Mar 21 2013 11:00am

The Spren Theory of Disease: Unexpected Science in The Way of Kings

spren Way of Kings Stormlight Archive

Spirits are essential to just about everything in Roshar, the world of Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings. When it’s raining, rain spirits come out to splash in puddles. When the wind blows, ghostly, luminescent, mischievous women ride the zephyrs. Fire dances, not figuratively, but literally. And it’s not just physical phenomena, either, that attract spirits in this world: glorious deeds, perfectly logical arguments, and especially creative or beautiful artwork also have spirits associated with them. These spirits are called spren, and you might think they would suggest a world in which the scientific mind could easily shut itself off entirely. After all, it’s hard to imagine a setting where it would be easier or more tempting to answer any new problem with “a spren did it,” and then stop thinking.

And yet, the people of Roshar saw those little spirits and used them to formulate the germ theory of disease hundreds of years early.

Introducing rotspren:

“Keep that wound clean. We don’t want to attract any rotspren. Let me know if you see any. They are small and red, like tiny insects.”

Cute little things, aren’t they? Like ladybugs that give you gangrene! Rotspren are drawn to open wounds and decaying corpses. Wounds that draw rotspren will quickly become inflamed and infected, causing illness and death if treated poorly. However, rotspren may be small, but they’re still visible, and this has given the people of Roshar the chance to learn a lot more about germs than they should have.

“Hands,” Lirin said, not turning away from gathering his tools.

Kal sighed, hopping off his stool and hurrying over to the basin of warm, soapy water by the door. “Why does it matter?” He wanted to be at work, helping Sani.

“Wisdom of the Heralds,” Lirin said absently, repeating a lecture he’d given many times before. “Deathspren and rotspren hate water. It will keep them away.”

When you can actually see germs crawling all over everything, it becomes much easier to realize some basic things about hygiene: If you wash your hands, you aren’t covered in deadly ladybugs that make wounds rot. A strong incentive, no? It gets even better: the visibility of rotspren has massively sped up their discovery of antiseptics. The people of Roshar have found multiple naturally occurring compounds that frighten away rotspren: larmic mucus, knobweed sap, and lister’s oil. And, although it’s not made explicit, I imagine other practices that caused a lot of real life trouble weren’t a problem in Roshar. (It’s hard to imagine people looking at corpses that were crawling with rotspren and saying “Yes, let us put these corpses next to our drinking water.”)

To review briefly: In our world the transmission of diseases remained largely mysterious until the invention of the microscope. Although Girolamo Fracastoro invented the contagion theory of disease in 1530, and suggested that tiny particles that he called spores transmitted infections and caused epidemics, his theory was not widely adopted, and science didn’t formally recognize microorganisms as disease vectors until Louis Pasteur’s experiments between 1860 and 1864. Only when he could show people bacteria under a microscope would they begin to believe in germs. Before that the predominant theory of disease, at least among the theories that didn’t revolve entirely around acts of God, was the miasma theory, which proclaimed that sickness spread through bad smells. Pasteur’s experimental demonstrations that microorganisms caused disease paved the way for Joseph Lister to massively improve sanitation in hospitals by inventing antiseptics. He also invented Listerine, although he intended it to be used to clean floors and cure gonorrhea, not to clean out your mouth before a date.

Joseph ListerIs this the same Joseph Lister who discovered lister’s oil in the world of The Stormlight Archive? Probably not, although it’s possible that Lister represents the Platonic ideal of inventing sanitation in Sanderson’s mind. Either way, his fantasy innovations have brought medical science to the levels of the dawn of the modern era, while most of the rest of Roshar’s technology is still medieval at best. Surgeons are extremely highly trained, maintain clean operating rooms, use antiseptic, have primitive anaesthetic, and seem to save far more people than they lose, even when they have to amputate limbs. None of this was possible in real life until a time when we had guns, trains, steamboats, and light blubs. People in Alethkar, the main nation in The Way of Kings, are still riding horses, traveling long distances by carriage, and swinging swords at each other, albeit massive ancient swords called Shardblades that cut through stone like paper and burn the souls right out of a person’s body. I’m not sure they even have crossbows. There is a certain amount of disconnect here.

By using the magical elements of his world to screw around with its tech level, Sanderson reminds me of what I love about fantasy, and speculative fiction more generally. When an author makes a new world, they get to set new rules, rules that can do so much more than just set the terms of magical battle. Rotspren change the rules of medicine just as much as Shardblades change the rules of warfare. After introducing these elements, a fantasy author can use them to build an entire world.

For example, by using rotspren to push medicine forward, Sanderson neatly escapes a typical trap of medieval fantasy. By rights, any given scratch on a battlefield should have a significant risk of death. Alethi armies still lose as many men to rotspren as to enemy arrows, but there are battlefield medics with good antiseptics and moderately clean medical facilities with proper triage procedures in place to lighten the losses. A soldier with a medical background and training in field first aid can save many lives, and a soldier whose wounds are not too severe and who receives prompt medical attention has an odds-on chance to live. In other fantasy universes this problem has to be dealt with using magical healing. For example, consider Frodo Baggins, who was stabbed with a Morgul blade. Within days he was desperately ill, and without immediate attention from the most magical healers on the continent, he would've had no chance to survive. Without antispetics just about every wound works that way.

When there's a reasonable chance to heal wounded soldiers, every loss can feel like a failure, and the obsession of protecting a squad can become all-consuming. Enter Kaladin Stormblessed, the main character of The Way of Kings. Kaladin is the son of a surgeon who left home and became a soldier, and he holds every death he can't prevent as a personal sin. He spends the entire book striving to achieve a goal that may be impossible, but in most other fantasy worlds would be simply inconceivable.

And, of course, the existence of medicine enables many other plot developments. After all, how else would you justify a city like Kharbranth having so many hospitals? Best to say no more about that for now.

Roshar is a world with beautiful contradictions. In many ways, the spren do inhibit thought—after all, they do believe that things fall from the sky because groundspren are pulling on them—but they also cultivate curiosity and drive scientific endeavor. Sanderson shows us multiple spren researchers who have devoted their lives to the taxonomy and physics of these creatures. There's even an elderly couple who seem to be drawing close to some kind of Heisenberg uncertainty principle by researching spren. Complicating this is the fact that we have to question our assumptions that we know more about how science should work on this world. I assume that rotspren are drawn to infection, rather than causing it, but it could easily be the other way around. Where does Roshar diverge from Earth? How far can we trust our scientific instincts? And if rotspren provide reliable information, how are we supposed to feel about creationspren and logicspren? Maybe we have to let magical spirits decide what is beautiful and logical. After all, they taught us how to do surgery right. I figure we owe them this.


Image copyright © Laurence Cook

Carl Engle-Laird is the Production Assistant for A spren told him to write this post, and that is totally healthy. You can find him on Twitter.

1. putrocca
Great how second-order consequences of a subtle worldbuilding element to let society based on pre-modern life gain an element of the modern world (high survival rates for injuries) which helps the reader be more comfortable and lets the narrative focus on exciting parts rather than being bogged down in realistic but unpleasant medical realities. Authors are often called upon to sacrifice historical realism for narrative efficiency or reader comfort, but this maintains both, sacrificing neither. It reminds me of the subtle alterations to female fertility and birthing medicine which Jo Walton introduces in the King's Peace etc. which make her Medieval-tech-level society plausibly capable of having a substantial female military presence.
Harry Burger
2. Lightbringer
So do logic spren appear just before a perfect argument is made, or after? Do they come when one is written by a woman alone, or when someone reads it and judges the logic to be sound? Do beauty spren hang out in the museum storage area, where great art is observed, or only where it is created? Those will answer many questions of causality. Though it is established that an honor spren can cause significant changes in gravity with enough energy. Though it's interesting that Szeth never refers to or speaks to his.
3. Herb1
Based on my understanding of spren and how Sanderson's world works in general (it has been a while...), the rotspren don't actually cause infection or, for that matter, hate water. Instead they love germs. It's that they're visible while germs are not that leads to beliefs like "rotspren hate water." They don't really understand what is happening and are skipping a step, but still getting the right result without understanding (a not uncommon phenomenon).
Carl Engle-Laird
4. CarlEngle-Laird
Lightbringer: We haven't actually seen any logicspren yet, so I don't know about that, but we have seen creationspren hovering around Shallan's drawings as she's drawing them, and not when other people see them later. As for honorspren, Brandon Sanderson has confirmed that Szeth isn't bound to a spren the way Kaladin is. I wish I knew what that indicates!
Carl Engle-Laird
5. CarlEngle-Laird
Herb1: That's my intuition as well, but like Lightbringer points out, spren can cause things to happen. Honorspren can bind things together, so can rotspren make things rot? I don't think so, but I also don't believe the issue is settled.
Tili S.
6. venndiagram
Herb1 and Carl: One thing I really like about the causality uncertainty that spren introduce is that it unsettles a tendency one often has when reading historical fantasy to assume that the characters understand the science of their world less well than we do. Like, the clear first thing to think about rotspren is that they are a result of infection, a tool for diagnosis, but that the in-universe understanding that they cause it is magical thinking. This puts us in this comfy position of knowing more than the characters and maybe getting to anticipate them discovering things. But after all, this is a fantasy universe; maybe the biology of infection just works differently on a fundamental level. We don't really know, and something as universal and unexplained as spren makes that evident.
William Carter
7. wcarter
Lady bugs huh? I've always imagined them to look more like chiggers myself, but then my house is pretty deep in the woods so I see a lot of the little monsters.

I think the rotspren are also drawn to infection rather than causing it. In fact, all the spren that are more or less understood appear to be drawn to their focus: fire, creativity, wind, honor, ect.

The yokles getting cause and effect reversed is probably more a consequence of uneven education and the lack of scientific advancements in certain fields.

Then again, for all we know the real explanation for any given facet of Rothshar is 'Hoid or Odium or *insert other shardbeing here* did it.'
Carl Engle-Laird
8. CarlEngle-Laird
wcarter: Wow, chiggers look exactly like rotspren. You have changed the way I perceive them entirely. Also, I am totally willing to buy that flame, rot, and creationspren are simply drawn to what they're named for, but I'm much less certain about honorspren. Yes, I believe that Syl is drawn to Kaladin because he is honorable (and because he's really good at spears), but there are also so many times when she changes the way he acts, and asks him to be a better person: at the honor chasm, she asks him to keep doing the right thing, or when he lies, she tries to pull him to a more honest path. She even spurs him to help Dalinar at the end. He changes her a lot by being honorable, but I think she also changes him, creates more honor in him, when there was already much to begin with.
9. Darth_Katie
I love how Sanderson uses magic and science together. He does it beautifully in Mistborn and Warbreaker too. There's a particular part near the end of Warbreaker where a character starts talking very technically about certain phenomena that had previously been presented as really mystical, and it was just delightful. Any sufficiently analyzed magic is indistinguishable from science!
10. xinpheld
Wcarter: I think it was said that Kaladin's honorspren is something of an anomaly, as they don't normally talk or interact with humans as much as she does. Which probably says something about Kaladin that will be more evident as the series continues.
11. PeregrineAce
Sorry to nitpick an otherwise good piece but Joseph Lister didn't invent Listerine. It was named in his honor by its actual inventors, Joseph Lawrence and Jordan Wheat Lambert. See:

I agree with xinpheld (#10), pretty sure I've read an interview with Sanderson where he implies that there's something special about Syl, so she's probably not the best general case study.
Carl Engle-Laird
12. CarlEngle-Laird
PeregrineAce: Thanks for the catch. I haven't read the particular interview that you and xinpheld reference, but I would love to. Syl is definitely special; I'd like to know what special quality Brandon is hinting at. He did say that she's not the only sentient spren, though, and not the only one who can attain sentience.

Darth_Katie: It's one of my favorite things about his world-development. Sanderson always puts characters in his worlds who are actively engaged in figuring out how the world works, and what makes things tick. Following them is so rewarding!
Dustin Freshly
13. Fresh0130
From what I gathered on my last reread is that Spren are drawn to things, i.e. wind, fire, creation, rot, etc..., they don't actually do these things themselves.

Honor Spren sound kind of like an anomaly among Spren period, there is mention of their behaviour in one of Dalinar's flashbacks.
William Carter
14. wcarter
One possibly explanation is that *concept*spren do not necessarily cause a trait but do increase it's potency and/or potential.
As Lord Thomason of Fleet said "I buy newspapers to make money to buy more newspapers to make more money."
Honorspren like Sly could be symbiotes that are attracted to a trait of an individual and amplify it within them to feed off in some sort of mutually beneficial arrangement.
It would also explain the Knight of Radiance's comment that not all spren are as descerning as honorspren in Dalinar's flashback.
A courage spren (if as I assume there is such a thing) doesn't have to be attracted to a "good" person. There are many forms of courage, and it can be found in good and evil individuals alike.
Carl Engle-Laird
15. CarlEngle-Laird
wcarter: As another example of spren symbiosis, there are the symbolheaded things that Shallan sees. They seem to feed on hidden truths (truthspren? Secretspren?) and offer power in exchange. So could that power lead Shallan to greather truths/secrets? Could the symbolheads be making Jasnah a better scholar? And this is definitely a value-neutral proposition.
Karen Fox
16. thepupxpert
@12 and others - Perhaps Syl's special quality is that she is on her own path to enlightenment, and that she can possibly morph into a more solid form? We see that she is changing and growing all through the book, both mentally and physically, so it'd be great to see her actually develop into a being that is solid but still can revert back to her original form.
Jesse Sayers
17. Fluvre
Since this is the first real step in this reread I think people might find the copper mind useful, a wiki for all things Sanderson.

The book mostly says that Odium killed Honor (probably the god that gave Dalinar the Visions), Syl could be a splinter of Honor trying to regain herself.

I think Sanderson has characters question the relationship to spren and what they appear around too often for it to be a coincidence. It could be that the smaller spren are just attacted to things wheras the larger spren can work to make something happen.

@15 I just checked the coppermind and it seems peope generally refer to the symbol heads as truthspren
Alice Arneson
18. Wetlandernw
If you go to the interview database and click on the tag for "spren" you find some interesting tidbits. Not a lot, but there is some good stuff there.
19. Freelancer
Brandon has stated in Q & A, and it's also very strongly hinted at in the text, that Syl is unique among the beings seen in the text of this volume. That said, the text is careful to evade conclusive information regarding the cause-effect relationship of any spren to events, and that is a question he won't yet answer. To us, the logical view is that the spren are harbingers of an event taking place; that the event would be happening with or without them, but also draws them to it. It may yet be that on Roshar, this is not the truth. And it may be that some spren are causal agents while others are not.

Here is the most significant exchange I could find from the available Q & A sessions (H/T
1. Are there any other sentient spren like Syl, if not are there any Spren capable of becoming sentient or is she purposefully unique?
2. If so, what are the conditions that must be met for a spren to become sentient?

Brandon Sanderson
Ok Cool.

1. There are other sentient spren.
2. There are many more who could become sentient, there were choices that were made that we will get into that were made by some spren that, that involved - There were certain choices that were made that influenced this, so yes, that was a very detailed and specific question, you did a good job and so I will give you your answer that there are others like Syl that could become and there are some that are sentient already

Would that also mean that certain spren had an alignment or would some spren be catered toward good or evil or not?

They're creatures of nature and so good and evil aren't as, as big a deal to them. There are some that may be put in that sort of alignments, certainly honorspren are going to be of a certain type, but there are many spren of many different temperaments and they are kind of aligned to their temperament, having to do with who they are and what they are.
Brandon has become very adept at choosing the words of his answers to prevent giving anything away, so he doesn't speak in terms of cause and effect regarding the spren. He allows that the temperament of some may result in an alignment of sorts, but not whether they are drawn to, or influencing, in that regard.
Carl Engle-Laird
20. CarlEngle-Laird
@17 Yes, Brandon has said that "truthspren" is a decent name for them for now. I like to keep myself open to the possibility of other designations for as long as I can. By the way, this is more of a companion piece to the re-read than an article in the re-read itself. That starts next week!
21. Mr. Mojo
I read the article, and the comments, and the thing that keeps circling around in my mind is the death spren. We are told that they are only seen by people in the last moments of life. If I remember right (I'm due for a re-read myself) Kaladin sees them after he is tied out in the storm and suffering near fatal injuries (which would be absolutely fatal if what's-his-name didn't keep feeding Kaladin stormlight). Once again, this isn't a 100% guaranteed conclusion, but it seems to me that the fact that Kaladin saw the death spren but didn't die is evidence that they are attracted to - not the cause of - their namesake. On the other hand, the death spren could have been causing Kaladin's death, but then been interrupted by Kaladin absorbing stormlight.
Carl Engle-Laird
22. CarlEngle-Laird
@21 My thought on that: While the deathspren were approaching, Syl was actively fighting them back. This could be metaphorical, it could be her reacting needlessly, but it could also be that Syl has to keep the deathspren away from Kaladin for him to be able to survive. It's a really interesting moment to study.
Niraj Merchant
23. NirajMerchant
I feel that there is a fundamental difference between spren that represent forces of nature, and those that represent concepts/abstractions. Maybe the second kind have agency, while the first kind are just manifestations of the phenomena.

On the other hand, it seems that the spren are obviously a result of some particular occurence, as we dont see them in shin at all. Perhaps they are connected to the storms? What about the giant spren with changing faces that shallan sees in one of the ports she visits? Im not too sure how that one fits in
24. Mr. Mojo
@22 - Wow, I can't believe I forgot one of my favorite moments in the book! That image of tiny little Syl holding back the scary-as-hell death spren - it's quite possibly the most cinematic moment in a book absolutely filled with them. Like I said earlier, I am very much due for another re-read.

@23 and others who commented on the differences between abstract and natural spren - I agree that there are probably fundamental differences between the 2 types, and whether they are proactive (cause) or reactive (drawn to) is more than likely only a small part of that difference. There's still a lot of this story for Mr. Sanderson to write, and all of us to enjoy, and I don't doubt that we haven't even scratched the surface yet.
25. Robin C.R Burgess
I think some people are forgetting that when A and B are correlated, A causes B and B causes A are not the only two possible situations. It is also possible that C cause both A and B.

That is to say, it is possible that a third thing causes both the rot and the rotspren. For example, someone has already made the suggestion that microorganisms cause both.

My personal guess though is that in some way the relationship between spren and their particular object of attraction is related to the setting's seperation of spiritual, physical and mental aspects in to three distinct realms.
26. Betsy!
This seems like a well-built world and I should read this series. ^_^
27. ScienceNerd
Also going to briefly nitpick.
"There's even an elderly couple who seem to be drawing close to some kind of Heisenberg uncertainty principle by researching spren."
What they're drawing close to is actually the Observer Effect, which is very often confused with the Uncertainty Principle. They are similar, but not the same.

Otherwise, thank you for your insights. The comments about modern(ish) medicine in a medievalesque world were really interesting and thought provoking.
28. Staizer
While I had generally assumed that some of the spren were manifestations of an already exhibited cause (read: Rot Spren)
There is the key fact that the illustrations in the book give examples of Spren having physical reactions to things. Spren have an entanglement effect on objects, picking up and putting down objects instantaneously, changing gravity (which implies that there are actually gravity spren to change). My point being that if the spren are capable of exerting force on objects of causing pain, all sorts of different things; then why could they not all be the cause of the things they represent?
William Carter
29. wcarter

We don't know for sure that they aren't the cause of anything or even everything they represent.

But the argument that they are reactionary rather than proactive has been made based on circumstantial evidence in the book. Creationspren spring up around Shalan after she starts drawing things. Fire spren show up around fires camp fires or lamps that are already lit. Rot spren show up on wounds three or four days after the injury occurs assuming it hasn't been properly cleaned and cared for.

Now it could be that these various spren were all there all along and simply invisible until they helped initiate the circumnstances they are associated with, but their's little or no evidence for that at this time.

Personally, I sticking with the amplification/symbiosis theory for now.
Harry Burger
30. Lightbringer
Mind--> blown. Kaladin and Szeth have the EXACT same superpowers, I figured they must have the same source. I figured Seth's people draw honor spren by making themselves slaves to whoever holds their stone. That is honor to their thinking. Now I'm doubly curious why he doesn't go mercenary or quit the job he seems to hate. Cursed Shardblade perhaps?
Carl Engle-Laird
31. CarlEngle-Laird
@25 Yes, Sanderson has said that the Spren are very closely related to the cognitive realm. I'll be exploring that soon, I think

@27 Ah! Thank you! I knew that I was using slightly the wrong term.

@30 Yeah, whatever's going on with Szeth is weird! The way we see Kaladin's Windrunner powers develop is totally inconsistent with him, especially because he's Shin, and there are no spren in Shinnovar. A cursed Shardblade is a really good theory, especially since we know Syl hates Shardblades. My theory is that while some Windrunner powers come from Honor, some might also come from Odium.
32. TBGH
I thought it was pretty clear from Syl's reaction to the shardblade, "I'm glad Dalinar gave it up, it makes him a better man;" as well as Kaladin's initial reaction to picking up a shardblade (nausea as his hand got close) that picking up the shardblade killed Szeth's honorspren (while leaving his powers intact) which is his crime. (Diagram that sentence)

So the real question regarding Szeth is, what are shardblades made of that make them inimical to honorspren?

Personally I'm thinking shardblades are made by some evil process (killing certain spren by sucking their power?) which is why that ancient army all decided to give them up at the same time. Either that or there are spren of unbinding (remember Syl was also called a bindspren for part of the book) and they are responsible for the shardblades as part of their desire to unbind all things (entropy-spren?).
Alice Arneson
33. Wetlandernw
My current "burning question" for Brandon is this: "Is Szeth called 'Truthless' because of something he DID, or because of what he IS?" It might need a bit of rewording, because it's also possible that he did something that makes him what he is... but I'm trying to determine whether the "Truthless" tag is the result of some sin he committed, or whether it's applied to anyone who demonstrates these powers. A related question would be, "Does Szeth have these powers because of something he did, or because of what he is?" Are the powers he has in some way related to the term? Or... not?
William Carter
34. wcarter
One of us going to Jcon could always ask him for you if you want.
Alice Arneson
35. Wetlandernw
Yeah, I'm going to put it out there for them. :)
36. Freelancer
Robin C.R Burgess @25

Indeed, correlation does not prove causation. But that's exactly why the spren are under discussion, that we haven't enough information yet (and kudos to Brandon for keeping it so up to now) to know in what manner they connect to the conditions with which they are identified and named.

The interesting point being made by the initial thrust of this post is that, regardless of causation, the existence of spren which ARE correlated to decaying tissue, has resulted in the establishment of basic antiseptic practices. Assuming for a moment that the rotspren are attracted to, and not the cause of, such decay, the news is that lifesaving behaviors have resulted from a false conclusion.

ScienceNerd @27

In fact, the Uncertainty Principle and what you are calling the Observer Effect, sprang from the same set of Heisenberg's works in the 1920s.

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle was a term assigned to him following his work in the 1920s, in which he described the inability to accurately determine the values of multiple properties of particles. In his writing on the work, he specifically ascribed the affects of observation as one source of this inability.

Later study determined mathematically that uncertainty in quantum determination was independent of observation or measurement. Most appropriately, this is identified as the Quantum Uncertainty Principle, while Heisenberg's previous declarations, which did and were meant to include scientific observations outside of quantum physics, were pushed under the less interesting title of Observer Effect.

So, the original naming of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is quite appropros to be linked with the observational interests of the elderly couple within the story.

Ok, so what about Syl? Does she give us any clues? Is she saving Kal's life by blockading the deathspren, or is she as ignorant of the causal relationship regarding them as he is? We know that she gains some of her "persona" from her connection to him, does she assimilate and operate from Kaladin's understanding of the world around him? You would imagine that a spren who could think for itself would know if she were cause or effect, but nobody in-world seems to be asking the correct question.
William Carter
37. wcarter
I think therefore I Spren? Not necessarily.

Humans misunderstood most of our bodily processes for thousands of years. Functions of the brain were ascribed to the liver, germ theory was nonexistant as mentioned in the article.

It's not impossible for Spren--especially one who has only recently gained (or regained) sapience to not know exactly why things happen the way they do. Heck Mistborn spoiler: the Lord Ruler and Vin both didn't really know how to properly use their temporary god powers in Mistborn and Sazed only worked it out when he dumped the multiple libraries of knowledge from his copperminds into his brain.

Looking at it that way it makes sense for lifeforms like Spren to not know everything about themselves when they move from an instict driven *insert brain equivilant* to a thought driven one.
38. Parmeisan
"In many ways, the spren do inhibit thought—after all, they do believe that things fall from the sky because groundspren are pulling on them..."

My guess it that things *do* fall from the sky in Roshar because groundspren are pulling on them. They are just the spirits that enforce gravity... they never needed to give it any other name. Won't stop them from eventually figuring out the rate of pull and such.
39. Talisyn
@32 It is stated in one of Dalinar's flashbacks that the Shardblades were given to the people by the Heralds. And that all the blades and plate in the world wre given up by the Knights, and also from the flashbacks that the plate is alot less powerful then when the Knights used it.
My theory is that the Knights grew their armor and the Parshendi have some incomplete knowledge of how it was done.
I think Syl doesn't like the current blades because they aren't true blades anymore. They are cast offs. True blades and plate are made by the person as they progess along the path that the Knights did. So maybe both Kaladin and Dalinar will develop their own weapon and armor.
Carl Engle-Laird
40. CarlEngle-Laird
@39 That would be an awesome development! Recently I've been wondering though: Shardblades and Shardplate seem like two technologies designed to oppose each other. Is it possible they have opposite sources? That Shardplate is in some way related to Honor, but the current generation of Shardblades are of Odium instead?
JOhn Johnson
41. smileyman
I'm wondering if spren aren't the root of magic in The Way of Kings. It's by controlling and manipulating various spren that you can accomplish what you want.

Soulcasting involves convincing spren to change their form (this reminds me strongly of Forging in The Emperor's Soul).

Lashing involves manipulating gravity spren and friction spren (probably weight spren too). (This reminds me heavily of what you can do with coins in Mistborn.)

I'm not sure about Shardblades, but I'm thinking that maybe they kill/absorb various types of spren depending on where they hit the body. This is why that area become numb--there's nothing there anymore. I'm also thinking that we'll end up seeing someone who can mimic the effects of a Shardblade without having a Shardblade.

Szeth is an interesting case too. He calls himself Truthless and talks about his Oathstone. I'm wondering if there isn't a spren that's tied to your soul, and when you swear on an Oathstone whomever controls the Oathstone now has your soulspren. Without that you have no truth anymore because you're not you (if that makes any sense). Thus Szeth is Truthless.
Jesse Sayers
42. Fluvre
Sanderson is an occasional redditor under the name mistborn. Just a couple of hours ago someone asked him a question and got a very relivent response- permalink

Rutthed 6 points 11 hours ago
Serious question: are there poopspren, and how would they fare in indoor plumbing situations?
Alice Arneson
43. Wetlandernw
smileyman @41 - FWIW, Brandon has referred to the Windrunners using the two Surges of pressure and gravitation, and has also said that Szeth and Kaladin (a Windrunner-in-process) use the same set of forces. So it's not weight or friction Szeth is manipulating, but pressure - which in some regards is the same thing but in a single form.

Other than that... I too am very interested to see what more we learn about Shardblades and how they work.
44. Tabs
Could Szeth be the 10 Herald, Talenel? Or weild one of the Herald's blades? "These Blades were weapons of power beyond even Shardblades."
Alice Arneson
45. Wetlandernw
Tabs @44 - No. Talenel shows up at the end of the book, and he doesn't even remotely resemble Szeth; he has hair and a beard, if nothing else. His Blade is described as "massive" and "long, narrow and straight, shaped like an enormous spike" which doesn't match Szeth's "long and thin, edged on both sides, smaller than most others."
46. genus
In my humble opinion, shardblades are hated by Syl because of the atrocities they have commited over the centuries.
47. atheistcanuck
The Truthless thing has to do with breaking some kind of religious law I think, and I also think it's got to do with the Voidbringers somehow, because in the prolouge Szeth thinks about how "his honor declared that they (the voidbringers) exsisted, his punishment declared that they didn't" or something like that.
Harry Burger
48. Lightbringer
The Shin version of Heaven is called the Valley of Truth, I think Truthless means he is condemned to never enter there because he has destroyed. They value "He Who Adds," creators, farmers. Every society needs people ready to to violence to keep the peace, the Shin have a strange (to our eyes) way of doing it, drafting any who commits violence in a moment of passion to be the peace keepers, or they probably have other Truthless kill those who refuse to take on that role.

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