|“River of Souls” is a curious thing. I’ll avoid spoiling anything, since these scenes cover one of the big surprises of the series, and instead talk more about the concepts of the story.
It’s not really a cohesive short story, but rather a sequence of scenes ultimately removed from the final Wheel of Time book, “A Memory of Light”. There’s a short author’s note prefacing the story, where Brandon Sanderson explains the concept of these scenes (the specifics being his original idea, the broad strokes the late Robert Jordan’s), and why Harriet McDougal, the editor of the series and Jordan’s widow, decided they’d be best removed.
It’s a damn shame too, because I think there’s a brilliant idea behind “River of Souls”, and it could have really added to “A Memory of Light”.
Some of the reasons cited for removing these scenes are “these scenes were distracting and derailing the narrative too close to what was to be the climax of the entire series” and “the scenes’ evocation of an entire untold series of books was too overwhelming”, but I think that’s the brilliance of the scenes. In a very short amount of time and words, they efficiently and effectively contextualise some of the biggest mysteries and surprises of the series.
Rather than find the scenes “didn’t feel enough like the Wheel of Time”, I think the scenes – with their efficient but powerful worldbuilding and evocation of a culture with enormous history and depth to it – epitomise the greatness of the Wheel of Time, that is, the remarkable worldbuilding. I don’t think “offering a taste of something that would never be sated” is uncharacteristic of the Wheel of Time, I think it’s one of the hallmarks of the series. I don’t mean that in a negative way. So many of the successes of the series relied upon suggestion, like the beloved references to the First Age (like the Mercedez-Benz logo in the Panarch’s palace) or the Rhuidean sequences showcasing hints of the past. I think “River of Souls” was entirely in keeping with that emphasis on suggestive worldbuilding.
My complaints with the story are just how underdeveloped it is, which is no surprise, given its nature as a sequence of unfinished, deleted scenes. They don’t do a great job of hiding the big identity reveal, and doing so could have been really interesting. Brandon speaks of attempting to evoke an entire parallel Wheel of Time series going on with this character all along, and I would have loved to have seen that fleshed out.
As it stands, “River of Souls” is a tantalising glimpse at what might have been a fantastic part of the final book. Like what I wish this sequence itself was, it’s a suggestion at something greater.
I give it three jumaras, and a golden rod.