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

Hi-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.”


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