In Brandon Sanderson's The Reckoner Trilogy (TVTropes link), one of the aspects of the superpowered Epics is that they have a weakness. Phaedrus is one of the Epics who plays a prominent role in the first two books. Is there any evidence for what his weakness is in the books yet? Spoilers for the first two books below:

Phaedrus, of course, being Prof, the leader of the Reckoners, gifted with powers of healing, force-fields, and disintegration of non-organic matter, and the revelation in Firefight being that Epic weaknesses are based on their greatest fears.

The WMG entry on TVTropes has some interesting theories, but none which seem confirmed yet:

- Prof seems highly risk-averse, and was reportedly so before he was empowered, so it's possible that this is his weakness.
- At the climax of Firefight, Phaedrus flees when Firefight starts using his forcefield powers against him, which might imply that he's vulnerable to his own powers, possibly with the source being either his longstanding fear of using his powers and losing himself, or some trauma that happened before he became an Epic where he became afraid of his abilities.

Ideally, the answer would be something canonical from Sanderson himself, but a strong indication in the text of the two books, or the short story of "Mitosis" between them might work as well.

  • Welp, I'm not done reading Calamity yet, but my answer just got sacked hard about 100 pages in. I'll try to update it once I'm done.
    – Radhil
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 18:25
  • Thank you for letting me know about the book coming out... I'm bad at tracking these things.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 19:46
  • Answer has been updated to take into account the new novel, while attempting to not spoil the actual reveal. There were hints, but I paid attention to the wrong ones.
    – Radhil
    Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 16:05

2 Answers 2


With Calamity now released, the obvious answers are in that book, but given this question was looking for hints in the first two novels, I will concentrate on hindsight.

Unfortunately, my original version of this answer failed to take into account a basic rule of most Epic psychology - they never discuss their weaknesses. Even treading near the topic is too sensitive for them, unless there is a great deal of trust. So while I was correct that it was rooted in their past, Prof letting David know he used to be a teacher was just a red herring.

I also completely missed that there were other sources of information on Prof. Namely, his actions in general which are planned with a high degree of paranoid detail, and David's conversation with Tia about their life beforehand, which highlights his way of thinking. Both are wonderfully subtle hints about what Prof is actually trying to avoid.

Original answer below with teacher nonsense removed.

Epic weaknesses are always rooted in their past, whatever seems to be their greatest fear at the time Calamity corrupts them.

We really only have 3 points of data for the pattern - the 3 Epics whose pasts they've been able to get. Sourcefield's is clear cut. Her grandparents tried to poison her with Kool-Aid, that became her defining fear, so swallowing Kool-Aid became the weakness. Mitosis is actually the odd duck out, his weakness being his band's music, that he hated. His great fear may have simply been born of pride, that he would never get to do or be known for anything else. And finally, Megan, Firefight, who straight out admitted she almost burned to death once when revealing fire as her weakness to David.

Every other Epic killed (Fortuity, Nightwielder, Steelheart, Newton, Regalia) has been taken out without deeper understanding of their weakness.

To finalize, the full answer was revealed in Calamity and is contained in spoiler below.

Phaedrus' weakness was failure. Tia's brief glimpse into his past in Firefight was intended to show that Prof was so risk-averse he wouldn't even participate in a contest simply because he could lose. This was woven into the rest of his character seamlessly - the endless intel and planning, his frustration with David's random success with off-the-cuff actions, the fact that he was only a teacher in his past life and not a full scientist.

  • Essays! They'll have to get him to grade essays, and he'll turn back into himself!
    – Aggie Kidd
    Commented Oct 16, 2015 at 20:45
  • As a separate note, Steelheart was taken out by his weakness (only hurt by one with no fear of him), we just have no idea how that relates to his fear.
    – Aggie Kidd
    Commented Oct 16, 2015 at 20:51
  • Thank you for the answer. I will likely modify my question to account for the third book, although I'll have to hold up on reading your answer until I read the book. :)
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 16:09
  • I'm about 2/3 of the way through the third book, and I see what you mean about the answer being different once you've read it.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 11:48
  • 3
    I would mention that someone on the 17th Shard forums speculated (plausibly) that there is some additional evidence of Prof's weakness as early as the first book. Just as David regains his usual size after sneezing (Loophole's weakness negates her powers even when they affect others), so could gifted powers be subject to the Gifter's weakness. There are two cases where David has trouble accessing the powers of the tensors (actually gifted), both in situations where he may be experiencing failure.
    – Adamant
    Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 18:55

As Radhil mentioned, all we definitively know is the Prof was a teacher. Sanderson is a master of misdirection that most don't pick up on until after the secret is revealed, so I doubt we can get much more than plain speculation at this point.

Building on Radhil again, we have only found out the fears of a small number of Epics. Truth be told, most of them weren't killed due to a knowledge of their weakness. They were killed by overcoming their powers. An epic who can move out of the way of bullets, you just have to shoot so that he moves into the path of another.

By the way things are going in the series, and thinking on the teacher aspect, I don't think that Prof will have to be killed. I think a "fear" of failing students/dependents (due to some failure when teaching) will give David and the team the opportunity to grab him and "turn" him back. But again, purely speculation.

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