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The Way of Kings - Skyeels



One of six (out of 20!) illustrations scattered amongst the pages of Brandon Sanderson's new epic fantasy series The Way of Kings that describe the natural flora & fauna found in the novel.

The Skyeel was the very first animal that I designed specifically for the book (chulls came up earlier in the pitch work, but the Skyeel was where I worked out the basic texture and style that Shallan illustrates. This is also where I worked out her handwriting, which is totally different from my own, and I'm almost totally going to forget all the details by the time I draw her pages again)

So, about a year ago (September '09) Brandon writes to me:

These are just what they sound like: flying moray eels. I imagine them looking much like a moray eel, with a few changes. The moray has a fin pattern that runs along its top and bottom. The skyeel has a fin pattern on the sides as well, though this is more diaphanous and a little longer, forming a kind of flowing fin not unlike those of a butterfly koi--only running along both sides of the eel almost all the way from head to tale. They'd waft in the air as it undulates. Underneath the side fins are small pockets of gas which are part of what keeps the eel in the air.

Skyeels are often accompanied by tiny blue spren in the shape of darting tiny, arrowhead like fish. (Think of how a shark or whale often has tinier fish darting around it, swimming in the same direction like an entourage.) One of the pictures should show this, though the others need not. It is thought the spren help it fly somehow.

The skyeel will find prey from above--either a fish in the ocean or a rodent or small crab on the ground. It will pounce downward in a sharp dive, releasing the gas from its pockets and grabbing the crab or rodent in a kind of rolling pounce across the ground. It will curl up and eat its prey, then will wiggle off to a hole or hollow somewhere to rebuild its gas pockets (which can take an hour or two to fill back up.)

Feel free to modify the skyeel face, skin patterns, and fin patterns to make the creature 'our own' rather than just a flying moray. I've attached the pictures of skyeels and butterfly koi I used for reference when imagining the creature.

I imagine this page having a focus image of the skyeel (it wouldn't have to be bigger than the others, really, but one majestic picture of one with the tiny arrowhead-fish spren darting around it.) Then a closeup of the face, and on the bottom half of the page, an image of the skyeel seeing prey, darting downward, and grabbing it (much like the swooping hawk.)

So that's more or less what I drew for him. The diving sketch was one of the earliest versions of the skyeel that I roughed out (since he described it so clearly, I used it directly). The skin pattern is a bit like shadows and light on the water from above, and the belly is very pale to help blend with the sky (think Pacific-theater fighter patterning from WWII, though if I were being completely truthful I think I first saw Vaugh Bodé use it in Junkwaffel).

I was pretty conservative with the first design (not sure how far to push it), and that appeared to be the correct solution as Brandon deemed it "nailed" within the first couple draft rounds (it took about eight rounds and a couple dozen thumbnails to work out the Axehound). In retrospect I think we could do more to "make it our own" as he originally requested, and that's what variant breeds are for.


As with the chull a lot of what I worked into the design was dependent on a sort of fictional biology that developed alongside the concept. I imagine that much as the chull excretes something like crem through its back to form a shell boulder, the skyeel separates lighter-than-air gases from its food though some internal process, stores them in sacs beneath it's fins, and uses that (along with a ridiculously light skeleton, I'm sure) to float about on the coastal breezes, with some help (somehow) from the spren (LONG subject, spren. Check out the Sanderson forums for lots of way spoilerish conversation about everything in the book. Someone worked out a translation of Isaac's cryptic Navani sketches already!). Coincidentally, this is one of the very few images of spren that have appeared so far, though they are as common as crackers in the world of Roshar. I suppose when you see something all the time, you don't necessarily think about them as much (unless you're Axies the Collector).

Although I don't know if Brandon intended it so, I imagine it might move a bit like 13th Colossus, but not so freakin' huge (or stone-bony).

Of course, my absolute favorite part is a real-life function of moray eel biology... the pharyngeal jaw is Mother Nature's literal equivalent to the snapping jaws of H.R. Geiger's Alien Xenomorph (I'm sure the Geiger fans out there knew this, but it was news to me.) It's basically a second set of teeth and an independent jaw that's in the back of the throat, and which snaps forward to draw chunks of whatever it's gripping in those heavy jaws down into its gullet. So vicious, I practically begged Brandon to let me keep it.

And he did. He's awesome like that.

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godofimagination's avatar
I faved this years ago without reading the bottom. Today I decided to flip through my old favorites on a whim. Only three days ago did I start reading Way of Kings. This really jumped our at me! Wow, what a coincidence.