All the things that matter in life are the things you can't measure…
This omnibus collects the first two novellas, Legion and Skin Deep, both previously released as individual volumes, and the final new instalment, Lies of the Beholder, which provides closure to Stephen Leed's story. Each story pretty much stands on its own but together forms a cohesive and continuous narrative with important elements carried forward from one to the next.
The blurb for Legion is quite well-known already, and most of you who have an interest in the book would probably know its basic premise. Stephen Leeds is a genius with an unparalleled aptitude to learn at an astonishing rate. However, his mind needs to conjure up hallucinations to contain the knowledge and manifest the expertise that he himself is unable to utilise directly. These hallucinations, whom he terms as ‘aspects', have their own distinct personalities, and even their own lives. With its psychological angle, the story is necessarily written in the first-person perspective of Stephen Leeds to place the readers right into his head and mind. And what a mind he has, to keep up with around four dozen aspects - each with a certain idiosyncrasy and quirk which could very well be a personification of one or more of his personality traits, but scattered across many imaginary human beings.
The aspects have all the character. I try hard not to stand out. Because I am not crazy.
One thing from the usual Sanderson narrative that is absent here is worldbuilding. The tale takes place on good old earth, and mainly in the United States of America. The plots are centred around a mystery or puzzle that Leeds and his imaginary crew of experts have been tasked to solve. But the primary objective of the story is the characterization of Leeds and his aspects. While Leeds has a busload of aspects that can assist him with various specialised tasks, the ones we see the most are those he is most reliant on to keep him sane and safe - J.C., Ivy and Tobias. These aspects are characters who feel utterly real, both in their personalities and the manner in which they interact with each other in Leed's imagination. I didn't miss the typical worldbuilding of Sanderson's books here because he made up for its absence in the pacing (these are short books as far as he is concerned) and fascinating characterization.
Before I proceed to talk about the ending, I need to point out that I am quite an obsessive Sanderson fan. I follow Sanderson on possibly every social media platform (Reddit, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter), I've read all his blog posts, watched/listened to most of his taped appearances on YouTube, and even participated in his recent Google Hangout Session for the Read for Pixels Campaign. I am also a regular visitor of the 17th Shard and the 'Words of Brandon' Arcanum.
With the knowledge about Sanderson that I've gathered over the years through these means, the poignant and bittersweet ending of Leed's story resonated most keenly as being a personal matter for the author. A more casual reader of Sanderson's books might not be as taken in by the conclusion. I reacted with a gasp and a lump in my throat when I realised what Sanderson was attempting to portray in this tale as I read the last few paragraphs, or at least what I thought he was trying to do. That he has also been releasing a three-part series of essays on his blog called 'Voices in My Head', in conjunction with the release of this book, alludes to where this story of Stephen Leeds comes from. (At the time of writing this review, the third part of ‘Voices in My Head' which will talk about the Legion stories specifically has yet to be published).
One more thing I need to mention is the ingenious use of the inkblot images at the beginning of each chapter – those which are used by the Rorschach test to perform psychological evaluations of its test subjects. This inkblot image begins as a couple of dots and gradually spreads into a bigger one with each chapter as the story progresses. After a certain point, I can already make out what I am seeing. And then something else starts happening to that image. Ahhh - simply brilliant, especially considering that the ‘magic' in this book is based on psychological powers.
While the story of Legion does not have the epic worldbuilding and magic systems that Sanderson is so well-known for in his fantasy series, it nonetheless carries his trademark storytelling ability. The moment I started reading the new story, Lies of the Beholder, I simply could not put it down until the end. Even though I will always admit to a personal bias for anything Sanderson produces, this is a clever and engaging piece of writing that explores human psychology and personalities.