Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Double Review: Legion and The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson

How does a man known for his 400,000 word behemoths contain himself to a mere novella? How does he condense his runaway mind into a fraction of the size? In this dual review I’ll take a look at his two novellas to try and figure out how he managed it, and if he was successful.

Shai is a Forger, a foreigner who can flawlessly copy and re-create any item by rewriting its history with skillful magic. Though condemned to death after trying to steal the emperor's sceptre, she is given one opportunity to save herself. Despite the fact that her skill as a Forger is considered an abomination by her captors, Shai will attempt to create a new soul for the emperor, who is almost dead from the attack of assassins.

Skillfully deducing the machinations of her captors, Shai needs a perfect plan to escape. The fate of the empire lies in one impossible task. Is it possible to create a forgery of a soul so convincing that it is better than the soul itself?

Well, if the Hugo nominations are anything to go by, then The Emperor’s Soul certainly was. I know this will come as a shock, but it had a very cool, new magic system. It had all the laws and boundaries that we’ve come to expect from Sanderson, and as cool and interesting as it is this was my main problem with the story. At times it read like an instruction manual in Forgery with little practical application of the magic. The story wouldn’t have suffered, indeed it may have benefited, if some of the details of the magic were omitted and the reader was left to fill in the blanks. I realise that anyone who’s read any of Sanderson’s novels will be chortling to themselves thinking “Silly reviewer type person, that isn’t possible for our Brandon,” but that is exactly what he did with Legion. Sure, he explains it well, but he doesn’t go into his normal amount of detail and there is enough grey around the edges for you to imagine what else could be possible. This may be because there isn’t a magic system which he has created, but a mental illness that cannot be as rigid or rule-bound as he would like.

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 specialised skills. As the story begins, Leeds and his 'aspects' are drawn into the search for the missing Balubal Razon, inventor of a camera whose astonishing properties could alter our understanding of human history and change the very structure of society.

I found Legion to be a much tighter, more enjoyable read. It was quite funny in some places, and the idea of the various aspects (the hallucinations, if you will) was really good. The pace is spot on, going from witty introduction, establishing the plot to the culmination. There wasn’t any wasted effort and the different segments each had the right amount or time spent on them. In The Emperor’s Soul, the introduction is over fairly quickly and then the main character is just in one room for the majority of the story. All the tension and danger comes from her thoughts and introspection and she is never really at risk until the end, which is rather abrupt and overly happy. 

So, what does this tell us (me)? Well, I think it shows that Sanderson is epic fantasy through and
through. To do his version of magic, to follow his magic system rules, needs much more space and time, and above all, a higher word count. The story of The Emperor's Soul relied on the magic system for its motivation and its theme and, for me, it got bound up on that. Legion, without a magic system, had time to concentrate on the story and humour and was stronger for it. I don’t think it a coincidence that The Emperor's Soul is the longer of the two novellas. For the record, I am a massive fan of Sanderson’s magic systems, particularly Allomancy (Mistborn), and I love the detail that he gives us. I just think you need time to drip feed it in.

Fans of Sanderson will gobble both of these up, and rightly so. Both are very enjoyable and obviously quick reads. There are Easter eggs in The Emperor's Soul which relate to his Cosmere so and it is set in the same world as Elantris, which I enjoyed very much.

I would really like to read more of Legion, and I think it is in Sanderson’s plans to write more of them so I am eagerly anticipating their release. If this was the last we read of Shai and the Forgers I wouldn’t overly miss them. Please, tell us what you think!


About the reviewer:
Alex can be found in the rolling hills of Oxfordshire, splitting his time unevenly between fighting crime and raising two little boys (which is surprisingly similar). When he does find a spare moment he crams it full of fantasy or basketball, and due to rapidly ageing knees it's mostly fantasy these days. He's trying to learn the writing craft through sheer bloody mindedness and dreams of the day he has to do nothing else. If you're so inclined you can watch him stalk writers on Twitter - @shep5377

1 comment:

Hannah @ Once Upon A Time said...

Sanderson loves creating little projects for himself, doesn't he? I love that about him!