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[BOOK REVIEW] Legion by Brandon Sanderson

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Thriller
Audible Audio Edition
Listening Length: 2 hours and 8 minutes
Program Type: Audiobook
Version: Unabridged
Publisher: Audible Frontiers
Audible.com Release Date: October 2, 2012
Language: English
Author Website: Brandon Sanderson

Legion is one of the most disappointing “books” by Sanderson I have read. Up till now, I have to say I have been a Sanderson devotee. Way of Kings? Super. Mistborn? Clever. Warbreaker? Funny and epic. Same goes for his kids books. Legion, on the other hand, barely rates. My issue with the narrative comes from its plotting – long lead in culminating in a rapid, commonplace conclusion – and the unfulfilled promise of its themes. The outcome is an intriguing thought-experiment that builds and builds to an epic conclusion only to wrap up quickly, prosaically and hackneyed.

The premise is an exemplar of Sanderson’s usual cleverness. Stephen Leeds, an individually uniquely gifted by the presence of numerous avatars/ghosts (hence the nickname Legion) has turned his strange schizophrenia into an asset. Each avatar is a genius, or at least fairly skilled, in one area. For instance, one of his ghosts (also the comic relief) is a gun expert, another a philosopher, still another a psychiatrist. Each of these apparitions – which appear only to the average-Joe Stephen – combine skills and interact with each other to turn Stephen into a supergenius able to solve any problem.

So far, so interesting. Then it all goes prosaic, even dull. Stephen is hired by a private company to recover a camera able to take pictures of the past. Stolen by its own creator it is believe that Stephen’s uncanny ability’s will lead the research company to the missing artifact. And so the story goes.

Real potential for an interesting story crops up along the way. After a long and detailed explanation of Leeds particular high-functioning psychosis there is real potential for a story dealing with the nature of reality and the root of knowledge. The camera aspect of the thriller that follows the character building provides hints but doesn’t dive deep enough. A conversation between Leeds and the woman who hires him on behalf of the research company begins but goes nowhere.

In the story, it is believed that the person who stole the camera wants to use it to take pictures of the most central event of history – the death of Jesus. Apparently he wants to reconcile his physicist calling with his orthodox beliefs. This opens up the gateway to possible discussion of the faith/science discussion. Yet this intriguing potentiality is laid by the wayside when the action of the espionage story must (it seems) take over.

Each of these themes crops up during the long build-up of the story to the actual encounter between Leeds and physicist but ultimately do little to actually explore the topic. In the latter third of the novella the reader is treated to a spy/espionage action sequence that folds up the story rapidly. It is as if, having begun his thought-experiment, Sanderson could not follow through and just had to wrap the story up somehow.

[BEGIN SPOILERS]

I think the worst part, to me, is that as a Christian, I desperately wanted Legion to work. No doubt, I found the final image in the story arresting in its description. I did feel that open-ended description failed to be conclusive, but I did get what Sanderson was doing. Each of reader is Legion, divided within and seeing people that aren’t there just so each of us can get through life. And perhaps we too can find solace and salvation in an image of a perfect, whole man, or as Leeds ultimately decides, we might be better off not knowing, just believing. But even I, as someone who holds firmly to belief and faith in Jesus’s death and resurrection, found Leeds (i.e. Sanderson’s) conclusion about belief rather trite and off-putting.

[END SPOILERS]

Legion is a disappointing offering for Sanderson. It has lots of potential, but would have been better left in a file for a while to be brought out and dusted off after Sanderson had let it mull for a while or done more research into faith and belief and their relationship to science. That being said, I do find the character of Stephen Leeds intriguing, and would like to see some straight-up urban fantasy / mystery type stories featuring this character.

I chose to listen to the audiobook version of this story, given away for free by Audible.com for a short time. Though I found the story itself lacking, that was not for lack of it being well-read by Oliver Wyman. Wyman captures the voice and emotion of Leeds excellently, and even when a female is talking, Wyman’s lush voice never made this listener feel it was a man attempting a woman’s voice, but rather that a conversation was taking place, even without modulating his reading overmuch. Since the story is being offered for free through 12/31/12 in audio format, should you choose to read this book, I do recommend the audiobook edition.