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Book review: 'Legion' explores one of Brandon Sanderson’s most interesting (and insane) characters yet

"LEGION: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds," Brandon Sanderson, Tor Books, 340 pages

In "Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds," Brandon Sanderson steps away from the massive tomes he’s known for writing and embraces the much smaller novella, offering short, punchy and thoughtful adventures from the life and mind of one of his most brilliant (and maybe craziest) characters.

Like the mind of its titular hero, Sanderson’s latest book is fragmented — one story told in three novellas. Loyal Sanderfans may have already read the first two novellas included in the book, "Legion" and "Skin Deep," both published in 2012 and 2014, respectively. It’s the third and final novella, "Lies of the Beholder," they’ll be most interested in, as it completes Stephen's story and caps the trilogy with a satisfying, albeit quick, resolution.

Stephen Leeds is a private detective with a legion of experts at his disposal. Among his confidants is his therapist, a woman with a gift for reading people and catching them in their lies; an ex-Navy seal who’s trained Stephen to escape from and defend himself in tight situations; the history buff who proves to be a trove of knowledge on nearly every subject. Others include a handwriting expert, a language interpreter and a physicist, among many (dozens of) others.

Except none of Stephen’s experts are real. They only exist inside his mind as hallucinations.

Brandon Sanderson is a Utah author with numerous bestsellers to his name. His original "Mistborn" trilogy was completed 10 years ago and will eventually include 13 books.
Brandon Sanderson is a Utah author with numerous bestsellers to his name. His original "Mistborn" trilogy was completed 10 years ago and will eventually include 13 books.
Provided by Adam Horne

Interacting with and summoning these hallucinations makes Stephen an expert on just about any subject. It also makes him a great detective and a little bit insane. In the first two novellas, Stephen is hired to track down and retrieve stolen property — a camera with spectacular abilities and a corpse modified to act as a storage device. Stephen is forced to confront his mental state at each turn, exposing the brilliance of his mind while chipping away at his sanity.

Bound together, the three novellas feel like a television show, with each story the episode of a series. But the nature of their shorter length has its limits — and they’re noticeable. Such an interesting premise deserves deep exploration, but the stories never have enough breath to truly flesh out the themes and world as much as the reader may want. Stephen’s story feels more like an action adventure in the vein of "Mission Impossible" than a study of the mind like Christopher Nolan’s "Inception," though there are moments where it seems to want to be the latter.

The final novella, "Lies of the Beholder," suffers from its length more than its predecessors. While mostly satisfying, answering questions posed back in the first novella, it feels rushed, reading more like the epilogue to a story rather than a fully fleshed out story on its own.

That’s not to say "Legion" lacks depth. The intersection of psychology, philosophy and religion is prominently discussed in Sanderson’s novellas, not unlike many of his novels. And these discussions fit surprisingly well given the subject matter. "Legion" will leave readers pondering over the link between reality, heart and mind long after turning the final page. In fact, Sanderson said writing the novellas was an introspective and personal experience in the book’s preface.

Ultimately, "Legion" might not stand as tall as some of Sanderson’s better-known works, but there’s a lot to love. Like Stephen Leeds himself, the novellas are flawed but captivating. Quirky characters, thoughtful ideas and action-packed stories make it the perfect binge read for anyone who wants a dash of excitement with a tinge of insanity and introspection in their life.

Content advisory: "Legion" contains mild violence and mild cursing.