It’s balancing.
About The Desolations of Devil’s Acre
The fate of peculiardom hangs in the balance in this epic conclusion to the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series.
The last thing Jacob Portman saw before the world went dark was a terrible, familiar face.
Suddenly, he and Noor are back in the place where everything began – his grandfather’s house. Jacob doesn’t know how they escaped from V’s loop to find themselves in Florida. But he does know one thing for certain: Caul has returned.
After a narrow getaway from a blood-thirsty hollow, Jacob and Noor reunite with Miss Peregrine and the peculiar children in Devil’s Acre. The Acre is being plagued by desolations – weather fronts of ash and blood and bone – a terrible portent of Caul’s amassing army.
Risen from the Library of Souls and more powerful than ever, Caul and his apocalyptic agenda seem unstoppable. Only one hope remains – deliver Noor to the meeting place of the seven prophesied ones. If they can decipher its secret location.
About Ransom Riggs
Ransom Riggs is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children novels. Riggs was born on a farm in Maryland and grew up in southern Florida. He studied literature at Kenyon College and film at the University of Southern California. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, bestselling author Tahereh Mafi, and their family.