Mar 11 2014 1:00pm

The Wheel of Time Reread: A Memory of Light, Part 52 (sort of)

As heads is tails, just call me Wheel of Time Reread!

Today’s entry is a special edition of the Reread, in which we pause in our regularly-scheduled coverage of A Memory of Light to peruse a DVD extra, so to speak. OOOOHHHH. That’s right, we’re covering “River of Souls.”

Previous reread entries are here. The Wheel of Time Master Index is here, which has links to news, reviews, interviews, and all manner of information about the Wheel of Time in general. The index for all things specifically related to the final novel in the series, A Memory of Light, is here.

Also, for maximum coolness, the Wheel of Time reread is also now available as an ebook series, from your preferred ebook retailer!

And now, the post!

Before we begin, a refresher: “River of Souls” is a short story by Brandon Sanderson which originally appeared in the anthology Unfettered, edited by Shawn Speakman. You can read all about the story behind the anthology as well as my non-spoiler review of the story itself here.

As you may note, in that review I promised to do a spoilery review of the story as well, a promise which I, uh, kind of completely forgot about until now. Oops? But in the spirit of “better late than never,” and in light of how the previous chapter in the Reread just ended, it seemed apropos to put it in here. AND SO IT WAS DONE.

(Also, under the category of “duh”: I spoil the entire story in this post. If you have not read the story yet and don’t want to be spoiled for it, stop here and come back later. I promise it ain’t going nowhere!)


Unfettered: “River of Souls”

What Happens
Bao reflects on his good fortune that his early studies had insisted on his ability to achieve the Oneness under the most adverse of conditions, for it served him well now. Mintel enters the tent; Bao has not seen him in six months, and he is supposed to be far away, but Mintel tells him he would not have missed this day.

“I would not have had you lose your soul to come see me.”

“Not just to see you,” Mintel said, smiling. “To see the fulfillment of prophecy, after all of these years. To see the coming of aganor’lot, the True Destiny. No, I would not risk the City of Dreams for my son alone, but to attend the crowning of the Wyld… I would risk anything.”

Bao points out that he has to survive first. Then he reminds his adoptive father that he came here only for this day, and “attachments are irrelevant”. Mintel only smiles and tells him he may have come here for one purpose, but it is not the one the Grand Tapestry has in store for him. Bao contemplates the brand on his hand, and says he will do things with this power that some would call evil, but Mintel is unconcerned, and says the fate of his people led them to this, to give their lives to him, and he will decide their fate from then on. Bao leaves the tent to begin.

Mintel and Bao are at the edge of the vast canyon called Abyrward; Angarai’la, the River of Souls, runs along the bottom, and is where Bao hopes to find the object of his long search. Bao’s feral guards, who call themselves the Freed, surround them. When the sun reaches zenith, Shendla joins them with her entourage and tells Bao “the way is prepared”. She calls him “Wyld”, but he replies he is not Wyld yet. One of Shendla’s companions, Torn, laughs that he is “the most humble conquering despot this world has known.”

“To take the title I do not yet have,” Bao said, “is to dishonor it, Torn. I will walk Angarai’la and enter the Hearttomb, where I will face — and kill — its guardian. Until I return, I am not the Wyld.”

“Then what are you?” Torn asked.

“Many things.”

Torn gives him a nickname that means “slayer of boredom”; everyone laughs but Bao, and Shendla tells Torn that Bao’s “duty is too heavy” for him to laugh. Bao tells them to wait for his return, but Shendla holds his arm, and he is disturbed that he wishes for her touch. He takes her aside and warns her again that she cannot accompany him even partway to retrieve the angor’lot. She is unhappy about it, but agrees. She asks what was bothering him before. He replies that Torn called him “friend”, but he has no friends; he wants only power and is incapable of affection. Shendla quietly disagrees, and Bao pulls away angrily.

“You are fools, all of you. I don’t care for your prophecies! I speak the words so I can control you. How can you not see this?”

“You have come to save us,” she said. “You break us free of fate’s chains. You did not know the prophecies when you first came — you have said so yourself — but you fulfilled them anyway. […] The Dragon has come, Bao. Every man and woman in this land can feel it. He will try to destroy the world, and only you can stop him. There is a reason you have done what you did. The Tapestry… shall I call it by your word? The Pattern? It has brought you, and once you step into that cavern above, we will be freed from fate and be made our own people again.”

Darkness within, Bao thought. She is so earnest. She believes it.

Troubled, Bao asks her why she followed him at first when all the rest of her people spat on him. Shendla replies that he doesn’t want to know. Bao finds himself promising to protect her people if he can, and realizes he believes it a little too.

By the end of the second day, Bao wonders if he was a fool to travel by foot instead of via gateway, but thinks that that would have been cheating. Then he asks himself why he cares, and realizes that he does actually want to be the Wyld. He thinks that the Sharans are tools, a means to an end, but that good tools deserve to be cared for. He fills his canteen with water from the River of Souls, but does not drink it yet, as only the Wyld has that privilege. He reaches the Hearttomb, and sees what he thinks might be a chora tree carved by the entrance. He enters, and is surprised to see the lush vegetation inside, blooming where there is no sunlight. He surmises that the guardian is a Nym. Then a vine moves; Bao blasts it with fire, but that only causes more vines to spring up, and the room starts to shake.

Ahead of him, the darkness trembled, and his light shone on the interior of a horrible maw that stretched from floor to ceiling. Needle-sharp teeth stood in array all the way down its greenish throat. What looked like insectile arms broke up through the twisting plants, long and slender, reaching for him.

Bao knows now it is a jumara’nai, or full-grown jumara. Jumara grow stronger when the One Power is used against them, so Bao fights with his sword and channels only for indirect effects. He curses Aginor for ever inventing the things.

Bao is covered in blood and wounds, but the jumara’nai is finally dead. He passes the corpse further into the cavern, observing the many bones of the would-be heroes who’d tried this before him and failed. Bao thinks that he himself only won because he knew exactly where to strike. He finds a stone dais at the end of the cavern with the plants all grown together into a face.

“So I was right,” he said, kneeling beside the face. “I thought the Nym had all died.”

“I… am not of the Nym…” the face said softly, eyes closed. “Not any longer. Have you come to give me rest, traveler?”

“Sleep,” Bao said, channeling Fire and burning away the creature. “Your service is at an end.”

What looks like a golden cup is revealed, the thing Bao had spent two years seeking. He picks it up reverently and leaves the cavern. He washes in the river, then takes out the golden rod from his pack, the other half of the sa’angreal, and joins it to the cup. He channels through it and laughs aloud at the torrent of Power.

What he held was no cup, but the second most powerful sa’angreal ever created for a man to use. D’jedt, known simply as the Scepter during his time, had been so powerful that it had been kept locked away during the War of the Power.

Feeling invincible, Bao runs all the way back, emerging from the canyon at sunset. He notes that the female Ayyad are gathered now along with various nobles. He holds the scepter aloft and Shendla immediately kneels to him. He announces to Mintel that he names himself the Wyld, and “your dragonslayer has come!” Shendla, amazed, observes that he is smiling. He tells her that he accepts his role for her people, and she cries with happiness.

Mintel cried out, standing, eyes opening. “Hail the Wyld! Hail him and bow! He who shall save us from the Dragon, who shall prevent the death of the land and bring us to glory! Hail Bao! Hail our king!”

As the others cheer, Bao reflects on the path that led him to first impersonate a slave among the Sharans, then lead a revolution almost by accident, then earn the allegiance of the Ayyad and the Freed, all while seeking only one thing.

Through it all, he had sought this one object for a single purpose. Finally, Lews Therin, thought Bao — once named Berid Bel, and later called Demandred, now reborn as the savior of the Sharan people. Finally, I have the power to destroy you.

Oh, Demandred. Shine on, you crazy hatred-encrusted diamond. Well, until Lan kills your obsessed ass with extreme killedness, anyway. Yay!

I’ll get back to talking about the actual story of the story in a minute, but first I want to talk about the meta/backstory of “River of Souls”, and how it kind of makes me either want to laugh or go a little cross-eyed, because—well. Read on and see.

So, I originally read this story in May of 2013 (because that’s when They gave it to me to review), and everyone else who read this story probably read it in June of 2013 or later, because that’s when the anthology was released. A Memory of Light, aka the WOT book these scenes were cut from, was released in January of 2013—which, as those of you who can math good can tell, is six months earlier than the anthology release date. This will become relevant in a moment.

The story, as Brandon points out in its introduction, is clearly structured to build to its big reveal at the end—namely, that “Bao” is actually Demandred. The purpose being—well, here, read Brandon’s take on it:

I wanted to present him sympathetically, at least as sympathetically as a man like him could be presented. […] It was also important to me that we see Demandred for what he is — an incredibly capable man with a single overriding flaw. Everything about him, including his ability to feel affection, is tainted by his supreme hatred of Lews Therin. The narrative was to hint that it never had to be that way. He could have made different choices. Of all the Forsaken, I find Demandred the most tragic.

And the thing is, the story absolutely does convey that sense of tragedy and sympathy with Bao/Demandred, and does it well—a topic I’m going to come back to—but it absolutely does not pull off the plot twist/reveal story it was built as.

Because it can’t.

There was, in fact, literally no way a fan of the Wheel of Time series could have read this story without already knowing who Bao really was from the beginning, because of the timing. Because, of course, any even halfway invested reader of the Wheel of Time would have already read AMOL months before reading this story, and thus already known perfectly well who “Bao the Wyld” was, and where he was and why. So the “reveal” never even got a chance to be a reveal, because we’d all been inadvertently spoiled for it months before.

This is, I must stress, not actually a criticism. Because obviously if these scenes had not been cut from AMOL, and had occurred in the narrative when they were originally intended to, then I think the reveal would have worked more or less exactly as it was supposed to. It’s just amusing/frustrating to me in a writerly, overanalyzing-the-narrative-structure meta sense that the vagaries of publishing deadlines made experiencing this story the way it was meant to be experienced literally impossible.

(And yes, I suppose that the reveal would have worked on someone who just hadn’t read AMOL first, but I am ignoring this on the grounds that that means that the reader is either (a) not a WOT reader in the first place, meaning the revelation would be meaningless to them anyway, or (b) a very odd “fan” of WOT indeed, because why the hell wouldn’t you have read AMOL already? FOR SHAME!)

(Ahem. Anyway.)

All that said, I’m fairly certain that most fans (including me) would have caught on that Bao = Demandred way earlier than the end. Probably even earlier than Bao’s comment about Aginor halfway through, though that’s what would have clinched it. I’ll never know for sure, obviously, but I bet I would have had my suspicions right from the beginning, and been sure once I got to Torn and Shendla’s conversation about why Bao never smiles or laughs, since Demandred being an eternal sourpuss has always been one of his most noted character traits.

Though he does smile and laugh here, doesn’t he?

Which brings us back to Brandon’s thoughts about making Demandred a sympathetic character. Which is an interesting goal for him, really, since other than Lanfear (and, to a much lesser extent, Moridin) this has not been a thing WOT has really been interested in doing for the Forsaken as a general rule. In fact now that I think about it, this has been a marked aspect of Brandon’s influence on the latter three books in the series, this “sympathy for the devil” tendency to humanize the villains. God knows I never had the slightest compassion for Slayer before we get his backstory in ToM, just for instance.

This is a good thing, by the way, even if it deviates a bit from WOT’s traditional tendency to have its villains actually really think of themselves as villains. But then, Lanfear was always the most interesting of the Forsaken for precisely the fact that she was the outlier in this way. Lanfear may have embraced her Moniker of Evil, but I don’t think she ever thought she actually was evil; she always believed her actions were justified, and that she was, in fact, doing the right thing—even if it was only “the right thing” for herself alone. It doesn’t make her any less fucked up (it makes her more fucked up, actually), but it makes her much more believable a character than some of her colleagues ever were.

So I very much enjoyed that Demandred was getting the same kind of treatment here. There may be an inherent discomfort in being compelled to sympathize with characters who we know have been and/or are going to do terrible things, but I have always believed in the precept that everyone believes themselves to be the protagonist of their own story. To convincingly portray that belief in even your most evil and reprehensible characters is to give them definition and authenticity that elevates them beyond your standard cardboard cutout Bad Guys to something much closer to real. It’s uncomfortable, but it is also awesome, from an artistic point of view.

For that reason, I do think it is kind of a shame that this sequence was not included in AMOL, but at the same time I think that Harriet’s reasons for cutting it was absolutely right. I’ll quote Brandon’s intro again:

In threading this sequence into the rest of A Memory of Light, we found that the Demandred scenes were distracting. The worldbuilding required to make Shara distinctive felt out of place in the last book, where the narrative needed to be focused on tying up loose threads rather than introducing a multitude of new questions.

[Harriet] felt that the scenes’ evocation of an entire untold series of books was too overwhelming. It didn’t feel enough like the Wheel of Time. If this had been book eight, that would be wonderful — the scenes would add variety to the series. In book fourteen, however, they offered a taste of something that would never be sated, and served only to make promises we could not fulfill.

This is, I feel, pretty much right on the money. AMOL being so vastly overstuffed with happenings as it is, introducing a new setting and worldbuilding—however interesting—into what is supposed to be the endgame would just be annoying.

Plus (and this is my own feeling, separate from what Team Jordan has said about this sequence) this so distinctly set up Demandred as Rand’s opposite—“Bao the Wyld” is Rand’s dark mirror, in fact, the prophesied savior who did turn out to be the destruction of his people—that having this sequence in the book and then never having Demandred and Rand actually confront each other would have felt like a gaping plot hole. An unfinished chord in the symphony, at the very least. As AMOL stands, though, even though the lack of a confrontation between the two still feels a little odd, it works much better, I think, to have Rand’s main conflict (other than with the Dark One himself, of course) be with Moridin instead. Including this sequence would have made Demandred too “big” a character, I think, and demanded more attention and resolution than the novel could afford to give him.

So all in all I feel that cutting these scenes was a good choice. I still like that we got to see them anyway, though. And I like the hints of a vast backstory and saga in the dialogues between Bao and Mintel and Bao and Shendla. I don’t even need to have those hints explicated; just having them there is enough to lend the scene depth and intrigue.

Speaking of Shendla, I rather like the subverted tropeness of her role (she loves the bad guy, but her love isn’t going to “save” him or change him, as this and later events in AMOL ably demonstrate), even while boggling at how she could possibly love someone like Demandred, because GIRL. Seriously? But that’s probably just me projecting, because I simply can’t picture having any kind of relationship, platonic or otherwise, with (among other things) a person who never laughs.

That—just—no. Sorry, can’t do it. You must have at least this much sense of humor to ride this ride, kiddo, better luck next time, move along.

But hey, that’s just me. Apparently “humorless despot who straight-up tells you he is (a) power-mad and (b) incapable of love” really does it for some people. And I would say “I don’t judge” except for how I’m… yeah, really kind of judging that. Seriously, Shendla, you could have done better.

(Actually, I’m still pretty much judging all the Sharans for that. But then I recall the contention of the early books, that being ruled over by a Forsaken actually has a mass depressive/warping/en-evilling affect on the people so ruled, and I forgive them. A little.)

(Look, “en-evilling” is a word if I say it is, okay? SHUT UP YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME)

Aside from that, there’s something here about Shendla’s speech to Bao, about how their prophecies said someone would come to save them from the Dragon, suggesting their prophecies had been anti-Dragon from the start, leading to incoherent thoughts about how much of the near-hopeless odds the Lightside forces faced at the Last Battle as a result of the Sharan involvement were pre-ordained and how messed up that is, if so.

There’s probably also something here about how the Sharans (if I recall correctly) have always been described physically as equivalent to sub-Saharan Africans (i.e. black), and while I’m sure it was entirely unintentional, their casting as the only fully human allies of the Shadow has potentially… disturbing implications that I wonder if anyone has thought to address before now. I know WOT has a certain amount of homage to Tolkien, but I’m not sure that aspect in particular is one it needed to follow, you know?

I mean, it doesn’t have as much impact in text, perhaps, but imagine if AMOL ever gets made into a movie or TV series. Because I picture that, and the effect is extremely… um. Not good, y’all.


Other notes:

Man, we finally get to see a jumara… and the fight scene is cut. RUDE.

I was totally flummoxed over whether to be angry that Demandred killed the last Nym or not. Because, the Nym asked to be put down, but… still, that was cold.

Also, I suppose this Nym was deployed to guard the scepter sa’angreal by the same group of Aes Sedai we saw in Rand’s Wayback Ter’angreal flashback in TSR who were asking Nomeshta to guard the Eye (and trying to figure out what to do about Callandor). One wonders, therefore, how they got the jumara involved…

But, anyway. Potentially unsettling implications aside, in all I feel like “River of Souls” was a cool and intriguing “DVD extra” to add onto the completion of the Wheel of Time, and even if the method and timing of its deployment made it a little wonky, it was still a nice bonus for the fans to get some development (even if only semi-official) of a character who has long been one of the most mysterious and speculated-about characters in the entire series.

Because as the Rolling Stones knew, sympathy for the devil is a tricky business, but in the world of fiction, at least, it makes the battle between good and evil all the more poignant.

And that’s the story, mornin’ glories! Have a lovely week, and we’ll be back to AMOL proper next Tuesday!

1. neverspeakawordagain
I was always fascinated by the bits-and-pieces we got from Shara without ever actually getting the real meat of the story. I would have loved to have read the parallel series where Demandred is the protagonist freeing his people, and then loses.

That said, I wouldn't put too much stock in Brandon's description of the Sharans, which is directly at odds with the little we know about Sharans from the rest of the series -- specifically, the description of the Sharan tradesman in Tear who's trying to sell somebody a boat full of silk worms. The accent was described as "musical" (the exact opposite of the Sharan accent in A Memory of Light) and the description of the manner of dress was completely wrong, so I have a feeling that Brandon's descriptions of the Sharan people were his own, rather than Robert Jordan's.

So I wouldn't be too certain about that "sub-Saharan African" thing. If anybody fits that description in the series, I'd say it's the Sea Folk.
Sam Mickel
2. Samadai
I enjoyed this glimpse of Demandred, wish it would have been bigger. And some kind of how his timeline works out with the main Randland area
3. Rancho Unicorno
I am curious to know if there was ever anything official suggesting or clarifying that the Sharan's were supposed to be sub-Saharan Africans.

Reading this, I got more of a Mayan-vibe from them. I suppose it was just very Indiana Jones in the imagery it evoked.
Tricia Irish
4. Tektonica
While I was pleased to get some info on Demandred, since he'd been such a cipher and object of fandom speculation, I find myself wishing he'd been revealed a long time ago. A little more about the Sharans than vague hints about their culture from our resident wandering storyteller, and perhaps a few less descriptions of bathing.

I don't think it would've bothered me at all if he and Rand had then never had a confrontation. In fact, it might have generated a nano-bit of sympathy for poor old Demandred, if his wish was never fulfilled.

And why did those Sharans think the Dragon was going to destroy the world? Which Forsaken planted that prophesy? (Ishy, I'm looking at you!)
Andrew Berenson
5. AndrewHB
If I am not mistaken, Demandred's use of the Scepter at the Last Battle was something originally planned by RJ. Or at least, that is what I interpret the text of one of the middle books. Did not one of the Chosen make the comment that other than Callandor, there are only 2 other stronger male sa'angreal? Maybe I am making things up.

Anyways if my memory is correct, kudos for RJ for laying the foundation for Demandred's use of the Scepter.

Thanks for reading my musings,
Andy Warta
6. dragontrainer

You're right, it was mentioned earlier in the series that there were two of greater strength, and we didn't see the second until Demandred showed up with it.
7. wdyates91
I read this while waiting for Brandon's signing at Phoenix Comicon so I don't have the best memory of it but from what I remember, the story was really interesting. I agreed that it would've felt out of place to get brand new worldbuilding in AMoL but as an aside, I really enjoyed seeing it.

Also, loving your classic rock references this week! Haha
8. Narvi
@1 I seriously doubt that an entire half-continent is going to have a universal accent or mode of dress.

Not that WoT really does linguistic drift very well. RJ tried to cover it up a bit in the later books with the little views we get of Seanchan, but that was never a part that stood up to credibility.
Deana Whitney
9. Braid_Tug
Wonder if they had released it as a little "extra" after ToM, but before AMoL, how the fandom would have reacted?

Guess the only thing that can be done now is to have new fans read it like that. Uhm... friend is on book 4 now. Will have to make her read it this way to see how she reacts.
Yea! Fun experiments with friends!
Deana Whitney
10. Braid_Tug
Hello Everyone,

From the unofficial Leigh’s Re-Readers T-Shirt Committee, I present the new shirts for 2014!

There are several versions, for those going to JordanCon in April, and for those who just want to enjoy.

Unofficial “Leigh’s Re-Readers” shirt. For all the fans of Leigh Butler’s Re-Read on Tor.com. Front design honors Leigh’s inclusion in the series as the Aiel Maiden “Leeh”. It is the logo of the Leigh’s Loonies, aka her Re-readers. Back design honors Rand’s last few moments in the book. Reads: Wrestled the Dark One … and Still Smokin’
NOTE: You can add your Tor.com ID to the back of these shirts! Created by committee of Re-Read fans: Ways, Tektonica, Sulin, Man-o-Manetheran, and Braid_Tug. Back and front designed by Sharon J. Eiben. Profits will go support the Amyloidosis Research Fund at the Mayo Clinic.

Shirt from 2013 also available.
Rich Bennett
11. Neuralnet
I liked the parallel between this short story and Rand finding the eye of the world, and I loved the glimpse into Shara. It is funny that they had an anti-dragon prophesy from the start and explains a little how they could have ended up on the side of the shadow. It definitely feels a little tangental to AMoL, almost like one of Brandon's interlude chapters from WoKs.... it makes me wonder if there are any other snippets/scenes that were left out of the final AMoL that we might end up seeing down the road.
12. Shawn P Cooke
It's funny, but I think this should have been included in AMoL for exactly the same reason that Harriet wanted it cut. Worldbuilding was such a huge part of the entire WoT series, and to have an entire novel which dispensed with it altogether meant that it was, at least in that respect, out of character for the series as a whole.

Personally, I would have loved to get more hints about Shara within the text of AMoL itself, especially to justify the appearance of Demandred. Casual readers of the series probably cared a lot less about where he was than fanboys like myself, and the inclusion of these scenes would have made his appearance seem less of a deus ex machina.
13. Lsana
@4, (and 11),

There was no need for Ishy to plant the "the Dragon is going to destroy the world" prophecy. That was a real one, present in Randland proper just as much as in Shara.

I'm a little baffled as to why everyone is so stunned by the "anti-Dragon" prophesies. As I recall, back in Eye of the World, there was pretty much a universal consensus among most folk that the Dragon was seriously bad news, second to only the Dark One in terms of people you don't want to meet, the guy who destroyed the world once and was prophesized to do it again. Even among those few who knew the first part of the prophecy (the Dragon's going to save the world before he wrecks it), there was considerable fear about that second part.

It seems that Shara got most of the prophecy, but missed a few critical details. That could be because of some one like Ishmael meddling with it, but it could also just be that stuff gets lost and forgotten over 3000 years. In Randland proper, it was mostly the White Tower that managed to keep the full prophecy; Shara didn't have that.
Don Barkauskas
14. bad_platypus
@5,6: Yes, the second-most-powerful sa'angreal has been a Chekhov's Gun (don't click that) since the "two more powerful than Callandor" were introduced in Ch. 29 of TDR (by Siuan) and Ch. 9 of TSR (by Lanfear) and the Choedan Kal was revealed to be the most powerful in Ch. 58 of TSR. I remember speculation back in the day that the second-most powerful might be the Ring of Tamyrlin (mentioned by Ishamael in the Prologue to TEotW).

And regarding sympathetic Forsaken, I would argue that Asmodean is also portrayed as reasonably sympathetic during his time teaching Rand.
Andy Warta
15. dragontrainer
[9] A note about reading this story before A Memory of Light, you'll lose much of the impact of the Sharans' arrival on the battlefield, and reveal of Demandred.

It seemed from comments I was reading that their huge gateway arrival was one of the big surprises for a lot of people. Is knowing this story worth neutering that arrival?

I can't judge well, I was convinced before A Memory of Light that Demandred was with the Sharans, so I didn't get as much from their appearance as others. My impression is that while people would have liked this information, this was the better way to get it. I'd rather know who Bao/Wyld was going into this story, then knowing for certain what Demandred was up to. For me it would come down to, which "secret reveal" is more important if you could likely only choose one?
16. Gregor Lewis
It's one thing to criticize clear mistakes in the continuity of a series (guilty) and hypothesise (Guilty), or even make accusations (GUILTY) as to why those mistakes were made (IMO).

However, I've always had an instinctive negative reaction to after the fact, 'this bit should have gone there' or 'it would have worked better if they'd done this' second guessing. I mean, the writer conceived, developed and wrote in this world for years, perhaps decades, but we the readers KNOW better than them what fits where? What works better?

You have to assume the author is telling the story they want to tell (more or less) editorial input notwithstanding. Sure we may not enjoy it, but that's the choice the author made ... I assume, freely.

Having said all that, sometimes the ideas I've read, suggestions from some obviously dedicated fans, help me overcome my instinctive reaction - they're so interesting.

Anyway, imagine my surprise after reading some of the comments here ... And suffering again my negative reaction reflex, I had an idea flash powerfully into my head, quite contrary to my natural instincts here.

It's a BIG 'IF', because the story of River of Souls is seemingly wholly BS's. Given how the introduction is explained via BS, the ideas AND execution appear to be his alone, making me doubt RJ would have even conceived such an approach to Demandred.

Still, if we take the ideas presented in RoS and the chronology suggested ...
... Demandred infiltrates a certain part of Sharan society as a slave ...
... Demandred almost accidentally leads his adopted people in a revolution ...
... Demandred becomes the Wyld ...

IMO there is a point earlier in the books where this could have been introduced organically (worldbuilding and all), so that Demandred could have been more than a cypher throughout the whole series.

The first time we get detailed information (delving deeper than Sharans' mysteriousness and restricted access) is Graendal's attempted distraction of Sammael in LOC. I don't have the book handy but IIRC it was in a chapter called Threads Woven by the Shadow (or something more elegant than that), where Sammael is visiting her and she shows him quite a few of her pets.

One matched pair seems to me to be of the Ayyad and Graendal gives Sammael quite the rundown of how they fit into Sharan society.

Then, again from memory, towards the very end of LOC (it's the last line before a scene break, might even be the last line of the book), we have Demandred in Shayol Ghul asking the Dark One, "Have I not done well Great Lord?" And the Dark One answers with booming laughter.

Now, given the structure of the Prologue of ACoS, and given the chronology RoS reveals for Demandred's journey, I'm struck sharply by how apropos it would have been if the start of, just what Demandred had done well was introduced in the Prologue of ACoS and followed organically in bits and inserted pieces from there.

It feels like a natural flow would have built between what has been rightly been described above, as the comparative journey of the Dragon & his dark mirror, the Wyld.

Anyway, like I said a BIG IF, but something that struck me so strongly, it made me go against my natural instincts.

Sorry for the long wind.

17. Herb485
Off the top of my head, Sharan culture has a lot pulled from China (different pieces than the Seanchan) although all of Jordan's cultures have multiple sources. E.g., silk, their insistence of their uniformity and unbroken history, the closed coast, etc.

The Aiel have the most African analogs I've noticed. How they're treated by those on the other side of the mountains, the Zulu fighting style, female warriors and putting blacksmiths on a pedestal (West African tribes).

Dark-skinned peoples are also common in both the main part of Randland and Seanchan, although it's typically kept vague beyond that.

Jordan wasn't shy about nasty cultural traits, whether it was the Whitecloaks, Tear, or Seanchan (or even Murandy). Sharans have a nasty culture, but mainly they have the misfortune of being the only nation left run by a Forsaken.
Jason Denzel
18. JasonDenzel
Great points, Leigh. I'd just add that IMO Asmodean was another sympathetic Forsaken.
19. alreadymadwithjumara
I didn't think full grown jumara existed even during the Age of Legends.
Glen V
20. Ways
Thanks, Leigh! This is an unexpected, pleasant surprise. I re-read RoS a couple of weeks ago, so the timing is purrfect (according to my faithful feline companion).

I also wanted to make sure a link to the new re-reader's t-shirt was up and running...and I see Braid_Tug @10 is way ahead of me, not surprisingly. Y'all go get ya one or two.
Sydo Zandstra
21. Fiddler
This little piece would have done well, if it had been added to ToM's Epilogue.

But I guess it hadn't been written yet, back then.

Some people might say it would have 'spoiled' the whole Roedran/Demandred thing, but face it, every new reader reading the books back to back would have known Roedran is just Roedran soon enough in AMoL. :)
22. Faculty Guy
Funny, I had always pictured Shara as China (for reasons denoted by Herb485 above). The Sea Folk were black. The blond, blue-eyed Aiel were "savages." The Seanchan were descendants of Hawkwing et al., so I just pictured them as "Americans" to the "European" grouping of Andor (Britain), Ilian, Tear, etc.

RJ DID clearly play in cultural stereotyping, but he cleverly and (I'm sure) deliberately mixed things up so that it was impossible to identify his cultures with real-world lands in any straightforward way. I suspect that RJ, having grown up white in the South as I did, was very careful not to create fictional racial stereotypes comparable to those which have been so misused in the past few centuries as Europeans colonized the world.
j p
23. sps49
I enjoyed this more than GIlden-Fire, which definitely would not have fit at all in the rest of its narrative.
Judy Sonnenberg
24. ButterflyBiker
Perfect timing, Leigh!...I seriously just read River of Souls two days ago. I'm glad I waited, rather than having it in AMoL; it really is like a deleted scene from a movie and great for a DVD extra. As lovers of the world we've invested so much time exploring, we'll always have stories we wish we could see. I really wish we could have seen the Outrigger stories, and the other fallout after the last battle. Or looking in on Rand just living his life and juggling three women. ;)

As I said (as JudySonnenberg) on the last post, I've been following the reread for a long time and have truly loved each and every post. Meeting you in person one day is going on my bucket list. Cheers on making it to the homestretch. :)
Tane Aikman
25. Greyshade
I think Demandred is one of the best things about AMoL. He is almost a tragic figure. Mind you, I do not think the book suffered from not having this in, for the reasons Leigh said.

Do we know how much of Demandred is BS and how much is RJ? I get the detailed backstory is all Sanderson, but do we know if say the blademasterness or the general ship was planned by Jordan?
Bill Reamy
26. BillinHI
While I would have loved to read more about Shara, I have to agree that it would have been much better if introduced much earlier in the series. Yes, it would have removed the "Where is Demandred?" speculation, but after a while it was pretty clear that he had to be in Shara.

And talk about a seriously messed up understanding of the Prophecies of the Dragon! How could the Sharans have missed the parts where the Dragon was one with the land and would save the world even while "destroying" it. By the way, I don't see where Rand really "destroyed" the world. Yes, the area around Merrilor was pretty messed up and the Borderlands took some serious hits, but after the remainder of the Trollocs and other Shadowspawn were taken care of, I could see most, if not all, of the Randland countries continuing on as they did before...except for the Seanchan, of course. They would probably have made a serious stab at destroying the world as it was, but that's not really the Dragon's fault.

Although it almost certainly won't happen, I still hold out hope that the Enclycopedia will at least give some hints as to how things went after Tarmon Gai'don.
Richard Chapling
27. Chappers
Greyshade@25: From the BBoBA, we have, in the short section on Demandred:
“Almost” seemed to be the story of his life. Born one day after Lews Therin, he had almost as much strength and almost as much skill. He spent years almost equaling Lews Therin’s accomplishments and fame. If not for Lews Therin Telamon, he would have undoubtedly been the most acclaimed man of his Age.
So "second only to LTT in everything" is RJ. And that alone would mean that a duel between him and Rand would almost certainly (barring ta'veren and so on) have been won by Demandred. (Since we know that Rand is not as good as he was before he lost his hand, and even then wasn't as good as Lan. And Demandred won't have been idle in his two years out of the bore, so he'd be better than he was in the AoL, &c.) Also the problem that the Dragon couldn't really be badly wounded on the battlefield when he's supposed to be trying to do something about the DO.

Since Demandred's whole life has been focused on beating LTT, obviously he projects this onto LTT, and expects him to regard the fight with Demandred as the most important thing, never mind about Certain Other Things that are supposed to happen during the Last Battle.

The really interesting question is why he chose to go to Shara in the first place.
Brandi Carrier
28. Brandi

Every land/organization besides Shara that had a significant number of channelers had been infiltrated by another Forsaken, so logically one of them would go to Shara. To find out that a country full of channelers exists and NOT have a Forsaken show up there would have been beyond strange. I don't know if it was Demandred's choice or something the DO suggested/ordered but I agree with the other posters that it was pretty obvious Demandred had to be in Shara. I had just assumed he was there and would show up with the Sharans eventually.

I think the more interesting question, or the weird thing about it, was that the other Forsaken couldn't figure that out.
29. AlexF
I liked the contrast of Bao returning at sunset whereas Rand's prophesy-fullfilment of He Who Comes With the Dawn happened at err.. Dawn.
30. Wes S.
I seem to recall a conversation between a couple of other Forsaken (Sammael and Graendal?) during the course of the series, where one of them laments (paraphrasing) that there are "jumara" loose in the Blight that were "Full grown, but they'll never transform now. They call them 'worms.'"

So we finally get to see a jumara in all its glory. So to speak.

Otherwise: I'm finding it hard to reconcile the humble Demandred we see here with his earlier appearances in the series, especially pre-AMoL. Still a cool scene, though...
31. DougL
To me Moridin is the most sympathetic. He found the truth, that this never ends and tried to end it. He looked into his past and his future and felt all of the lives he'd led and was going to lead in an endless dance and felt the fatigue. Rand only proved that he was right by bending to the lie and imprisoning Shaitan again. Moridin will be back and so will the Dragon to do all this shit again, that's the real tragedy of the WoT, even worse than the shitty Seanchan.
32. The Lord Drongo
I found the jumara scene was obviously related to various dragon stories, in particular Siegfried's "Interview With The Dragon" and likewise, Beowulf's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind with an Unfriendly Dragon" ... The Cup and Sceptre are derived from the legends of the Grail ...
33. Narg
I'm afraid my response was to be expected:
Bao Wao Wao!
Zack Sheffield
35. selquest
I find it interesting that we seem to jump to the assumption that one of the Forsaken planted this "false prophecy" in Shara or something along those lines... I guess my question is, why do we assume it was false? One of the main themes of the series has been how story/prophecy changes in meaning over time, and how that leads people to false conclusions. I envision the Sharan prophecy going something like this:

"The Dragon shall walk the land again and break the world anew. His passing will rend the earth, and shatter the nations with war. Your people shall stand united against him, your people shall remain strong. One among you will find the scepter, one among you will be the Wyld, and your people will follow as he leads. He can slay the Dragon; the Wyld can stand in his way."
36. mawww
lets not forget that there was also a book of dark prophecies that Ishy was privvy to. Ishamael was also not trapped by the sealing of the bore. He could easily have cultivated Shara as a tool of the Dark One for the Last Battle, much as he did with Seanchan.
Mike Piacenza
37. mp1952
"You must have at least this much sense of humor to ride this ride"

This has to be Leigh's personal Re-Reader's t-shirt slogan. Make it so.
Erdrick Farseer
38. Erdrick
I disagree with Leigh's assessment that "obviously if these scenes had not been cut from AMOL...then I think the reveal would have worked more or less exactly as it was supposed to." It was just too obvious. A Male badguy with AoL knowledge (hence one of the Forsaken) who isn't accounted for...hmm, who could it be? Here it is again, the "big reveal" at the end:

"Through it all, he had sought this one object for a single purpose. Finally, Lews Therin, thought Bao — once named Berid Bel, and later called Demandred, now reborn as the savior of the Sharan people. Finally, I have the power to destroy you."

I really wish the entire part after the hyphen was removed. At the very least, take out the "later called Demandred" part. You achieved the "show," so the "tell" is both unnecessary and distracting. Those who would not have caught on without the explicit naming, also wouldn't have been invested enough in WoT pephifery for the reveal to be significant. And they find out who he is in the Last Battle chapter anyway.

That "show, don't tell" issue that some (myself included) have been complaining about (for occasionally jarring us out of the story) shows up earlier in this story as well. Yes, I'm talking about the "Grand Tapestry." The meaning is obvious. We don't need Shendla saying "...shall I call it by your word? The Pattern?" Ugh!

Aside from those small complaints, it was a fun backstory. I wonder if we'll ever get something from that cut bit about Perrin sealing the Ways (with Ogier song driving away the Black Wind). Here's hoping they include it in the WoT Encyclopedia.
39. Agree with #16
I know Leigh doesn't bother with setting detail or plot detail much, so not noticing how bad the summary sounds wrt minor details from the other 10k pages isn't that surprising. What's surprising is the internal inconsistancy of the summary, is it really that bad (editors are supposed to catch these problems). Well it may not be explicit in the text and it's just interpretation, so need confirmation that the summary is accurate.

How's the tone and writing quality anyway? When Leigh doesn't mention something on WoT that a writer should notice, it's usually pretty awful.
Chris Gordon
40. Xris
I wonder if Demandred (from an in-universe perspective) could have been a "Plan B" against the Dark One?

Just spitballing here; imagine if Rand hadn't gotten himself together and was crazy-angry-Rand by the time of the last battle. Imagine that instead of going to Shayol Ghul he is lured to fight Demandred and loses. Would Demandred have turned from the Dark One to save his newly beloved Sharans once his irrational hatred of Lews Therin was quenched? He was certainly acting atyipcally (from his norm) around them and it seemed sincere.

As I understand, all the prophecies in the WoT were all alternate futures. An insane Dragon would certainly be something that the world needs saving from and it would take someone like Demandred to take on Lews Therin.

Just some idle speculation about an alternate path the plot could have taken.
41. Aenor
Going back to Lan's sheathing for a moment, I'm glad that so many were so satisfied by that turn of events. I'm afraid I wasn't. The first two Sanderson installments started very slow for me but each contained their moments of awesome, most notably Egwene forming a circle with the novices and generally being badass.

In large part because of the unbroken chapter of doom, this book started slow for me and never recovered. I consider it rather a large elephant in the room that Demandred was in control of a complete circle and yet he's killed by a non-channeler? And I expected the good guys to eventually counter with a full circle of their own. Did that happen and I missed it?
Valentin M
42. ValMar
Xris @ 40

Very interesting notion! Makes sense.
43. Faculty Guy
I also am intrigued by Xris@40's idea of a back-up plan with Demandred. It's just further evidence that RJ created a fantasy world of such complexity and yet such life-like reality that readers are motivated to create additional plots and off-stage stories after becoming accustomed to "the rules" RJ set. And other readers buy in and think it matters! I continue to be impressed.

Another matter: it is interesting how the comments tend to increase in frequency as we near each post deadline. Someone (but not me) ought to plot the frequency of comments versus days 1 thru 7 starting with Leigh's post day, then do curve-fitting.

But I don't think we'll make 100 for this cycle.

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