Scholastic will publish a young adult novel series called Last Descendants, inspired by the world of Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed franchise, which has its roots in video games. Authored by Matthew J. Kirby, the first novel will be released in September 2016 in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
“We’ve had such success with middle grade series, like Jedi Academy and DC Secret Hero Society, that are in that world of licensing, and we wanted to do something in YA,” says Debra Dorfman, Scholastic’s v-p and publisher, global licensing and media consumer products. “We thought historical fiction/sci-fi/fantasy was perfect for the YA audience, and we admired Assassin’s Creed because of its rich historical fiction. They’re so accurate about things that have happened in history.”
Dorfman believes the books will have a wide audience. “We think because it’s a standalone story, we’ll reach new fans who don’t know the game,” she says, adding, “There are strong female teen characters that have a leading role, and I really think we’ll reach a teen girl audience. They like sci-fi, fantasy, and historical fiction.”
Ubisoft views Assassin’s Creed as a multifaceted entertainment franchise. In addition to the games, which have collectively sold more than 93 million units globally since they were introduced in 2007, there have been adult novels and graphic novels for years and a movie is in the works. The company had been considering how to move into the teen market.
“We had been approached by the toy industry and many other people, even the White House, because they liked the way the franchise was getting kids excited about history,” says Aymar Azaizia, Ubisoft’s head of content for Assassin’s Creed. “We were working to develop something specific for a younger demo and we wanted to do it with content, since that’s what’s driving everything these days. And publishing is the purest form of storytelling.”
Azaizia notes that books allow for a different point of view and additional story elements. “We can tackle subjects we can’t do in a movie, because it’s too short, or a videogame, because the fans control so much and have their own agendas,” he says.
Author Kirby’s books include Icefall, The Clockwork Three, Cave of Wonders from the Infinity Ring series, and The Lost Kingdom. He has worked with Scholastic on many projects, and often focuses on historical fiction. “When Scholastic first approached me about [Assassin’s Creed], it was a bit like winning the lottery,” he says. “I’ve been a gamer since I was a kid, and I find games to be a great platform for storytelling. The challenge was making sure I delivered something that would resonate with fans of Assassins Creed, as well as creating something new and exciting that will attract new fans. But that’s also the joy of it, since it is such as compelling world.”
Kirby first met with editors from Scholastic and the Ubisoft team, who described their overall vision, the target age, the tone and themes they wanted for the series, their plans for upcoming games and movies, and a list of historical eras fans have said they were interested in. He then created all new characters and an original story arc. “I sent them my idea and they basically told me to go for it,” Kirby says. “I felt like I had total freedom within that world. It was like the cool kid down the street let me play with their awesome toys.”
Each Assassin’s Creed game and book is set in a different time and place, with the characters traveling between past and present. The first YA title’s settings include 1863 New York City during the draft riots and the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, with figures such as William “Boss” Tweed and Hernan Cortes making appearances. A group of teens is embroiled in the Assassin-Templar feud that is at the center of the gaming franchise.
“Assassin’s Creed is about connecting the past in a very direct way with the present,” Kirby says. “The draft riots are a complicated and dark period of time in American history. It’s a natural setting to set the Assassin conflict in.”
A second Last Descendants title will follow in 2017.