Exclusive reveal: E L James ‘Freed: Fifty Shades’ cover is a nod to bonds of marriage

"Freed," by EL James
"Freed," by EL James

Author E L James is giving a final nod to bonds on the cover of the last installment in the "Fifty Shades of Grey" series "Freed: Fifty Shades Freed as Told by Christian," out June 1. Though this time the cover image is more about marital bonds than sexual ones.

The cover, which USA TODAY can reveal, shows a wedding band wrapped around Christian Grey's ring finger.

"I think it's great to put a wedding ring and then have 'Freed' written above it because those two things in conjunction don't signify freedom," but for Christian they do, James tells USA TODAY. "That was important to me, for him to be free from his past."

In designing the final cover for the series, James, whose name is Erika Leonard, wanted to keep the look in sync with its predecessors. Mostly monochromatic shades of gray, this one does have a pop of color with some pink confetti hearts. While the novels have been famously racy, James has always wanted to keep the covers subdued.

Opting for a "stripped down" cover was born out of personal experience reading romance novels in public, says James, a USA TODAY bestselling author.

"I spent my 30s reading romantic novels with women whose clothes are falling off with bare-chested heroes, and on the tube going into central London, it was like, 'Oh, look what I'm reading,' " she says.

Author EL James
Author EL James

The wedding band on the cover means James will finally put her own special touch on Anastasia and Christian's wedding. For fans of the books, that particular event was never written about until now. "I've got lots and lots of people saying where's the wedding? And I just thought, 'Right, you want a wedding? I'll do a wedding.' It was fun; I actually enjoyed it in the end. And every time I read it, I sort of cried because I really liked the wedding."

Writing the novel during the pandemic had its ups and downs. "It was just great because I couldn't do anything else," says James. But writing about a non-COVID world was tricky. "It was weird writing situations where they're going out and meeting people and I'm thinking, 'You're not wearing masks! You're not socially distancing!' I'm thinking, 'Oh my gosh, Christian, invent Zoom for God's sake!' "

Then there was spending all that time in Christian's head. "It's been exhausting," says James, laughing. "It has also been great fun being there and being able to channel some of my rage through him because he's such an angry person. He's very intense most of the time and it's just getting him to back down sometimes, just calm down, but he just doesn't, bless him."

USA TODAY's Mary Cadden interviews author EL James ahead of the release of “Freed: Fifty Shades Freed as told by Christian."
USA TODAY's Mary Cadden interviews author EL James ahead of the release of “Freed: Fifty Shades Freed as told by Christian."

Now that the "Fifty Shades" series is coming to an end, James has been working on a few projects of her own, though none are definite, she says. There has been demand from fans for a sequel to her USA TODAY bestselling book "Mister," and she's dipped her pen into paranormal romance recently, though that's more a project she wrote for herself.

"I am a sucker for a love story. I love a love story, I love a happy ending. I love all of that," says James. Even though there are no plans to publish the paranormal romance at this time, writing it has been a bit of a departure for her. "It needs another book because it ends in a horrific cliffhanger and I haven't written that yet so that is maybe something I'll do further down the line."

For now, James is looking forward to post-pandemic life. She has her first round of the COVID-19 vaccine and is awaiting her second dose. First on her to-do list? "I'd really like to hug my mother. I have not been able to do that for over a year."

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Freed: Fifty Shades' cover is a nod to bonds of marriage