Tag Archives: Brandon Sanderson

Review: Legion: Skin Deep, by Brandon Sanderson

Legion Skin DeepLegion: Skin Deep, by Brandon Sanderson (Dragonsteel Entertainment, 2014)

This is the second Legion novella, and I’m really enjoying the series. It’s an intriguing concept: what if an everyday-boring-normal guy is actually brilliant, but only because of his mental illness?

Doctors can’t quite label Stephen Leeds’ condition, but they think it’s a form of schizophrenia. Steve sees a host of imaginary characters called aspects. Each one is an aspect of his own personality, and each one is “unhinged” in his or her own way. Each is also an expert in some field of knowledge, based on what Steve has read. Fortunately for him, he’s a speed-reader and can also absorb audio books.

Steve has forty-seven aspects. The biblically literate will appreciate the “Legion” reference.

Here’s how he describes one of them:

Sarcasm was kind of her native tongue, though she was fluent in “stern disappointment” and “light condescension” as well. [chapter 1, page 4]

I love how he describes the office layout for the office building he visits, which is set up with a variety of informal, creativity-building opportunities:

Like a gorilla enclosure for nerds. [chapter 4, page 2]

Or this description of one of the engineers:

He wasn’t particularly overweight, but had some of the round edges that came from a life working a desk job. [chapter 5, page 1]

In this story, Steve must locate a dead body at the centre of high-stakes industrial espionage. With the minor complication that the other side has hired an assassin to stop him. At the same time, he struggles to manage his aspects, and he faces the possibility that he may be helpless without them.

Legion is a hybrid of science fiction and thriller, so it’s faster-paced than Brandon Sanderson’s fantasy novels. Same skill and deft touch, and a satisfying twist to the ending.

This is a mainstream novella, but I was surprised to find some mild profanity from this author.

Brandon Sanderson is best known for his epic fantasy novels, most notably the Mistborn and Stormlight series and the final books in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. For a real treat, listen to the opening five minutes of the audiobook version of Legion: Skin Deep from audible.com at SoundCloud (narrated by Oliver Wyman).

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Top 10 Books From 2014

‘Tis the season for “best of 2014” lists, and here are  my picks for top 10 books I’ve read this year. (Goodreads tells me I read 64… ouch! And I know I didn’t record everything there.) Some were published in 2014, and some are older. These are in no particular order, and each one is best in its own category.



My stash of books to read is already intimidating, but how about sharing some of your picks from 2014? I can always add a few more…

Review: The Emperor’s Soul, by Brandon Sanderson

The Emperor's Soul, by Brandon SandersonThe Emperor’s Soul, by Brandon Sanderson (Tachyon Publications, 2012)

Shai is a Forger. On her planet, that means a whole lot more than it does on ours. Instead of fabricating a reproduction of an original art piece, these Forgers replicate it through magic.

Forging is convenient. The Imperial Palace is furnished with junk—junk that’s been Forged into beautiful, period pieces. Unfortunately, humans can be Forged too. Thus it’s illegal outside of carefully-controlled use.

Shai is one of the best. Betrayed by an accomplice and sentenced to death, she’s offered one final chance: the impossible task of Forging the Emperor, who has been brain-damaged in an assassination attempt. With half the time she needs, no certainty of success, and the knowledge that her captors will kill her in the end, Shai sets to work—on the Emperor’s soul and on her escape plans.

There’s so much in this short novella. Shai is a person of integrity, an artist and a shrewd observer. Why does she Forge instead of creating original art? The ruling council who control her need the Emperor alive to prevent a power shift and thus maintain their own positions. What might they try for personal gain? And how much forbidden magic will they need to allow?

The ending grows organically from the story, yet I didn’t anticipate it. And the time spent with Shai and her counterpart, Gaotona, feels like time spent with friends. Definitely a satisfying read, and it won the 2013 Hugo Award for best novella. Click here for an excerpt of The Emperor’s Soul.

Brandon Sanderson is perhaps best known for his Mistborn books and as the author chosen to complete the Wheel of Time series after Robert Jordan’s death. You can find him at his website. Writers may be interested in his archived course material at Write About Dragons, and his podcasts at Writing Excuses.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Picks from 2013

My favourites from 2013:


Best of the year: also most satisfying series wrap-up:

Most satisfying mystery, and very close to best of the year:

Most can’t-wait-to-read-the-next-one mystery:

Most life-changing (fiction):

Most life-changing (non-fiction):

Most satisfying science fiction (and action):

Most satisfying fantasy novel:

Most satisfying speculative fiction:

  • Mask, by Kerry Nietz

Most satisfying historical:

Most laugh-inducing:

Most personally helpful writing how-to:


Most life-changing posts:

Review: The Alloy of Law, by Brandon Sanderson


The Alloy of Law: cover art

The Alloy of Law, by Brandon Sanderson (Tor Books, 2011)

Waxilium Ladrian is a frontier lawman with the Allomantic ability to mentally Push metal (a “coinshot” in the original Mistborn trilogy terminology). He’s also a good man with a gun.

Wax moves into the city of Elendel to manage his late uncle’s estate. It’s a struggle to reinvent himself to be acceptable in social circles … and to attract a wealthy bride to restore his house’s fortunes.

But his friend and former sidekick, Wayne, won’t let him forget his law-enforcement days. There’s a new gang of thieves at work and the local police are out of their league. Wax and Wayne 🙂 are a fun team to watch at work.

If you haven’t read the earlier Mistborn books, you can jump right in here. Much has changed since that trilogy, and anything needed is explained. Those who familiar with the first series will recognize little nods and tributes here and there.

The Alloy of Law takes place 300 years after the events of the original Mistborn series. In the acknowledgements section, the author says he plans to write two more epic trilogies on this planet, Scadrial: one urban and one futuristic, to show how the culture changes over time.

This novel, though, isn’t part of that. It’s shorter, and has a wild west / frontier town feel. It may be my favourite Brandon Sanderson book yet, possibly because it’s a bit faster-paced and still has his trademark threads of humour.

He doesn’t say anything about it being more than a stand-alone title, but the ending sets up enough problems for Wax and Wayne that I certainly hope there’ll be a sequel.

Visit the official Brandon Sanderson website for more about the author and his books, or see The Alloy of Law page for more about this story.

[Review copy borrowed from my son’s bookcase.]

Tips and Links on Writing Fiction

I took in as many writing workshops as I could at this year’s Hal-Con science fiction/ fantasy/ gaming convention. Many of the writing tips apply across fiction genres, so I thought I’d share some of my notes:

From C. S. MacCath: a great overview of open-source (or minimal cost) software for things like organizing notes, story creation, mind mapping and backups. See her Technology for Writers page on her website.

From Matt LeDrew and Ellen Curtis of Engen Books:

  • Sometimes, instead of a villain, you need a foil for the main character.
  • Find out who your characters are outside of the story.
  • If your characters are too similar, let that type be your main character (MC); designate another to always agree, another to always want to prove MC wrong, and another to have yet a different quirk. (Not to create plastic characters, but to train yourself to write with variety. You can edit any stiffness out later.)

From Elizabeth Moon (who was not at the convention, but whose novel, Engaging the Enemy, I slipped off to read between sessions):

  • Two characters had different strategies to understand their enemy. Both points made good sense for a writer presenting a character:
    • “What he does tells us who he is, what he’s really like.”
    • “What he wears tells us who he thinks he is.”

From Brandon Sanderson:

  • Revolve your plot around conflict.
  • Don’t make your main character an observer; make her the centre of the conflict. She needs to make the plot move, although the story opening can be a call to action where she’s pushed into the plot.
  • Story structure needs to maintain a good sense of progression on multiple levels; the reader’s feeling of movement is what keeps him turning pages.
  • What does the character want, and why can’t he have it?
    • what does he want = larger than this story’s plot
    • why can’t he have it = plot
    • Be intentional in your story opening about the promises you make; fulfill them.
      • genre/ feel/ style
      • make sure your ending wraps up what your opening raised
      • Nest multiple plot threads by priority (start the most important first, end it last)
      • Videos of his 2012 writing lectures are posted at Write About Dragons.
      • He’s one of the team at Writing Excuses (podcasts and news updates). I love their tag line: “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.”

Random bonus photo: Hal-Con’s mascot, Nelson, with my Adventure Sheep, Acton, at a Hal-Con fundraising barbecue hosted by the fine folks at Giant Robot Comics.

Hal-Con's Mascot, Nelson, with Acton the Sheep

Hal-Con’s Mascot, Nelson, with Acton the Sheep