Stephen Leeds is a truly unique individual. There are forty-seven people (and counting) living in his house, each of whom specialize in different things, like botany, biology, security, psychology, handwriting analysis, etc. These people have personalities and talents and fears and all come from different cultures and religious backgrounds. And all of them are hallucinations.
Stephen doesn’t really have multiple personality disorder, because he is completely aware of and actively participates in the maintaining of his aspects. He uses them as a sort of extension of himself, ways to keep certain kinds of knowledge. And they follow him around all day, helping and annoying him in turn. Two of his aspects have even struck up an on-again off-again love/hate relationship. The consensus (largely) is that he’s a genius who compartmentalizes his knowledge in a very, er,specialized way.
In fact, Stephen is sort of famous. His life is often reported in the tabloids. He’s very rich (he employs a butler named Wilson who he pays to pretend his hallucinations are real by doing things like actually serving them drinks, and he has a house big enough so that every one of his aspects can have their own room). It is every psychologist’s dream to meet and study him. His case has been written about hundreds of times.
And what does he do? He uses his aspects to solve crimes and to help people. (For money, of course. He’s not a saint.)
I’m not sure I liked this one as much as the last one, but perhaps that’s because I read it in audiobook, and I read the last one in hardcover. It’s probably because the mystery Stephen was solving in the last one was inherently more interesting to me than the whole being chased by an assassin, trying to find a body that holds the secret to how to use human bodies as computers thing this one’s got going on. I did really enjoy the way that Sanderson pushed and explored the concept of Stephen’s aspects in Skin Deep. Some of them have trouble accepting that they’re not real, and all of them have one psychosis or another, while Stephen (except for the aspects themselves) has none at all. In this one, in order to preserve his sanity, one of the aspects decides he’s an interdimensional Time Ranger and that instead of being imaginary, he’s actually being called by Stephen from another dimension.
And maybe I’m just reaching here, but this whole book I felt like Sanderson was hinting there was something else going on with Stephen’s ability/aspects. We’re probably going to have to wait a while for the next book in the series though, so I’m not going to think too hard about it.
This series is fun, but altogether, I don’t think it’s really representative of what Sanderson can do. I think he’s at his best when he’s writing epic fantasy, but of course you’re free to disagree. As long as you’re comfortable being wrong.