Narrator: Oliver Wyman
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Series: Legion #1.5
Length: 5 hours and 54 minutes
Published by Recorded Books on June 7, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo
From #1 New York Times Bestselling, Hugo Award-winning author, Brandon Sanderson, and co-authors Max Epstein, David Pace, and Michael Harkins comes an audio-first techno-thriller addition to the universe of Stephen (Legion) Leeds.
Stephen Leeds is perfectly sane. It’s his hallucinations who are all quite mad.
A one-man team of experts, Stephen Leeds is a genius of unparalleled mental capabilities who can learn new skills or master entire scholarly disciplines in mere hours. However, these skills come at a price. Stephen must compartmentalize his brain, with each of his new skill sets being held by an “aspect”—a hallucination his mind creates with their own fully-developed personality, life, and limitations. Without these aspects, and the delicate construct of reality they provide for him, Stephen is unable to control his mind and engage with the real world.
So when an unprecedented Internal Revenue Service data breach stumps the FBI, Stephen is brought in to investigate. With the help of his aspects, he must uncover the connection between millions of stolen tax returns, a mysterious hacker named Enoch, a strange, cutting-edge technology that uses soundwaves to transfer data, and a nearly extinct Mesopotamian religion which once rivaled Christianity. What Leeds discovers along the way will reveal the devastating consequences of this new technology, test the limits of his aspects, and lead him face to face with a man hell-bent on vengeance, for which no cost is too high.
Stephen Leeds: Death and Faxes is a new entry in Brandon Sanderson’s Stephen Leeds saga and chronologically takes place between the novellas Legion and Legion: Lies of the Beholder.
The case that finds Stephen Leeds in this audio-only entry in the Legion series is rather more mundane – and initially less personal – than the cases he solved in the three novellas that make up Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds; Legion, Skin Deep and Lies of the Beholder.
Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is left up to the reader – or in this case listener – to judge.
The title gives a hint, as it’s both a play on the saying about the inevitability of ‘death and taxes’ as well as a mystery that begins with a very high-tech application of a rather old technology. A massive data breach at an IRS datacenter has been perpetrated by using the still-functioning fax machines as both a backdoor into the once-believed secure system AND a method of transmitting sound waves that can either soothe or destroy.
Those sound waves certainly soothed the IRS staff into an entire afternoon of hazy dreaming that allowed the hack to take place while the entire staff was quite literally blissfully unaware – and unremembering.
That’s not the case when Stephen Leeds is finally called in. With the help of his ‘aspects’, his mental projections of the many facets of his strange genius, he was able to determine both when and how the hack took place.
Which is when the mysterious hacker struck directly at Stephen and his abilities for the first, but absolutely not the last, time, rendering his aspects comatose and taking Stephen himself nearly to the edge of collapse.
It’s only the beginning, because Stephen is determined to get to the bottom of this case, following a trail of victims around the country even as the structure of his increasingly fragile mental landscape falls into tatters.
While a seemingly omniscient enemy waits in the shadows of cyberspace, blocking Stephen’s every avenue to both resolution and escape.
Except one, hidden in the very place that the hacker has done his best to destroy. Inside Stephen Leeds’ own mind.
Escape Rating B-: I have mixed feelings about this one, and I’m not even sure if I can completely articulate why. But I’m certainly going to try.
I picked this up because I loved this series as it originally stood, which may be part of the problem. Initially, the Legion series was really a single story broken up into three parts that were published as separate novellas. It may not have been intended that way when the first book, Legion, was published 2012, but by the time the third book, Lies of the Beholder, came out in 2018 it seemed as if the trilogy told a complete story that came to a satisfying ending for the whole thing – even if, or especially because – it was a bit of a mind screw at the end.
So I wasn’t expecting to see Stephen Leeds again when I found this audio-only entry in the series. An entry that doesn’t occur AFTER Lies of the Beholder, but instead between the first book, Legion, and the second book, Skin Deep. So it took a bit of mental adjustment on my part to get back into the world of ten years ago and back into what was then still an incomplete story.
In other words, Stephen Leeds had himself and the aspects of his genius a bit better figured out by the end of the final book, so it was weird to see him back to a more uncertain state of himself. A combination of angst, uncertainty and even impostor syndrome that felt like it pervaded this book even more than in the stories published previously.
At the same time, it also seemed as if that very angst and uncertainty was an intent of the mysterious hacker, and it’s a part of Stephen’s perspective that didn’t get fully resolved at the end.
One of the things that struck me about Death and Faxes, and it’s the impression I’m left with now that I’ve finished, is that Stephen doesn’t feel quite like himself in this story – although his aspects are very well drawn. As this production was a cooperative effort rather than just a single writer, it may be that the characterization felt a bit off because this time around it ironically came from more than one mind – just as Stephen’s genius often appears to.
Also, Leeds just plain angsts a LOT in this story, even more than in the other parts of the series, and that angst dragged the resolution of the mystery out even more than the hacker’s admitted genius and manipulation did. This was a case where I would have gladly switched to text, just to get on with it, if there had been one, but there isn’t.
So, a whole lot of mixed feelings, leaving me with the conclusion that fans of the series, like me, will probably enjoy the trip down memory lane to visit Stephen and his aspects again. (However, the comment in the blurb about Stephen being perfectly sane but his hallucinations all being quite mad isn’t merely a bit off – it’s completely wrong. A fair number of his aspects are quirky and/or eccentric, but none of them are actually ‘mad’, and neither is Stephen Leeds. His coping mechanism is just eccentric and sometimes expensive, but works for him and does no harm to anyone else. There are worse ways to get by.)
If you’ve enjoyed the previous entries in the series, Death and Faxes is an interesting but not 100% successful addition to Leeds’ story. And if you’ve listened to any of the other books in the series, that this production is voiced by Oliver Wyman, the same actor who worked on the rest of the series, helps carry the listener along into accepting this later work as part of the whole.
But if the description of Stephen Leeds’ genius and methods of coping with it sound like fun but you’ve not met him before, it would be better to start your acquaintance with the first exploration of Stephen’s journey in Legion.