Tue
Oct 29 2013 8:00am

The Stormlight Grimoire, Part 1: Stormlight and the Nahel Bond

Brandon Sanderson The Way of Kings Michael Whelan

Welcome to the Stormlight Grimoire, a mini-series of articles dedicated to explaining and exploring how magic works in Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive. Most kinds of magic have been lost to the people of Roshar for countless years, but as Sanderson’s story unfolds that knowledge and power is beginning to flow back into the world.

There is still much to be revealed, but there’s also a lot available to those who are willing to dig for it. This week I will cover what I think are the fundamentals of Sanderson’s many magic systems: Stormlight and the Nahel Bond. I believe these two mechanisms to be essential to all the kinds of magic Sanderson has shown us so far, so there’s no better place to start.

Stormlight

Stormlight is the energy that makes magic on Roshar possible. Both of the major forms of magic we’ve encountered so far, Surgebinding and Soulcasting, are fueled directly by Stormlight. In the case of Soulcasting, Stormlight is siphoned out of gemstones and into Soulcasters. Surgebinders are somewhat more direct; they can inhale Stormlight directly, or absorb it during highstorms.

The people of Roshar store Stormlight in cut and polished gemstones, suspended in glass spheres. While even uncut gemstones catch Stormlight, worked gems hold a much higher quantity, and also make far better decorations and light sources. Capturing and holding Stormlight in this way is so essential that spheres have become the basic unit of currency across Roshar, and infused spheres are de facto more valuable than uninfused spheres, although officially speaking this is just because uninfused spheres might be counterfeit. I imagine this system of currency developed long ago, when people still knew all the things they could do with Stormlight, and has persisted into the modern era of magical ignorance.

Stormlight is clearly highly energized, as can be determined by how it invigorates those who inhale it. When Kaladin or Szeth hold Stormlight inside themselves, they can run faster and hit harder. The Stormlight warms them from within. It even supercharges their natural healing processes. While they’re holding Stormlight, Szeth and Kaladin don’t have to breathe, which is good, because exhaling would release the energy back into the air. Sadly, humans are way worse at holding Stormlight than gemstones, since their porous, fleshy exteriors are more permeable than a crystal lattice. As a result, they start glowing.

Words of Radiance Brandon Sanderson US cover Tor BooksStormlight is carried in Highstorms, which sweep across the continent from east to west. The people of Roshar believe that the storms come from a single location, far to the east, which they call the Origin. If they are right, the Origin likely contains something incredibly powerful that is generating Stormlight. I have a few theories on what that something could be, obviously.

1) The Stormfather: “Stormfather” is an Alethi epithet for Jezrien, the King of the Heralds. They seem to believe that Jezrien rides the storms, although the theological import of this is somewhat confusing. Sigzil, a Worldsinger devoted to spreading the stories of Roshar, also describes Jezrien this way, calling him “Master of the storms, bringer of water and life,” which could easily be stretched to imply bringing Stormlight. I think this is really unlikely, though. Jezrien walked away from his earthly duties at the end of the last Desolation, and he did so as a human, not as a thunderstorm. It’s possible he could have traveled to the Origin, but I doubt he would have forsaken his responsibilities just to pick up some new ones somewhere else.

2) A Dimensional Rift: Brandon Sanderson once described the Pits of Hathsin, where Atium is mined in the Mistborn series, as a leak between the spiritual and the physical realms. That’s how Atium is formed in the first place. Sanderson also said that a leak between the spiritual and physical realm is part of how gemhearts are formed. This actually ties into my third theory.

3) Honor: It’s revealed late in The Way of Kings that Dalinar’s dream-visions are being sent to him by Honor, the dead Shard. His dreams occur during Highstorms, so it makes sense to think that Honor is traveling in the storms. So, like the Pit of Hathsin or the Well of Ascension, it’s possible that Honor’s liquid body is waiting at the Origin. This would be an especially exciting possibility, because it almost guarantees a journey to the Origin at some point in the series.

Stormlight coming from Honor is my current favorite theory, especially because of how much longer Kaladin can hold Stormlight than Szeth. In the Prologue, Szeth says that a person can only hold Stormlight for a few minutes at best, whereas Kaladin later fights for tens of minutes while full to the brim. Which brings me to the second half of this article.

The Nahel Bond

“Alakavish was a Surgebinder. He should have known better. And yet, the Nahel bond gave him no more wisdom than a regular man. Alas, not all spren are as discerning as honorspren.”

—Nohadon, author of The Way of Kings

It’s very possible that a reader of The Way of Kings wouldn’t remember the Nahel bond. It is mentioned only once, in one of Dalinar’s dream visions, amid a torrent of other unfamiliar information. If it refers to what I think it does, however, it is one of the most important mechanisms in the series. The quotation above suggests that the Nahel bond is something that links humans and spren together, empowering the bonded human and transforming him or her into a Surgebinder. This is what happens between Kaladin and Sylphrena over the course of The Way of Kings, and there are hints that he is not the only one to be developing such a bond.

Words of Radiance Brandon Sanderson UK cover GollanczThere are many different kinds of spren, even without considering how small a proportion of them we may have seen, and it’s not clear yet whether all of them can form Nahel bonds. Honorspren definitely seem to be the most likely to make such a bond; I doubt it’s a coincidence that Nohadon mentioned honorspren specifically as Kaladin was forming a bond with the honorspren Syl.

Spren are beings formed by an intersection of the cognitive and physical realms, so it seems strange to me that bonding with them would give humans access to enhanced Stormlight abilities, especially if my previous theory about Stormlight coming from a spiritual realm link is correct. On the other hand, it provides a somewhat poetic completeness for the bond to connect all three realms in this way.

The Nahel bond seems to extend beyond imparting Surgebinding. Kaladin and Syl have a well-developed relationship and partnership. They inform each other’s experiences of the world. Whether or not this leads to altered mental states for Surgebinders is still in question, of course, but the bond definitely enhances the spren’s intellect. It’s also possible that the Nahel bond is what enables humans to inhale Stormlight.

If this all seems extremely hazy, it’s because almost no one has known what a Nahel bond is or does hundreds if not thousands of years. The main exception to this rule are the Envisagers, a secret society that the bridgeman Teft used to be a member of. It seems that they awaited the return of the Knights Radiant, who formed Nahel bonds and were much more facile with Stormlight and Shardplate, but according to Teft even they only had “stories and legends” to guide them. I’m not able to provide much more information at this point, but I’m sure that the Nahel bond will feature prominently in Words of Radiance. We’ve already seen how Syl respects Dalinar, making it likely that he will soon attract a spren of his own, and the Parshendi have their own unique connections to the spren that may result in entirely new forms of magic. Plus, I have my suspicions that the Nahel bond is just as critical to Soulcasting as it is to Kaladin’s abilities.

Kaladin finalized his bond with Syl by speaking the second vow of the Knights Radiant. This is suspiciously similar to how Shallan unlocked her ability to Soulcast: she shared an important personal secret with a mysterious spren that only she could see. My suspicion is that she formed a Nahel bond with that spren, which would mean that Jasnah has one as well. It also means that Elhokar, who sees the symbolheaded spren around him, is a candidate to become a natural Soulcaster.

But more of that next time, when I investigate the mechanics of Soulcasting in-depth.


Carl Engle-Laird is an editorial assistant, Way of Kings rereader, and Stormlight Archive correspondent for Tor.com. He laments his porous, fleshy exterior, but his application to become crystalline is lost in red tape. You can follow him on Twitter here.

33 comments
Gary Singer
1. AhoyMatey
Great article. Food for thought. I think "...my previous theory about Stormlight coming from a spiritual realm link" needs "is correct".
Adam S.
3. MDNY
Very interesting article. Clearly stormlight's origins will be further explained (I'm guessing that's last 3 out of 10 books material....) but I don't think Jezrien could be the source- as you pointed out, he quit, even though the Alethi (and Vorin followers in general) view him as a sort of religious figure. I liked your musings on the pits of Hathsin, but I most envisioned something like your third theory, Honor. Even if honor is dead (or the shardbearer is dead), the power is still there I think. In Mistborn, Ruin and Preservation both had multiple aspects to their being. They each had a human figure (Preservation's bearer died unseen, Ruin's died next to Vin at the end). Ruin also had the black blob at the well of ascension, the atium, and the darkness that Vin fought in the end, encompassing the whole world, while Preservation had the mist spirit and the mists themselves. I imagine that Honor has multiple parts to his being, as well. Even if he died, there is still stormlight, a vast store of energy continually renewed somewhere to the East. I don't think BWS would make it another pit of Hathsin, however. He seems to like making new things for us to see each book.
Robert Dickinson
4. ChocolateRob
I guess it's worth mentioning again here that Roshar is in for an economic upheaval when emeralds are no longer the most essential gems. Why would Kaladin want one emerald's worth of stormlight when he could use the light of fifty diamonds for the same price. As they emerge, different surgebinders will likely value different gems more highly.
Phantine
5. Phantine
My pet theory - that stormlight is the 'gaseous form of shard essence'/mist-equivalent on roshar - was recently confirmed.
Alice Arneson
6. Wetlandernw
At the Seattle signing, I asked Brandon to expound a little on Shards, Splintering, Splinters, and Slivers. I won't transcribe the entire conversation here (at least not right now), but the bit that's relevant here is his confirmation that the Highstorms are related to Honor in somewhat the same way that the mists and the Well are related to Preservation.

Another thing he revealed there is that there was some investiture on Roshar prior to the arrival of Honor and Cultivation; whether that was intentional or not, he specifically didn't say. (I think he actually pointed out that he wasn't going to tell us that.) It may have been an artifact of Creation, or a visit from... someone... (Adonalsium? another Shard? dunno...). This is very (intentionally) obscure, and those of us gathered around the table didn't push farther - I think we were too busy absorbing what he just told us to come up with intelligent follow-up questions. My current speculation is that Nightwatcher (and perhaps some of the other odd spren) may be a result of that earlier investiture. (That would certainly qualify as "Old Magic," right?) It's unquestionable, though, that there were spren on Roshar prior to the advent of Honor and Cultivation.

Re: the Nahel bond... I can't find evidence that Nahel bond = spren bond. Clearly they are not unrelated, but I don't know that the two are entirely synonymous. FWIW, I don't know that they aren't, either; I just have to wonder if "Nahel" is a subset of the spren bonds. It's one of those questions I keep meaning to ask, and keep forgetting. (Also fwiw, the term was not used in the beta version of WoR, presumably because the only time we'd seen it before was in a thousands-of-years-old context, and the modern crowd don't even know the word, much less the meaning. Again, it never occurred to me to ask. Rats.)
Alice Arneson
7. Wetlandernw
One more just for you, Carl. :) This isn't verbatim, because I haven't searched my recordings to see if I actually caught this one, but... Someone asked if the "science of Roshar" discussions on tordotcom are correct. His answer was on the order of "not completely, but there's a lot of good stuff there."
Kimani Rogers
8. KiManiak
Thanks for the article, Carl.

1. Do we know that Stormlight can be absorbed directly during a Highstorm? We have indisputable evidence that Kaladin can inhale Stormlight from infused gems, but I thought the absorption of Stormlight directly via Highstorm is still conjecture. Do you have verification via Word of Brandon or Word of Peter for this?

2. As for the origin of Stormlight, according to 17th Shard, at a signing in Seattle, our very own Wetlander asked Brandon if the highstorms were related to the splintering of Honor. Brandon’s response was
The highstorms are more related to the mist from Mistborn which terminology we have not discussed yet. (also affirmed the well as being similar).
EDIT: I see that while I was typing and researching this, Wetlander herself came on here to give up the goods and then some. Oh well; I'll show my work anyway.

So, I think this would exclude stormlight coming from theory #1. Theory #2 is a possibility (if you see the Pits of Hathsin as similar to the Mists in Scadrial), but doesn’t seem right. Your Theory #3 seems closest, but I would question whether Honor’s pool lies at the Origin, or potentially somewhere else (some event Shattered those Plains).

I also like the theories that the Highstorm is the recurring shockwave/pulsewave from Honor’s death/splintering that continuously circles Roshar (something along the likes of a sustained “deathcry” type wave of energy). I do think its possible that the wave gets reconstituted, renewed and/or replenished at the Origin, as it has to become somewhat dissipated after hitting the various mountains, etc while traveling Roshar (especially when it hits Shinovar).

3. I am also rather intrigued about the Nahel Bond, and I feel confident that we’ll learn more about it in Words of Radiance. I think forming a bond between the Spren is important to accessing the abilities that were granted due to the presence of the Shard(s) that inhabited Roshar for a long time. “Bond” is just another word for link or connection (or conduit, if you reaaallly want to stretch the meaning) and I think the bond between the spren and the human allow the human a connection or link to some of the “magic” that the spren also has access to; that the spren serves as a conduit for that human.

Speculation (strong speculation, to the point that it is backed up by Syl in Chapter 57 of WoK) is that Kaladin is becoming a Windrunner, Syl is a windspren (although also an honorspren), and it could be argued that she allows him access to the same “magic” that powers her and her abilities. This is highly simplified of course, and there’s all kinds of discussion, speculation and theorizing that can (and does) go into this.

EDIT: Wetlander@7 also makes a good point that the Nahel Bond isn't verified as the bond between spren and person. Maybe we shouldn't make that assumption until its stated as fact.. after this post :-)

But this is fun. I look forward to the Soulcasting article.
Carl Engle-Laird
9. CarlEngle-Laird
@6 & 7: Fascinating stuff! And I'm always glad to hear that my stuff is not completely wrong. (Not completely right implies not completely wrong, right?)

I can buy the idea of the Nahel bond as a subset of spren bonds. I'd be floored if Nahel bonds weren't related to spren bonding at all, but I've been wrong before. To cover all bases, though, I'll talk about spren bonds instead of Nahel bonds in the future.
David Foster
10. ZenBossanova
Right now, I am mostly thinking about what Adonalsium is. I wonder if it was a planet, that literally shattered into our shardworlds. One thing that makes me wonder about this, is that Brandon said that originally all the Shards were on Roshar. Is the Old Magic an import, or something that has always been here? It would also explain why all of these worlds have humans on them, despite the fact that other worlds should have had divergent evolutions.

If true, that would make this reminicent of Elantris and the Earthquake.

I hope this isn't too much of a threadjack, but I think understanding to understand the magic, we really need to understand the how it all started.
Tian Kai (Thompson) Gao
11. tkThompson
@9: "Nahel bond as a subset of spren bonds" It's possible that Nahel is a particular type of spren, especially from the wording of what Nohadon said.

@CarlEngle-Laird: "they can inhale Stormlight directly, or absorb it during highstorms": I'm not sure that second part is correct, because Kaladin's sphere at the end of the highstorm was dun, when it should have been fully charged. If Kaladin had absorbed it directly from the highstorm, then it would mean that the sphere would have been charged also. It seems to me to be more like the highstorm charged the sphere and then Kaladin also absorbed it from the sphere, the transfer might have been instantaneous, but that's part of the mechanics of the stormlight's movement, because I think we can be pretty sure that Kaladin wouldn't have been able to absorb the stormlight if he didn't have the sphere with him, which, to me, was what you were implying.
Phantine
12. MikeOfThePalace
There's another possibility for the Origin: rather than a dead Honor, it could be a dead Honor, it could be in some way connected to the dead Cultivation. The Highstorms bring life to Roshar; everything blooms following one, crops grow at their best when watered with Highstorm water, etc.
David Foster
13. ZenBossanova
I thought Cultivation was still alive.
Is that wrong?
Jeremy Guebert
14. jeremyguebert
@10 - Wait, Brandon said that all the Shards were originally on Roshar? When did that happen? I must have missed that.

@13 - We know directly that Honor is dead, through Dalinar's visions
“I am… I was… God. The one you call the Almighty, the creator of mankind.” The figure closed his eyes. “And now I am dead. Odium has killed me. I am sorry.” Sanderson, Brandon (2010-08-31). The Way of Kings (Stormlight Archive, The) (p. 997). Tom Doherty Associates. Kindle Edition.
I don't believe we have confirmation one way or another about Cultivation being alive, but I was also under the impression that she was.
Alice Arneson
15. Wetlandernw
Carl @ 9 – Absolutely! “Not completely” sounded to me like most of it is right. :) As for the bonds – as I said, I honestly don’t know one way or the other; it’s just a gut reaction to a non-provable assumption. More often than not, the assumption is correct and I’m just being a nitpicker, but… there it is.

Zen @10 – Um… when did Brandon say that originally all the Shards were on Roshar? I missed that one. Is it documented somewhere? Because it really doesn’t sound like most of what I’ve heard him say about it.

@several, Brandon has been recorded as saying that Cultivation is still alive. (I have a vague idea that he mentioned this again at the signing, but I'll have to check my recording and/or check with Shardlet, who recorded everything.)
David Foster
16. ZenBossanova
I recall reading it lately, that they were all at one point, on Roshar. I hope I am remembering that correctly.
I will look over the last few weeks of signings. Maybe I saw it there.
Phantine
17. Jackie H
I myself beleive that Szeth too has an honor spren. He holds to his oathstone with honor in a way that would possibly attract a spren
Phantine
18. tkThompson
@17: I asked Brandon about Szeth and honourspren at a signing for A Memory of Light, and he said that Szeth doesn't have one bonded to him. He said he'll explain why that is in a future book (I'm guessing probably the one that shows Szeth's backstory).
Phantine
19. DominicShayler
Wow did I miss part of this book? I've read it several times now and all the information about Shards and Honor you all are writing is stuff I have never heard. Where are most of these details?
Phantine
20. rider
@DominicShayler
Check out 17thshard.com and the Coppermind wiki. I think you'll be blown away by all the info we have collected...
Phantine
21. MorindinFan
I wonder why Syl doesn't like shards.My guess is it has something to do with spren being turned into shards(or something as gruesome)and that's why the radiants abandoned their weapons and armor.
Nadine L.
22. travyl
Wetlander @6
It's unquestionable, though, that there were spren on Roshar prior to the advent of Honor and Cultivation
Does this come form a signing as well?
I never heard it before and considering Elantris and its Seons I sort of assumed the spren were related to the shards (either Honor or Cultivation).
Alice Arneson
23. Wetlandernw
travyl @22 - Yes, it comes from a signing directly, but also from other.... stuff. :) Spren are part of Roshar and its unique magics. It's a little hard for me to explain, because I'm not as deeply into this as some, but here's a shot, as I understand it.

Each world has a magic system that is unique to that world. While the Shards become part of it, or use it, the magic doesn't originate with the Shards. There are a couple of magics that Brandon has said will cross systems, but in general they are associated directly with the world itself.

Someone from 17th Shard or suchlike can correct me if I've screwed that up, but that's my understanding. Next time I have a chance, maybe that will be my "please expound" subject for Brandon. :)
Phantine
24. Glotof
Fine post, thank you. One thing, however - Kaladin fought for tens of minutes because he was constantly recharging his stormlight from the Parshendi's gems. It wasn't a single held dose.
Phantine
25. Jasuni
@24 Also noticed that, although eventually the Parshendi eventually came without gemstones to counter his abilities.

A better example for proof that Kaladin's abilities are stronger than Szeth's is when he climbed the chasm. He "(held) his breath for a good quarter hour," and he was using the stormlight to create handholds. He needed to breathe normally at the end, which gives us a good idea of how long Kaladin can hold stormlight.
David Foster
26. ZenBossanova
Ok, in response to my assertion that all the shards had been on Roshar....

Q: How many shards have ever been on Roshar?
A:*Brandon repeats question."
Okay, Oh boy, Um...I... Um....ehh...um
At one point, all of them were on Roshar, which is technically true.

Q: How many shards have invested their power on Roshar?
A: Technically, all of them did.

from 17th Shard
David Foster
27. ZenBossanova
Ok, I asserted all the shards had been on Roshar, and this is what I remembered, from the 17th Shard

Q: How many shards have ever been on Roshar?
A:*Brandon repeats question."
Okay, Oh boy, Um...I... Um....ehh...um
At one point, all of them were on Roshar, which is technically true.

Q: How many shards have invested their power on Roshar?
A: Technically, all of them did.
Phantine
28. Skinnylipid
@27 @27 - looking at Brandons answers to those questions... It's interesting he uses the word 'technically'.

I'm thinking it's because he's previously stated that Ado has been there prior to being splintered in the first place which would 'technically' mean all the shards were present on Roshar... In the person of Ado.

also that there were spren of ado on Roshar... Which would 'technically' be an investiture of all the shards.
Alice Arneson
29. Wetlandernw
Which raises a very interesting question: Did Adonalsium travel around from world to world before he/it was Shattered?

It seems that in most discussions I've heard, there's an underlying assumption that Adonalsium was stationary, or even virtually inactive, before being Shattered into the sixteen Shards, and that everything interesting in the cosmere is a result of the actions of those Shards. But is that true? If Adonalsium moved around, that could readily explain the presence of humans on so many worlds, couldn't it?

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, other than to expose a nearly- (or altogether-) unnoticed, but possibly quite invalid, assumption. This actually ties rather well with (since it was triggered by Skinnylipid's comment regarding) the "previous investiture" statement Brandon made last month.

I'm not quite sure why I didn't put that all together consciously until now; I think I must have been stuck in the stationary-Adonalsium assumption and figured that the other investiture came from other Shards wandering the cosmere looking for just the right world, or something. Except... I remember thinking that the previous investiture made a lot more sense out of things like the Old Magic on Roshar. It makes even more sense if you think of Adonalsium going to a world and giving it its own unique magics, creatures, etc., Investing something of himself in it, and then moving on to another world. (Or doing it all at once/being everywhere at once, depending on the characteristics of Adonalsium himself. Whatever.) Then after Adonalsium Shattered, perhaps the Shards returned to those worlds which most appealed to their particular aspect of Adonalsium.

I realize that many of you (especially 17th-shard folk) probably got there a long time ago, but this is a new notion for me. I will have to ponder on it for a while. Meanwhile, I'd sure appreciate further thoughts on it!
Phantine
30. 11zeeshha
Great Article!! It's going to be really exciting finding out how much of this was spot on! Also I've got a question that's been bothering me for a while. In the prologoue (when Szeth is trying to kill Gavilar), Szeth says that his lashings interfered with the gemstones that powered the shardplates and so he had to choose one or the other. I was wondering that if that's the case then how did the knights radiant (who wore shardplates) do all of their surgebinding?
Phantine
31. Skinnylipid
@30 I'm just guessing blind really... but when I read that section origionaly I thought that the use of gem stones was a 'modern' adaptaion and that the Radients themselves provided the plate stormlight directly... gem's being added to plate later by non-radients inorder to power them up.
Kimani Rogers
32. KiManiak
11zeeshha@30 - A (potentially) better question would be: How does Szeth know that his lashings would have that reaction with Shardplate?

And if one of the most logical answers to that question applies (from experience), then this brings up all other types of questions regarding Szeth, his experiences, and (likely) Shinovar itself, as that is where he was trained.

It also could make you think more about the Stone Shamans (whom Szeth claims will retrieve his ShardBlade if he dies), what they can do and what types of equipment/abilities they have access to...
David Foster
33. ZenBossanova
KiManiak@32
That is a very good question. A very, very good one.

We all know how peaceful Shinovar is, and yet, how has it not been conquered? I want to see more of these Shaolin Shinovar Monks in Words of Radiance, and see just how many Shardplates and Shardblades they have.

Does anyone remember, when Dalinar was thinking of how many blades were known worldwide, did he include Shinovar in that count?

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