May 20 2013 4:25pm

The Wheel of Time Unfettered: A Non-Spoiler Review of “River of Souls”

Unfettered Wheel of Time River of SoulsHi-ho,! Leigh Butler here, of The Wheel of Time Re-read!

As dictated by my accidental semi-cornering of the hilariously specific niche market of Commenter on All Things Wheel of Time, it is my pleasure to bring you a spoiler-free advance review of “River of Souls”, Brandon Sanderson’s (and Robert Jordan’s) contribution to the epic fantasy anthology Unfettered, due out this month.

Pretty cool, eh? Why, yes, yes it is. Click the jump to find out what I thought of the story in particular, and why this anthology is awesome in general. Hooray!

So let’s talk about why this anthology is the bomb diggety and why you should buy it even if you’re not a Wheel of Time or Brandon Sanderson fan—even though if you clicked the cut you probably are at least one of those two things, but anyway. Because it is the bomb diggety, and you should definitely buy it. And now I’ll tell you why!

1) Because it is for a great cause. As the Powers That Be at have already told you, the proceeds from the sale of this anthology will go toward defraying the enormous medical debt of not only author and anthology editor Shawn Speakman, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2011, but also that of author David Farland, whose son Ben Wolverton was severely injured and left comatose after a terrible accident earlier this year. Neither Shawn nor the Wolverton family have medical insurance, and to say that in both cases their medical expenses have been and/or will be astronomical is to understate the case drastically.

This anthology is an expression of support not only for these two authors, but for awareness of this issue in the science fiction/fantasy writing community in general. To be a professional writer (or indeed any kind of freelance contractor) in the United States today means much more often than otherwise courting the frightening specter of living without adequate medical insurance, or any insurance at all. Which, as I can state from personal experience, is financially a lot like being obliged to roller-skate, against traffic, along the edge of a 2,000-foot precipice. Sure, you might never miss your metaphorical step (or, er, skate), but if you do? You are screwed.

So it is just all kinds of wonderful that so many amazing authors in the SFF community have come together to help un-screw (so to speak) this deplorable situation for Mr. Speakman and Mr. Farland, and this anthology is the result.

2) And what a result it is. Look at this contributor list, y’all: Terry Brooks, Patrick Rothfuss, Jacqueline Carey, Tad Williams, Geno & R.A. Salvatore, Naomi Novik, Peter V. Brett, Daniel Abraham, Lev Grossman, David Anthony Durham, Peter Orullian, Blake Charlton, Eldon Thompson, Michael J. Sullivan, Robert V.S. Redick, Carrie Vaughn, Mark Lawrence, Kevin Hearne, Jennifer Bosworth, Todd Lockwood, and Shawn Speakman.

AND, of course, most relevantly for this article’s purposes, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. Basically, if you are an SFF fan and you tell me you don’t want a piece of this thang then you are lying.

3) Especially if you are a Wheel of Time fan. Because no one knows better than me how bittersweet the year 2013 has been for the WOT fan community, with the ending of the epic fantasy series we’ve been following (in many cases) for over two decades. Because, on the one hand, OMG WE GOT AN ENDING YAY, but on the other, OMG IT’S OVER and there is no more Wheel of Time AWWW. Right?

Not right, it turns out! Because in this anthology we WOTers get an extra treat: not just an amazing anthology of stories from a kickass lineup of sf authors for a wonderful cause, but a glimpse into one of the untold stories from the final novel in the series, A Memory of Light.

“River of Souls” is, in Hollywood parlance, pretty much a DVD extra: a scene Brandon wrote for AMOL which was later cut for narrative story flow reasons. It is somewhat unfortunately true (as it generally is of “deleted scene” extras) that the story most likely will not make a lot of sense to someone who has not read the main series first, but if you have read the Wheel of Time, it is (in my opinion) a fascinating look into one aspect of what was going on “behind the scenes” of the main action of the story, concerning one of the most enigmatic and speculated-about characters of the entire series.

Many WOT fans already know to which character I am referring, of course (especially those of you who attended this year’s JordanCon, where Brandon spoke about it), but just in case you don’t, I ain’t gonna spoil you for who it is, yet. (I also suggest that you follow Brandon’s own suggestion in the foreword to the story, which was to read the story first and the foreword, er, afterward.)

I will tell you that it was, succinctly, hella cool to read, and is sure to generate some very interesting conversation among fans about what it says about this character, as well as what it implies about the larger universe of the Wheel of Time and the nature of its central conflict. There’s not much else I can say about the story that won’t spoil it, but I feel I am on very safe ground in stating that if you are a WOT fan, you are definitely going to want to read this—if only so that you can do what we do best and fight about it discuss it afterward.

And naturally, in my ongoing mission to aid in the madness reasoned debate, keep an eye out on for my much more detailed and spoilery analysis of “River of Souls”, coming… um, at some point after the anthology is published. I’ll keep y’all updated on that as things develop.

And that is about the size of that, O my peeps. In conclusion, sez me, go ye forth and pre-order this anthology post haste, and thereby get your unexpected post-WOT WOT fix, as well as a host of other awesome stories, AND bask in the glow of knowing that by doing so you have helped your fellow SFF humans. Seriously, there is no bad here.

Cheers, and happy reading!

Leigh Butler is a writer, blogger, and unlicensed opinionator, who currently conducts The Wheel of Time Re-read and A Read of Ice and Fire on She lives in New Orleans, and twitches involuntarily at phrases like “co-pay” and “out-of-network.”

Faculty Guy
1. Faculty Guy
A Monday surprise, and a good one. Will definitely order the book.

I know this site is non-political, and I'm going to try hard to play by the rules. I don't know that "ObamaCare" is the solution to the health care crisis in the US. It may well not work any better, and possibly worse, than the present dysfunctional system. The Republicans have offered nothing. (Vouchers? Oh please?) But regardless of what eventual solution we devise, the PRESENT system whereby millions are uncovered, insurance corporations decide which illnesses get covered and what treatments are paid for, meanwhile raking in billions which line the pockets of tha already-wealthy - well, it SUCKS and it CANNOT LAST IN ITS PRESENT FORM. We as a nation pay more per capita on health care than any other, and have more suffering and bankrupcy resulting from health issues than most other Western (and many non-Western) countries.

My deepest sympathies to the Shawn, David, and their families.
2. Freelancer
This anthology is already being quite strongly pimped around the SoCal SFF community, and as Leigh says, there's no bad here. Great authors, good stories, good cause.

I'll not wax political, but to say that this, a free market behavior, is the most effective way to deal with such a tragedy.
Alice Arneson
3. Wetlandernw
Will we be able to buy this from our local brick-and-mortar-store, or must it be purchased directly from Grim Oak Press or at conventions? Does anyone know?
Matt Wright
4. matty42
Can't wait to snag this at PCC this weekend.
Faculty Guy
5. BMichaels
I just ordered my copy. Very much looking forward to reading this, and my heart goes out to Shawn, Ben, and their families.
Scott Silver
6. hihosilver28
This is a genuine question and in no way a desire to put down Shawn or David as their tragedy is very real.

But why as a successful author would you not get health insurance? I'm currently in the 9-to-5 world, so it isn't an issue that I have had to deal with. Is it just that without an employer to underwrite some of it, it is exorbitantly expensive?

Regardless, I'm very much looking forward to reading this anthology.
Jeremy Goff
8. JeremyM
@Wetlandernw - From what I've read on Grim Oak Press' website they don't have the distribution to put it in brick-and-mortar stores though I could have read that incorrectly. They are going to have an ebook version available though.
Faculty Guy
10. Shawn Speakman
Faculty Guy: I am a fairly conservative person when it comes to fiscal matters. I believe we should cut welfare in half, food stamps in half, etc because I see so much waste and so many people taking advantage. That said, when it comes to health care, I am as "socialist" as I can get. I see so many other countries doing it better, people living longer, etc. It's sad that, to follow the American Dream, I really should leave America.

Freelancer: I'm lucky in my friends. I decided to take the bull by the horn and try something different. Why? Because I have the skill set and the relationships to make it happen. And I plan on helping others in my situation in the future, given that I have a platform now and a responsibility that comes with that platform. But so many people don't know the people I know and fall prey to bankruptcy. And that makes me sad.

Wetlandernw: Unfettered is more than likely not going to be in brick & mortar stores except for indepedent stores. That's mostly because the big chains make it so difficult to get books into their systems. The two big ones won't order books from me until they see an actual physical book; the catch 22 being, of course, that I won't know how many copies to have printed for them when the book goes to press -- and I'm not over-ordering in hopes they will order. Plus they demand huge percentages off and the ability to return books. Since I've worked in this business a long time, having books that have been damaged at the store level due to poor handling and getting them back is something I'm not interested in dealing with. Why have the stress when that stress could give me cancer again? haha Seriously.

Matty42: Excited to see you at the convention! Be sure to tell me that you wrote on this post. I'll try to remember. :) The five of us will be signing the exclusive on Friday afternoon, I believe, but buy your copy earlier if you can. I'm not sure how long the 250 copies will last.
Faculty Guy
11. Shawn Speakman
Hihosilver28 wrote: "But why as a successful author would you not get health insurance? I'm currently in the 9-to-5 world, so it isn't an issue that I have had to deal with. Is it just that without an employer to underwrite some of it, it is exorbitantly expensive?"

Shawn replies: I'm not a successful author, at least not financially. The vast majority of writers aren't, believe it or not. While my debut novel, The Dark Thorn, is doing very well and gaining strong reviews every day, I'm a long way from being able to afford health insurance. Due to my pre-existing condition from 2001, no health insurer would take me on in the decade that followed. Those that would were charging me over $2000 a month to be covered very minimally and that was the low estimate. I'm a risk that these companies won't take on and they only care about their bottom line. So when I was diagnosed in 2011 with an entirely different cancer, I was screwed.

Even Obamacare might not be enough for me. I have an MD checkup in a few weeks and I'll be talking to a social worker about that very thing. I don't mind spending $10,000 a year to be covered -- I'll make that sacrifice -- but anything over that is an impossibility until I'm Stephen King (ha ha, yeah right).
Faculty Guy
12. s'rEDIT
Drat! I can't get through to the grim oak website from work; it seems to be blocked.

Have to wait till I get home to order my copy. Can't wait . . . what a treat!
Scott Silver
13. hihosilver28
Shawn, thank you so much for your reply. I am very sorry to hear about the drain that your medical expenses have been and the shocking difficulties in obtaining insurance. Thanks for explaining the nuts and bolts behind your decision. I will be moving shortly, and so may put off the pre-order until I do that, but I absolutely will purchase the book, and I wish you all the best.
Alice Arneson
14. Wetlandernw
Jeremy @8 - Thanks! I might do the ebook; it's a good tool for me.

Shawn @10 - thanks for the swift response! Do you know if University Bookstore (Seattle) will be carrying it? Because I love to support them, and they're as indepenent as it gets - and given the number of times I've seen you there, I'm thinking it's a good shot. :) I hope you get mega sales from this thing - looks like it's worth every penny, to say nothing of the cause.
Faculty Guy
15. Rosiemelsh
I tried to preorder it but couldn't find either River of Souls or the Unfettered anthology on Amazon - where can I find this? Thanks!
Faculty Guy
16. Shawn Speakman
Wetlandernw: Oh yes, Unfettered will be at the University Bookstore. The book launches there on June 24th, a day before release. I will be joined by Terry Brooks, Peter Orullian, and Todd Lockwood to launch the book, sign copies, talk shop, answer questions, reveal the answers to the universe, etc. Should be a fun time!

Rosiemelsh: Amazon will not be carrying the hardcover of the book, at least not at the beginning. I can't for the life of me figure out who to talk to there about carrying it so they are going to miss out. Once the book is out and I've shipped the copies that have been pre-ordered on Grim Oak Press, then I'll create a page on Amazon and sell the book at a sub-store. The book will still be the same price as at Grim Oak Press.

To pre-order the hardcover, visit The ebook will be available on June 25th if all goes well with the epub conversion. :)
Faculty Guy
17. Cimikat
Ooh, I bet Brandon will have copies at Phoenix Comicon this weekend. Will have to make a mental note to pick this up~
Alice Arneson
18. Wetlandernw
Launching at UBooks! Awesome!! I'm not quite sure about the timing yet, but if I can, I'll see you there.
Faculty Guy
19. Shawn Speakman
Cimikat: Brandon won't have copies at Comicon. But I will. :) The five of us contributing to the con exclusive are having a group signing on Friday, if memory serves. Come find me when you get to the convention, we'll get you your book, and then you can get it signed by myself, Terry Brooks, Peter Orullian, Kevin Hearne, and of course Brandon.
YouDont NeedToKnow
20. necrosage2005
I'd love to get this but I don't have a Paypal account. Too bad, too.
Scientist, Father
21. Silvertip
I will be buying the anthology, and also continuing to support political candidates who believe that the U.S.A., the richest society the planet has ever known, should join the rest of the developed world in guaranteeing health care to all its people. This should eventually be of help to the 99.99% of people facing ruinous medical bills who do not work in the sort of publicly visible field where this particular "free market solution" is viable.

All the best to Shawn and Ben and those who love them.

Faculty Guy
22. AB
I am sooo glad I saw this post on! I wish I could have gotten a signed edition but I'm still happy I got a copy before they sold out :)
Jeremy Goff
23. JeremyM
@necrosage2005 - I had that first thought when I ordered my copy because I don't have a paypal account either. Luckily it let me order as a guest so I had no problems purchasing the book. I can't wait for this anthology! I was lucky enough to get word of it early enough to purchase the signed and numbered edition.
Bob Smith
24. chiech
"the story most likely will not make a lot of sense to someone who has not read the main series first". Even though I am a huge SF/F fan, and I have read many of the authors on the list, I always worry that the authors who spend so much time world building will write stories assuming that we the reader 'know' their world.

Where would we be able to purchase the ebook from? Will it be both Kindle/ePub?

My prayers for Shawn Speakman, David Farland, and Ben Wolverton.
Faculty Guy
25. Shawn Speakman
Silvertip: Well said.

chiech22: Yes, the ebook will be available on Kindle, Nook, etc. on June 25th. That is the plan if we can convert the book quick enough.
Kristoff Bergenholm
26. Magentawolf
I hate hardback books. Hate.

But I've preordered this one.
Kristi Deming
27. tigana0118
I want this so bad. I've wanted it since a little bird (and not the one on my shoulder that I've named after the character that "River of Souls" is about) told me about it, but said I couldn't say anything until after Brandon commented on it (because of my obsession with said character...come on, I named my baby cockateil after said character!!) And everyone knows I only refer to said character by his/her "proper" name.
Unfortunately, finances being what they are, I won't be able to purchase the book, though I wish I could help Mr. Speakman. So I won't be able read the story about my favorite character in the series (so much my favorite that I can write said character's name in the Old Tongue!)

Once it's out, maybe it will be MM printed (that would help Mr. Speakman as well) and I'll be able to enjoy more insight into the character I predicted was "The Best Being Saved for Last"...

Until then, may the Light bless all of you who do get to read it.
Glen V
28. Ways
ARC ordered a few minutes ago (#2066).

It would be incredibly awesome if there was some way to get Brandon to also sign it this weekend...but I'm not holding my breath on that count.

God Speed Shawn, David and Ben!
Philip Wardlow
29. PhilipWardlow
I think its a no brainer. If you like fantasy anthologies- which I do - and you like the authors - which I do - and it's for a good cause on top of that....then friggin buy it....sign me up Leigh Butler...Thanks for the Non-Spoiler Review!
Gary Singer
32. AhoyMatey
Thanks for the review, Leigh. I was fortunate enough to be able to order one of the Signed and Numbered editions. Money very well spent! I'm looking forward to reading River of Souls, as well as more about the Unfettered Knight.

There's another review of River of Souls by Jason on
Faculty Guy
33. Tyger
Are all the stories stand alones except for River of Souls, or do I need to be read up on all the different series by these authors?

Tina Pierce
34. scissorrunner
I've got mine ordered now.
This is an exciting book. A peek into so many worlds!
Faculty Guy
35. Jonellin Stonebreaker
Thanks for the info, Leigh:)

I'll be ordering my copy post-haste.
And for what it's worth, some goods are too precious to be left to the blind indifference of the market.
My prayers are with you both, Shawn and David.
Faculty Guy
36. Soloce
For the eBook, do they automatically get added to international versions of Amazon? Or will they be available directly from the website linked above? Thanks!
Faculty Guy
37. Mike123
If this is too political, please feel free to delete... I've been thinking alot about this health care stuff, and I am of the belief that in order to have affordable care, the first thing we have to get rid of is the insurance companies. It will take a few years, but once it is no longer finanically lucrative to gouge people of their money, we as a society will have far less treatments and more cures for diseases. Everyone will eventually win, but atlast it will take awhile. Anyways, I am soooo looking forward to this book and will support the,m by buying a copy once it is out.
April Moore
38. aprildmoore
First, in response to several, if you can make it work financially, please purchase a copy from GrimOak press. Support independent publishers and book sellers if you can. Diversity is good.

Secondly, for many independent contractors or freelancers, health care is extremely cost prohibitive. In some cases, pre-existing conditions - even if well-managed - render you uninsurable for less than a small fortune. I am a Type 1 diabetic, considered by my doctors to be in the top 10% for managing my condition, but I would not be able to obtain health insurance separate from an employer for less than $900-$1200 a month in spite of that, and most plans (because they seem to think you'll drop dead any day) expect you to pay in advance. Even well-established authors would have to take a deep breath to fork over that kind of money. And obtaining long-term disability insurance - even through my employers - is an impossibility. With insurance I currently pay $95 for 5 injector pens of insulin, which lasts me for over 4 months (I don't require much, thankfully), but the retail price for that pack of insulin is over $1000. And many diabetics require much more than that. My nephew (also Type 1) goes through an injector pen every day or so. Now imagine THAT cost.

I've ordered a publishers advance AND a regular copy of UNFETTERED - and I expect to enjoy it profoundly.
F Shelley
39. FSS
Downloaded it today. Very interesting to see a full grown ----. And ---------- is a messed up cracker. That's for sure...
Alice Arneson
40. Wetlandernw
@FSS - It is indeed. And I'd say there are several messed-up crackers up in here... but one more than most.
Alice Arneson
41. Wetlandernw
Sad to say I'll have to miss the launch tonight, but best of luck, Shawn! I do hope there's a great turn-out.
Melissa Shumake
42. cherie_2137
is there any chance leigh will be doing a spoiler review??
Bridget McGovern
43. BMcGovern
@cherie_2137: Yes! A spoiler review is definitely in the works--I believe Leigh will be covering it as part of the AMoL reread.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment