Fun and thrilling to dark, poignant and intimate, Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds have them all.
This omnibus was my second venture into Sanderson’s non-Cosmere book/trilogy; the first one being Snapshot. Once again, Sanderson didn’t disappoint. Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds is an omnibus that encapsulated Sanderson’s Legion trilogy into one volume, specifically, Legion, Legion: Skin Deep, and Legion: Lies of the Beholder. If you haven’t read any of the trilogy, I strongly suggest you get this edition.
“My name is Stephen Leeds, and I am perfectly sane. My hallucinations, however, are all quite mad.”
The story in this trilogy is centered on Stephen Leeds and his hallucinations. At its core, this is a detective story tinged with a bit of superhero aspect. Each book in the trilogy features a standalone story. The first book introduced us to the characters and the setting nicely but admittedly, although I enjoyed this one, it was still too short even for a novella. The second book was a great improvement as the pages count increased, there was more room to develop the story and characters that have been introduced in the previous installment. Finally, the third and final book concluded Stephen Leeds story wonderfully.
“You should know by now that I’ve already had greatness. I traded it for mediocrity and some measure of sanity.”
The tone of the story in the first two books was light-hearted and fun, but the third book took a darker tone as Stephen deals with his declining mental state more. This brings the third book to be my favorite of the trilogy; it was intense, well-written, and well-paced. I know that there will be a lot of readers disappointed by how the story ended but I personally loved it. Lies of the Beholder ended on a bittersweet and personal (for Sanderson) note. In my opinion, not only Sanderson greatly explored how scary mental illness can be, if you’ve read a lot of Sanderson’s books then you should also realize that he pretty much channeled himself brilliantly into the character of Stephen Leeds within the final section of the series to conclude the trilogy on an intimate note.
“All the things that matter in life are the things you can’t measure.”
The characters of the book may not be included in some of the best characters that Sanderson ever wrote, but they were still well-written. Although the story was told exclusively from Stephen’s perspective in first person POV, to me it was the side characters that made Stephen’s character felt more alive. The side characters—the aspects/hallucinations—have such distinctive and well-fleshed out personality. J.C, Ivy, Tobias, and Audrey easily took the spotlight of the book for me. I love Stephen’s interaction with his hallucinations and the hallucinations have a fascinating relationship with each other.
“Well, when the fear of death seizes you—when the dark thoughts come—you stare the darkness right back, and you tell it, ‘I will not listen to you, for I am infinite Batmans.”
As I mentioned before, this was one of the very rare occurrences where Sanderson utilized first-person narration. Admittedly, I prefer Sanderson when he’s writing in third-person perspective but the first-person approach was definitely more suitable for the kind of story featured in this trilogy. As usual, the writing was still vivid and very easy to read and digest. I know that a lot of people hated Sanderson’s simplistic prose, I personally loved it. It’s a great feeling to be able to read a book while you’re tired without feeling like you won’t be able to appreciate the story because you have to juggle through mazes of words that’s heavier than skyscraper *cough*Kharkanas trilogy*cough.
My minor con was the lack of intricate world-building and hard-rule magic system that has always been a staple in Sanderson’s Cosmere work. Although understandable because the setting of the series takes place in our world, I still miss it. Some of Sanderson’s greatest talent as an author is his capability to tell a detailed world-building full of history and lore that’s accompanied by an incredible magic system while making sure they’re easy for readers to follow. None of them are here. The magic (hallucinations) also felt quite Deus ex Machina-ish. The only other series I know which utilized mental illness as their magic system was Michael R. Fletcher’s Manifest Delusions and in my opinion, Fletcher did it so much better.
Reading this in the omnibus edition also adds extra depths to the story. Each chapter begins with a Rorschach image that displayed Stephen’s mental and psychological state. Sanderson has also mentioned in the acknowledgment section of this omnibus how the concluding installment of this book is the most personal book he has ever written so far. If you’ve read a lot of Sanderson’s books, you’ll know the reason behind this when you read the final chapter and epilogue of Lies of the Beholder. If you don’t know, I strongly suggest reading his blog post: Voices in my Head: Part Three AFTER you finished the trilogy so that you’ll be able to appreciate the nuances behind the ending of the series. Below this is an excerpt taken from the blog post:
“And yet, by the end of the third one, I had indeed expressed something that was deeply personal—and real in ways that it is still strange to me that a piece of fiction can reach.
But that’s the point of stories, or at least one of them. A medium through which we can all connect in ways that we never could solely by explaining ourselves. Because art reaches inside us, and expresses aspects of ourselves that aren’t deliberate, there’s a truth and genuineness to it. A raw sincerity that isn’t always about which part of the three-act structure you’re crossing right now, or which part of a character arc this event is fulfilling. Those are important to give us a framework. But it is not itself the art.
The structure is the skeleton, but the art is the eyes. The part you can see into and feel it looking back at you. The part that somehow—despite my best attempts to quantify it—is a soul that lives on its own, and defies explanation.” – Brandon Sanderson
And with that, it’s time to close another review for Sanderson’s books. Not gonna lie, I’m starting to feel anxious that I don’t have a lot of Sanderson books left to read. I’ve read and reviewed more than twenty Sanderson’s books and I must say that—excluding White Sands—I loved every one of them; including his non-Cosmere works. Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds was fun, thrilling, original, and bittersweet. I highly recommend this omnibus to anyone who’s looking for a short satisfying trilogy to read. As far as novella goes, this trilogy was awesome.
Legion: 3.5/5 stars
Skin Deep: 4/5 stars
Lies of the Beholder: 4.5/5 stars
Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds: 12/15 stars
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