Genre: Detective – SciFi
Series: Legion #1-3
Publisher: Tor Books (September 18, 2018)
Length: 400 pages
My Rating: 4 stars
Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds is a collection of three companion novellas focused on schizophrenic genius Stephen Leeds, whose unbelievable detective skills have sprung forth from his legion of hallucinatory “aspects”. While the first two novellas have been previously published (I’m referring to “Legion” and “Legion: Skin Deep”.), this time out fans of the series can re-experience those old Leeds adventures before devouring the wrap-up novella, “Lies of the Beholder,” which ties up more than a few dangling plot lines before ending the tale in satisfying fashion. But will it satisfy everyone? Probably not. But, like all Brandon Sanderson stories, Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds is inventive, entertaining and does an amazing job bringing such a unique concept to life.
As the title declares, Stephen Leeds lives a multi-faceted life. Basically, this is due to him having forty “aspects” or different personalities, if you will. Each one of these other individuals are hallucinations within his mind; distinct beings who have their own unique personalities and fields of expertise. Stephen hears them, talks to them, sees them, and even has different rooms in his home set up for each one to live in. Naturally, no one else sees any of these aspects though, which shrieks of a really bad case of untreated schizophrenia, but Stephen seems to have a handle on the whole thing, so no harm done, I guess.
What is distinctly interesting about this whole aspect system is that Stephen unconsciously creates each of these beings. Each time he uses his genius abilities to master an area of knowledge he then brings into existence an aspect to embody that knowledge, store it, and then promptly forgets everything he has learned about it. So when our genius detective needs to recall something about a subject he has previously mastered out comes one (or more) of his aspects to act as an imaginary partner(s) whom Stephen has imagined discussions with, bickers with and swaps banter with.
Needless to say, Stephen’s amazing abilities have allowed him to be super successful at solving crimes and complex problems by tapping into his imaginary army of gurus. This success has led to large amounts of money, which has resulted in Stephen building a mansion large enough for him and his aspects to all live together out of sight of ordinary people who might find Stephen’s habit of dining with invisible people disconcerting. This success has also allowed him to be very, very picky about what cases he accepts, resulting in Stephen only dealing with highly unusual situations.
It all begins in “Legion,” the first novella, which is about the search for a stolen camera which allegedly can take pictures of people and events at any time in the past. Definitely a nice science fiction vibe in this story, and while Sanderson’s narrative doesn’t add anything new to the well mined time travel mythos, it was still a fun, fast read with some interesting psychological and philosophical questions.
“Skin Deep” keeps the many aspects of Stephen coming at you with a mystery centering on a dead body which everyone is searching for. Supposedly, this dead guy was a pioneer in biotechnology who developed a super secret, super advanced method for storing massive amounts of information in the cells of the human body. Naturally, everyone believes the dead guy stored some of his most amazing, ground-breaking scientific discoveries in his own body before he died, so everyone is in a deadly race to find it.
Finally, there is the new novella, “Skin Deep”, which is quite different in tone and feel from the others. Here Sanderson attempts to deal with many of the questions regarding Stephen, his aspects, and his previous relationship with a psychologist named Sandra. Overall, the answers provided are satisfying, include some shocking moments, and definitely give a possible theory, of sorts, to Stephen’s condition and his aspects, but there are definitely a few plot holes, some missteps with the established lore, and a conclusion which feels a bit too nice and tidy. What really stuck out to me, though, was the much darker, less light-hearted vibe of the story; a circumstance which left me feeling a bit jarred out of my nice comfort zone.
Like many other readers, I have to say the most satisfying aspect of this collection is experiencing Stephen’s unique world filled with his imaginary alter egos. The constant banter, detailed discussions, and colorful personalities of all the different “aspects” keeping the detective stories filled with fun. But what makes Legion a more nuanced and addictive read is how Sanderson deftly adds many serious questions just under the surface though. Things like how and why Stephen creates and pretends that his different alter egos are real. These ongoing mysteries about Stephen and what is actually real in his world a nice brain puzzle for readers to enjoy in addition to the detective tale they are already reading.
My only complaint about the collection would be “Lies of the Beholder” attempting to do too much, answer too many questions, and wrap up Stephen’s tale in too few pages. No Sanderson story ever is unfinished or unpolished, but this novella just felt like it was missing too many pieces, skipping too many steps, making too many changes in an effort to arrive at a preordained place in a single leap. It wasn’t bad as much as it was incomplete, in my opinion.
Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds was an entertaining read any way you look at it. The concept of Stephen and his aspects is a unique, fun idea, which Brandon Sanderson capably handles. The mysteries Stephen finds himself embroiled in are entertaining and intriguing stories. And while I have issues with the third novella, it did not stumble to the point where I hold the book in less esteem, so I highly recommend this one to everyone out there.
I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.