The first in a planned series of books aiming to collect and present the lore from The Elder Scrolls series of video games, starting with, unsurprisingly, the most successful addition to the franchise: Skyrim.
Whenever you find yourself playing an Elder Scrolls game, you will inevitably hit ‘that moment’. I’m not talking about the sense of righteousness you feel as you fend off a rogue dragon from your potato farm in ‘Skyrim’, nor am I talking about giving up on the walking speed in ‘Morrowind’ and messing with the game code, and I’m not even talking about the day you revisit ‘Oblivion’ and think, “damn, Father Time really took a blowtorch to this game’s face”. I am in fact talking about the moment you decide, instead of adventuring/murdering/saving the known world, you’re going to read all the books you come across.
Yes The Elder Scrolls series is pretty infamous for its dense collection of in-game literature, some of which provide bonuses to the player but most of which provide lore-rich nuggets of fiction-within-fiction and history. This first book, as its title gives away, is focussed on amassing the historical texts from 2011’s ‘Skyrim’ in a single, fancy-lookin’, high-falutin’ tome, so iffing you ever have the urge to just read all of Skyrim’s historical lore, you can do so without the need to play the game. Neat, huh?
The Skyrim Libraries, Vol. 1: The Histories isn’t just a big book of universe-building text, though. Peppered throughout like radish in a kind of multimodal book salad you’ll find choice cuts of concept art to support and augment the history of Skyrim and its surrounding lands. It’s not as dedicated to this as, say, an official concept art book would, but it’s nice to have the sea of words broken up by something pretty.
The only problem with this ornamental grimoire of popularist(ish) fantasy history is that it’s in no way designed for someone who isn’t a fan. If you don’t know your Argonians from your Altmer then this book isn’t the best or most advisable step to take to get into The Elder Scrolls series (it’s not THAT hard to recognise the difference, I mean the former are swamp-dwelling lizard people and the latter are 7-foot-tall, golden-skinned elves. If you’re getting those two mixed up you’ve got more problems than I can fix). It’s not to say that when put together the individual pieces of writing don’t hold up, it’s just that it takes something away from the games themselves to have all this information collected in one place.
Let me put it this way: The idea of fighting your way through a Necromancer’s lair, casting down his minions before besting him in single combat only to stumble on his library of schlocky romance novels is the kind of moment that makes The Elder Scrolls series. Who wouldn’t want to read a Necromancer’s favourite trashy pirate romance stories after chopping his head off? You can even visit bookstores and read about local folklore which in turn leads to a grand, bandit-squishing quest. Just because.
The pure fantasy background lore is lusciously put together, but being as removed from the mechanics of the game as it is, something just doesn’t click like it used to. It’s like framing an interesting rock you found from that trip to the volcanoes of Santorini; yes it’s a volcanic rock, and will always have been part of that volcano you gawped at from a safe distance, but put on your mantelpiece, however, it’s just another lump of pretty minerals.
As far as collector’s items go, this is something that Elder Scrolls fans will happily put in their shelves. I doubt that anyone will actively read it from cover-to-cover, and I doubt further still that it will be oft-skimmed, but if anything a peruse of it will set off a questing itch and before you know it you’ll be back in Tamriel causing all kinds of mischief. For those of you who have no real idea what this, what I’m talking about or anything in between, maybe give this one a miss.
Publisher: Titan Books
Release Date: 26th June 2015