#GollanczFest15—Legion: Skin Deep: Hallucination Game Afoot

Legion: Skin Deep, by Brandon Sanderson

Published: 2014

Rating: 4/5

“It can be damn hard to enjoy a date when your hallucinations are along,” quips protagonist Stephen Leeds in Brandon Sanderson’s second Legion novella, Skin Deep. Such is Leeds’ greatest strength and weakness—his ability to compartmentalise the troves of information he can consume and call upon whenever he wishes, in the form of hallucinated personalities. But these hallucinations come and go as they please, making Leeds not one lead character but many. Their presence always makes him look crazy, so it can be difficult to do something as ordinarily social as a dinner date.

Leeds’ ability to learn vast amounts of information mean he—or rather, his personalities—are experts in many fields, making him an excellent detective. In this instalment, Leeds is called upon by an old friend to investigate the disappearance of a corpse that may have highly valuable and dangerous information encoded into its DNA. What follows is an expertly woven story full of assassins, corporate espionage and a butler who doubles as pretty much anything Leeds needs.

Where Legion: Skin Deep excels is the interactions between hallucinations and Leeds, as they attempt to untangle the mystery and Leeds tries to hold everyone together. They walk a very thin line between sane and insane, and accidents such as an assassin leaving several of the most prominent hallucinations stranded as she kidnaps Leeds leaves him struggling to hold reality together. He can’t just will them to his location, because that would be unrealistic, and Leeds does everything he can to hold on to whatever reality is available, so he can call on his hallucinations and put the knowledge in his head to good use.

As mysteries go, Legion: Skin Deep does very well to take few liberties with the reader’s ability to suspend disbelief. That is already maxed out with Leeds and his hallucinations, after all. So the story and the investigation is unfolded simply, with no twists or turns that put the reader out. This is not to say that the mystery is easy to solve—where the corpse shows up is a surprise—but Sanderson holds back on the weird and unexpected and uses it to full effect with Leeds, who has to juggle imaginary husbands, video calling and hallucinations with their own mental baggage.

Legion: Skin Deep also works well as a novella. Its chapters all start mid-sentence, giving it a fast pace that makes the novella easy to devour in a single sitting. Should Sanderson opt for a full Legion novel, it will be interesting to see what mental banana skins he puts in the way of Leeds and his merry band of imagined men, because they work well in short, sharp doses. If they are given 300 or more pages to develop, Leeds’ weak grip on reality may be tested to the very limit.

Brandon Sanderson’s Legion: Skin Deep a mysterious romp full of many personalities. It’s short, sharp and well-executed, without really blowing the reader’s mind. More please.

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