Greetings once again. The month of January saw a huge amount of forum discussion surrounding the topics of spren. A number of suggestions were made regarding spren and how they could possibly relate to various aspects of the world of Roshar.
Before delving deeper I want to point out that this news post contains major spoilers. This is a theory post and as such it is expected that anyone reading this has finished the book and is aware of its various aspects. That being said, allow me to jump directly into my theory.
What I am proposing is a link between Spren and Shardblades. This theory received quite a bit of discussion on the forums, and for that reason I want to spotlight the concept. I would, however, like to take the concept one step further and integrate the nature of the Truthless of Shinovar. First though, the groundwork for this theory.
Towards the end of tWoK Sanderson provides a very overt hint that there is a link between spren and Shardblades. This comes by way of Syl, and her obvious dislike for the objects. To quote:
“He clapsed his hands behind him; Syl sat on his shoulder.
“Dare I trust him?” he asked softly.
“He’s a good man,” Syl said. “I’ve watched him. Despite that thing he carried.”
“What do you care about it?”
“I don’t know,” she said, wrapping her arms around herself. “It just feels wrong to me. I hate it. I’m glad he got rid of it. Makes him a better man.”
Kaladin does not press further, and as such we receive no more information from Syl regarding her less than positive feelings about Shardblades. Sanderson obviously wanted to hint at a connection without delving too deeply. I suppose all of his secrets can’t be revealed in his first book.
Aside from Shardblades, Roshar sees other “magical” devices in the form of fabrials. Exactly how fabrials work is not discussed in the book directly. Fans in need of more information will never be appeased, and as such, the scribblings on the two pages from “Navani’s Notebook” located inside the book were deciphered. These pages contain information regarding two types of fabrials, but more importantly, they explain how fabrials work. A link to the deciphered pages can be found here, but please note that this page contains spoilers that are not published in the books and have instead been discovered by outside sources. Read with caution.
Please also note that the following discussion will involve information from these pages as well.
The translation reads:
The term “imprisoned” makes the whole process sound very unenjoyable for the spren involved. Aside from the obvious example of Syl and Kaladin, this indicates that spren have some magical properties that are capable of being harnessed by regular people. It is unlikely that those who use fabrials have any knowledge of these trapped spren, as it is stated many times throughout the book that Navani and those like her keep their secrets safe.
The question is, where did this notion come from? Who would have thought that forcing spren inside a device would cause it to have these properties. In Dalinar’s first vision, there is implication that fabrials have yet to be created:
“We need to get someplace safe,” he said. “Is there a cellar nearby?”
“Cave in the rock, man-made or natural.”
“No caves,” the woman said, joining him at the window. “How would men make a hold in the rock?”
With a Shardblade or a Soulcaster. Or even with basic mining – though that could be difficult, as the crem would seal up coverns and highstorm rains made for an extremely potent risk of flooding.
-pg 300 – 301
The concept of creating a hole in the rock is foreign to these people, and as such its safe to assume that Soulcasters have yet to be created, or at least yet to be widely used. We learn later that when the radiants deserted humanity, their Shardblades were fought over. The time frame of tWoK indicates that there are few Shardblades. Obviously these creations were unable to be reinvented. Fabrials became the means for “magic” to happen.
My suggestion is that the creation of fabrials occurred as an attempt by those who are not radiants to recreate the powers of the radiants. Aware that the powers of the Radiants were drawn from spren, fabrial makers began trapping spren in their instruments. We also know that Jah Keved has created a type of fabrial that has the properties of Shardplate (able to stop a Shardblade).
Outside, he could hear footfalls. Szeth glanced to see men pouring into the room. The newcomers carried distinctive, diamond-shaped shields. Half-shards. Szeth had heard of the new fabrials, capable of stopping a Shardblade.
We know that fabrials were invented sometime after the time of the Radiants, or at the very least towards the end of their existence. We know that the people of Roshar have a major desire to recreate Shardblades. We know that the properties of Shardplate were mimicked by the creation of a fabrial. Lastly, we know that fabrials are created by imprisoning a spren.
I am therefore agreeing with the notion proposed on our forums that spren in some way sacrifice themselves, or willingly enter into a blade (a voluntary “imprisonment”), in order to create a Shardblade.
For one, this would provide a clear explanation for Syl’s dislike of Dalinar’s shardblade. If a spren were to sacrifice themselves and create a weapon to be used for good, then the modern use of Shardblades would be offensive to her. It seems that this sacrifice is irreversible, or at least not easily reversible. Spren would likely be very unwilling to be used in the ways that Shardblades are used today.
Assuming this link, I then turn my attention to our favorite Truthless, and the character that I find most intriguing, Szeth. Szeth immediately jumps out as a character that breaks the rules we think we understand. For one, his Shardblade is different then any that is in the possession of any other character:
At the tenth beat of his heart, his Shardblade dropped into his waiting hand. It formed as if condensing from mist, water beading along the metal length. His Shadeblade was long and thin, edged on both sides, smaller than most others. Szeth swept it out, carving a line int he stone floor and passing through the second guard’s neck.
Further, he has powers similar to those of Kaladin, yet he has no noticeable spren. This seems to contradict the comment Syl makes to Kaladin, indicating that her presence is the direct cause of his powers:
“I’m behind what is happening to you,” she said, voice soft. “I’m doing it.”
Kaladin frowned, stepping forward.
“It’s both of us,” she said. “But without me, nothing would be changing in you. I’m . . . taking something from you. And giving something in return. It’s the way it used to work, though I can’t remember how or when. I just know that it was.”
- pg 808
I’m not the first to acknowledge this quote and then ponder why Szeth’s spren is mysteriously missing. In my opinion, the fact that Szeth’s shardblade is different then others seems to be the link. For most, their Shardblade is something they found, inherited or won. Assuming the theory that a spren is contained inside a blade, then the blade they are carrying contains someone else’s spren. Szeth, however, carries a blade created by his own spren, and as such, the blade is formed in a way that best serves him. Further, I feel that the process of his spren turning into a weapon is the specific reason that Szeth is considered “Truthless.”
We know that the Shin are opposed to weapons.
“This time,” he said. “But if it warns us of bandits in the dark, it’ll repay its cost a dozen times over. Kylrm, lower your bows. You know how they feel about those things.”
We also know that those who pick up weapons instantly become property, and are about as low in society as a person can be.
“Wow,” Rysn said. “He brought a lot of servants.”
“Servants?” Vstim said.
“The fellows in brown.”
Her babsk smailed. “Those are his guards, child.”
“What? They look so dull.”
“Shin are a curious folk,” he said. “Here, warriors are the lowliest of men – kind of like slaves. Men trade and sell them between houses by way of little stones that signify ownership, and any man who picks up a weapon must join them and be treated the same. The fellow in the fancy robe? He’s a farmer.”
We know that stones signify ownership for warriors, much as Szeth’s stone does. However, Szeth’s seems to also have the property of requiring him to obey any command. We also know that Truthless is the lowest point in Shin society. From Szeth’s demeanor and actions, it seems as if he may be even lower then the average Shin who picks up a weapon.
I’d like to point to another quote that I feel has a great amount of significance:
“What did you learn?” Vstim said to her as they walked back toward the lead wagon.
“That shin are odd.”
“No,” Vstim said, though he wasn’t stern. He never seemed stern. “They are simply different, child. Odd people are those who act erratically. Thresh and his kind, they are anything but erratic. They may be a little too stable. The world is changing outside, but the Shin seem determined to remain the same. I’ve tried to offer them fabrials, but they find them worthless. Or unholy. Or too holy to use.”
“Those are rather different things, master.”
“Yes,” he said. “But with the Shin, its often hard to distinguish among them. Regardless, what did you really learn?”
Among the Shin, its difficult to differentiate between something that is “unholy” and something that is “too holy to use.” To the parts of Roshar that we’ve been introduced to, Shardblades are an object of great power; weapons of the Heralds, and those who fought alongside them, a group that could be considered “holy” by the commoners. I am proposing that to the Shin, a people who seem to have some ties to the Radiants, Shardblades fall into the category of “too holy to use”, and as such, by Szeth having one, he is considered “unholy.” The lowest of the low. To further this argument, Szeth’s blade could be connected to his spren. If the Shin consider the previously suggested “spren sacrifice” as a death, then Szeth could have inadvertently perpetrated the most heinous crime of all: murder (the death of his spren) to create a Shardblade (a weapon). Two no-nos in Shin society.
I’d like to acknowledge one last quote:
The plain around her was dotted with strange, striaght-trunked trees with stiff, skeletal branches full of leaes that didn’t withdraw in the wind. The entire landscape had an eerie feel to it, as if it were dead. Nothing moved. With a start, Rysn realized she couldn’t see any spren. Not a one. No windspren, no lifespren, nothing.
The absence of spren in Shinovar has potential to make them special creatures to the Shin, and as such, they could be holy as well. If this were the case, Szeth sacking his in return for a blade could make his act even more atrocious.
This theory leaves some questions unanswered. Why would Szeth do this, knowing the consequences? Why have more spren not bonded with people, and subsequently created more Shardblades? Do spren make Shardplate as well? Unfortunately, only Sanderson has all the answers, and it looks like we’ll be waiting until at least 2012 to have more clues. For now, all we have is speculation.
Much of this post has been discussed on the forums, and for those who have yet to register I encourage you to join our discussion. Whether you want to come to agree with me, or point out holes in my theory, the more heads we have bashing against one another, the more we can attempt to discern about mysteries such as this one.
UPDATE: For more points on this topic, sparked by questions from Moogle’s comment, please review this thread, where I take my theory a little further.