It may have become apparent that I have a lot of opinions about spren, and fully intend to share all of them with you. With the reread of Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings building up steam and all manner of Stormlight Archive coverage on the horizon, I thought that we might all benefit from a reference text. I have compiled a list of all the spren that have been seen or mentioned in The Way of Kings so far, with descriptions when available and commentary as I found interesting. The result is a kind of encyclopedia.
Alespren: “Test successful. Have noted spren who appear only when one is severely intoxicated. Appear as small brown bubbles clinging to objects nearby. Further testing may be needed to prove they were more than a drunken hallucination.” Oh, Axies the Collector, you are just my very favorite minor character. Since he only appears in a single scene, there may be some of you who don’t remember Axies. He’s an Aimian scholar, member of a devastated race with really strange traits: he can resculpt his body at will, a power which he uses to make writing appear on his body, and his shadow goes towards the light instead of away from it. Axies has made it his centuries-long mission to catalogue every single spren in a single work. This blog post is totally dedicated to him.
Anyway, the spren themselves appear to be extremely rare. They only appear in Iri, and even there very infrequently. Axies spent years drinking himself silly in the hope that he’d attract these drink-loving spirits, and even now he doesn’t know for sure that they’re real. Spren studies sounds like a terribly tricky field. The idea that spren are regional is fascinating and peculiar to me, as well. Is this because certain locations are more closely related to the concepts the spren love? I’d love to hear more theories on this subject, especially in relation to the fact that Shinovar has no spren at all.
Angerspren: “His expression was as thunderous as a highstorm, angerspren boiling up from the ground around him like small pools of bubbling blood.” Gross. I’d love to track how emotion-based spren have shaped the cultures of Roshar. The Alethi have had the visual metaphor for anger handed to them, with all the context that brings. Anger is red, it bubbles, and it is linked with hot blood. I am reminded of nothing so much as the theory of the four humors. Finally, consider how hard it would be to hide your anger at a boss, friend, or enemy when if you get enough rage pumping through you blood bubbled up all around you. I bet that would make for a much more conflict-driven society.
Anticipationspren: “A few anticipationspren—like red streamers, growing from the ground and whipping in the wind—began to sprout from the rock and wave among the soldiers.” Anticipationspren appear around nervous people, people who are waiting for something. Like angerspren, they reveal deep emotions, and like gloryspren, they seem to appear much more frequently around battles. This could be because our understanding of spren is, so far, mostly an Alethi understanding, and to them everything is about battle.
Bindspren: “He thought he could faintly make out tiny spren, dark blue and shaped like splashes of ink, clustering around the place where the rock met the wall.” Syl and Kaladin argued about whether bindspren create Full Lashings, or are attracted to them. As far as I can remember, however, Szeth’s Lashings didn’t attract bindspren. This is just one of many oddities about Szeth’s magic.
Captivityspren: Axies has postulated that there should be a spren attracted to those who have been imprisoned. Despite the countless times he’s been thrown into jail, however, he’s yet to confirm their existence. Poor Axies. Maybe you just haven’t gotten arrested in the right precinct, yet!
Chasmfiend Spren: “Tiny, near-invisible spren were floating out of the beast’s body, vanishing into the air. They looked like the tongues of smoke that might come off a candle after being snuffed.” I have no idea what these spren represent yet, but Sanderson has confirmed that they exist in symbiosis with the chasmfiends.
Coldspren: Only mentioned so far in Navani’s notebook (usefully translated from Alethi into english by enterprising fans), where she comments that they can be bound to gems to create cold-producing fabrials.
Creationspren: “Creationspren were of medium size, as tall as one of her fingers, and they glowed with a faint silvery light. They transformed perpetually, taking new shapes. Usually the shapes were things they had seen recently…they imitated shapes exactly, but moved them in strange ways. A table would roll like a wheel, an urn would shatter and repair itself.” It’s hard to argue against creationspren being attracted to acts of creation, rather than causing them. What could more fruitfully be discussed is which aspect of creation actually draws them. While Shallan understands them to be drawn to more skillful artwork, she of course is acting under the tautology that creationspren foster: Creationspren are drawn to skillful acts of creation, so art that attracts creationspren must be finer than art that does not. I think it’s more likely that creationspren are drawn to realistic representations of shapes, which is why they are so frequently drawn to Shallan’s detailed, exact sketches. This would push artwork towards ever more realistic styles, and would heavily discourage impressionism or, Almighty preserve us, abstract expressionism.
Cusicesh the Protector: “At precisely seven forty-six in the morning—the locals could use it to set their timepieces—an enormous, sea-blue spren surged from the waters of the bay. It was translucent, and though it appeared to throw out waves as it rose, that was illusory…They called it by name, Cusicesh the Protector. Some worshipped it as a god.” I wish so badly that I could explain to you what Cusicesh is. There are so many weird things going on here. Cusicesh has a face, or rather, a number of different human faces, that always looks towards the Origin, where the Highstorms come form. It seems to be unique, a spren of its own type. Axies feels drained while watching it, and this seems to be very common. So, is Cusicesh leeching some kind of emotion out of onlookers? Does it eat awe? Is it sucking at their souls? It’s already at least a hundred feet tall, and could still be growing.
Cusicesh is a huge, huge outlier. I want to unravel this mystery, and I can only hope that we’ll learn more about it soon.
Deathspren: “He saw the deathspren. They were fist-sized and black, with many legs and deep red eyes that glowed, leaving trails of burning light. They clustered around him, skittering this way and that. Their voices were whispers, scratchy sounds like paper being torn. They terrified him, but he couldn’t escape them.” In the comments to my previous article a rousing discussion developed around whether rotspren cause disease or are attracted to disease, with the vast majority believing that they were only attracted to festering wounds. I largely agree with that instinct, but I think the question of whether deathspren cause death is much more up in the air. I want to discuss this, along with other theories of spren metaphysics, in a later post, so bear with me until then.
Decayspren: Syl makes an offhand refrence to a decayspren. How would a decayspren differ from a rotspren? Why would there need to be both? Does Syl know a different set of names for spren than humans do?
Exhaustionspren: These spren appear alongside painspren among the wounded after a battle on the Shattered Plains. No physical description has been given to date.
Fearspren: “Small fearspren—shaped like globs of purple goo—began to wriggle from the masonry, pointing toward the doorway. They were drawn by the terror being felt on the other side.” Two things of note: First, fearspren point towards sources of intense fear, and can potentially reveal a terrified person hiding from something. Second, it is noted at one point of Bridge Four that, “to their credit,” they were not attracting any fearspren, which indicates not that they are fearless, but that they are less afraid than other nearby people. Not attracting fearspren seems to be a sign of valor.
Flamespren: “Tiny flamespren danced around them, like insects made solely of congealed light.” The ardent Geranid discovers that, when one of their variable dimensions such as height, width, or luminosity is measured, that dimension becomes fixed. This demonstrates that flamespren have form that can be altered by human categorical imposition. We don’t know yet if other spren share this quality.
Gloryspren: “Gloryspren—like tiny golden translucent globes of light—began to pop into existence around him, attracted by his sense of accomplishment.” I am almost entirely certain that gloryspren are misnamed. Glory is a quality that is generated through external consensus that your actions deserve praise and honor, and is not derived from a strong sense of accomplishment. Of course, that’s just my puny Earth opinion. It’s clearly not true on Roshar.
Groundspren: The Alethi believe that things fall towards the ground instead of floating away because groundspren pull them downwards. This sounds stupid, but is actually functionally interchangeable with a rudimentary theory of gravity. The main difference is that groundspren are a lot lazier than gravity, and only pull at about .7 g.
Heatspren: Like Coldspren, Heatspren only appear in Navani’s notebook.
Honorspren: See Sylphrena.
Hungerspren: “They looked like brown flies that flitted around the man’s head, almost too small to see.” Another in the class of spren that are attracted to definite emotions or sensations, like fearspren, angerspren, and painspren.
Laughterspren: “A few laughterspren—minnowlike silver spirits that darted through the air in circular patterns—began to zip about them.” While I’ve talked before about how restrictive it is for a society to have visualizations of their emotions, I do still love those visualizations. Everything about laughterspren, their silvery color, the way they dart and flit and play, is basically perfect.
Lifespren: “Tiny lights rose around the plants. Lifespren. They looked like motes of glowing green dust or swarms of tiny translucent insects.” Lifespren are most likely to appear in the blossoming stage directly after a highstorm, when plants hungrily drink in stormwater. This might highlight the fact that spren are tied to the storms, especially considering how both spren and storms are absent from Shinovar.
Logicspren: “There were said to be logicspren—in the form of tiny stormclouds—who were attracted to great arguments, but Shallan had never seen them.” Hmm. First, what aspects of great arguments attract logicspren? Consistency, correctness? How do the spren know? Second, why do they look like stormclouds?
Luckspren: Sailors call the little spren that cluster around skyeels in flight “luckspren.” Shallan doesn’t think that’s the right name for them, and I’m inclined to agree. However, they do have the honor of being the only spren we have a visual reference for so far.
Musicspren: Like creationspren and logicspren, musicspren are drawn to the “best” music. I think in this case “best” means “containing the purest tonal quality,” as evidenced by the single musicspren that appears when Kabsal demonstrates the symmetry of the Dawncities. Possibly there is a sub-musicspren for each distinct semitone.
Nightspren: As far as we know, nightspren are “superstition, fabrications of the Lost Radiants, who used tales of monsters to justify their domination of mankind.” On the one hand, most things strict Vorins say about the Knights Radiant are suspect. On the other hand, nightspren probably only “appear” when it’s too dark to see them, so I am willing to doubt.
Painspren: “Painspren—like small orange hands with overly long fingers—were crawling around him, reacting to his agony.” That is incredibly creepy. As if the idea of pain wasn’t worrisome enough, when its visualized as creeping hands with extenuated fingers… Well. Shudders have been induced.
Passionspren: “Passionspren, like tiny flakes of crystalline snow, floated down in the air around them.” So far we’ve only seen these attracted by romantic passion. If they aren’t attracted to anything else, that would tell us a lot about the Alethi definition of passion.
Rainspren: “They passed some rainspren standing in puddles, glowing like ankle-high melting candles with no flame.” In most ways I find rainspren to be far less interesting than the other weather and elemental spren, but there is the fun tidbit that some people claim them to be “the souls of raindrops,” which puts a lot of pressure on what it means to have a soul if even a raindrop has one.
Riverspren: We see no riverspren in The Way of Kings, but we know that they are shaped like eels, are very large, and are capable of mimicking faces and expressions. It’s claimed that they’re not intelligent, but that’s claimed of windspren, too.
Rotspren: Little red bugs that give you gangrene. I have discussed them at some length here.
Starspren: “There was a spray of stars in the sky above. Several of those moved about, the tiny pinpricks of light chasing after one another, zipping around like distant, glowing instincts. Starspren. They were rare.” So things that are not of Roshar get spren also? Do those same stars shine on Shinovar?
Sylphrena: “On a nearby mound, a small figure flitted around the plants, dancing like a fluttering insect. The figure was amorphous, vaguely translucent. Windspren were devious spirits who had a penchant for staying where they weren’t wanted.” Oh Syl. There’s a lot to be said about Sylphrena. In fact, she probably deserves her own article, and I do intend to say much more about her later. But for now I’ll say this. Kaladin thinks that Syl is a windspren, a tricksy spren that loves to play with people like the wind plays with leaves. She bonds with Kaladin, becoming more and more of a person the longer she stays with him. She can speak, she has a name, she can stick things to other things and carry small burdens. Eventually she comes to believe she is an honorspren, a spirit of oaths that bind. She breaks every rule about spren that the people of Alethkar think they know, and whenever you find contradictions like that you know there’s fertile ground for analysis.
Symbolheads/Truthspren: “She had drawn something standing in the doorway behind the king. Two tall and willowy creatures with cloaks that split down the front and hung at the sides too stiffly, as if they were made of glass. Above the stiff, high collars, where the creatures’ heads should be, each had a large, floating symbol of twisted design full of impossible angles and geometries.” Symbolhead is my personal term for these things. Truthspren is the name that Sanderson has called good enough to refer to them for now. Shallan discovers these things appearing in her drawings when she sketches without paying attention. This is obviously pretty unsettling. They show up more and more frequently, until eventually she hears a strange voice in her head: “What are you?” They offer her the power to soulcast without a soulcaster, and with that power access to the Shadesmar, but at a price:
You need to tell me something true, it replied. The more true, the stronger our bond.
Jasnah is using a fake Soulcaster, Shallan thought. I’m sure that’s a truth.
That’s not enough, the voice whispered. I must know something true about you. Tell me. The stronger the truth, the more hidden it is, the more powerful the bond. Tell me. Tell me. What are you?
Fascinating! I believe that this is some variant of the Radiants’ bond with their spren, the one that gives them power, but based on truth instead of honor. And in this case, truth is obviously a much more value-neutral thing. We are definitely going to be learning more about these things in Words of Radiance, since that is going to be Shallan’s book.
Windspren: See Sylphrena.