Legion: Skin Deep

Given the enormous size of his novels, I had always wondered if Brandon Sanderson could write good short fiction. Considering just how bloated his latest works were, I doubted that short stories and novellas could be a format that he would be comfortable with. And yet, his Legion novella turned out to be the opening chapter of what I felt could be Sanderson's most fascinating creation yet. Some say that good things come in small packages and in this case they were absolutely right!

So when the sequel, Legion: Skin Deep, was part of a Subpress package I recently picked up at the post office, I knew I was giving this one a shot ASAP!

Here's the blurb:

Brandon Sanderson is one of the most significant fantasists to enter the field in a good many years. His ambitious, multi-volume epics (Mistborn, The Stormlight Archive) and his stellar continuation of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series have earned both critical acclaim and a substantial popular following. In Legion, a short, distinctly contemporary novella filled with suspense, humor, and an endless flow of invention, Sanderson revealed a startling new facet of his singular narrative talent. In the stunning sequel, Legion: Skin Deep, that talent is on full display.

Stephen Leeds, AKA “Legion,” is a man whose unique mental condition allows him to generate a multitude of personae: hallucinatory entities with a wide variety of personal characteristics and a vast array of highly specialized skills. As the new story begins, Leeds and his “aspects” are hired by I3 (Innovative Information Incorporated) to recover a corpse stolen from the local morgue. But there’s a catch. The corpse is that of a pioneer in the field of experimental biotechnology, a man whose work concerned the use of the human body as a massive storage device. He may have embedded something in the cells of his now dead body. And that something might be dangerous…

What follows is a visionary thriller about the potential uses of technology, the mysteries of the human personality, and the ancient human need to believe that death is not the end. Legion: Skin Deep is speculative fiction at it most highly developed. It reaffirms Sanderson’s place as one of contemporary fiction’s most intelligent—and unpredictable—voices.

Legion: Skin Deep will feature a full-color dust jacket, and two full-page, full-color interior illustrations by Jon Foster.

In addition, upon publication, everyone who has preordered Legion: Skin Deep direct from SubPress will receive a free copy of the ebook.

It was with pleasure that I got reacquainted with the main protagonist, Stephen Leeds. The man suffers or benefits from a very strange mental condition. He has the ability to create a variety of hallucinations possessing a vast array of personalities and skills. These personae live with Leeds and continue to help/hinder him as he attempts to live a life as normal as a man with such a mental condition can hope for. While reading the first novella, I was afraid that having to deal with multiple personalities would be tricky, but Sanderson pulled it off with aplomb. Indeed, this is what gave Legion such a unique flavor. And the author pushes the envelope even more by introducing yet more hallucinatory men and women to help Leeds crack this new case. Somehow, he pulls it off again and Legion: Skin Deep is even more ambitious than its predecessor.

The first person narrative of Stephen Leeds continues to be what makes these novellas so special. Witnessing events unfold through Leeds'e eyes allows readers to get better acquainted with the various hallucinatory personae, which is a real treat. The decidedly thought-provoking premise, that the human body and its cells can be used as vast receptacles to store information, leads Sanderson to explore the potential use of biotechnology and its repercussions. Which makes for a very interesting read.

The novella format keeps the pace moving briskly. Even if it is more than twice as long as its predecessor, all too quickly we reach the end of Legion: Skin Deep, hoping that there is more to come. Once more, there is a lot more depth than meets the eye, and it is evident that the Legion novellas will doubtless be an engrossing and entertaining series. Brandon Sanderson remains ambitious as ever, even if with a novella he couldn't work with the sort of scope he is used to with novel-length projects.

Once again, I find myself hoping that we'll have the opportunity to discover more about Stephen Leeds and his hallucinations in the near future, and that those new adventures will also be in the form of short stories or novellas. The strictures of writing short fiction forces Sanderson to write with a much tighter focus, which makes for a more satisfying reading experience. The author has a tendency to concentrate on extraneous plotlines that don't always have much importance in the greater scheme of things. These meandering storylines habitually kill the flow of a novel and are often just filler material. Not so in Legion: Skin Deep. The format insures that it's mostly killer and no filler.

Legion: Skin Deep will please Sanderson's legions (Sorry for the same pun again. I couldn't resist!) of fans and will probably gain him some new followers. God knows I'm looking forward to what comes next!

The final verdict: 7.75/10

For more info about this title, check out the Subterranean Press website.

For those interested in these novellas, you can still download the first one, Legion, for only 2.99$ here.

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