Reviews

The Skyrim Library: Volume 1 The Histories Book Review – History Homework? Ugh.

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Hands up those of you who actually stopped and read the majority of books contained within Bethesda’s vast Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim? And no, briefly skimming some of them really doesn’t count. I’m more than willing to bet that the majority of players, myself firmly included among them, never stopped to enjoy the huge library of books that the game offered. It turns out that we really should have.

The first of a planned trilogy this hard-bound book collects together some of the digital “books” (most of them were actually very short, so “books” isn’t entirely accurate) contained with the game in a physical tome, and serves to prove just how much work went into carefully crafting a ludicrous amount of reading material that the developer’s must surely have know the majority of people would never read. What’s even more impressive is that the quality of writing, while not superb, is actually quite reasonable, making it all a pleasure to read and recommendable to even a casual fan of the Elder Scrolls series rather than just dedicated fans. Buried within this collection is a fantastic amount of background information that makes the often slightly shallow feeling world of Skyrim a more interesting place to inhabit as you more fully understand the context and meaning of everything around you.

Presentation is up first and in this category the book excels, starting with its beautiful exterior cover which is made of a slightly soft, textured material. The border of the front cover has slightly raised designs, and in the centre there’s a slight depression in which sits the slightly raised Skyrim logo. There’s no dust cover except for a thin strip of cardboard bearing the book’s name that folds inside the cover, and can therefore handily be used as a bookmark. Do be careful, though, as the type of material used is easily marked. Inside the pages are of good quality paper and are printed to resemble parchment, sporting some lovely artwork that supports the accompanying text. The only way the presentation could really be better if the pages actually were made of parchment, or had some texture  as currently they are smooth which doesn’t quite match the style that the rest of the book is going for.

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The book breaks down into several different sections, the first and largest focusing on general history that encompasses not only Skyrim but other areas of the world, too. The second section is specifically about Skyrim itself, while the third section offers a very slim selection of text about Morrowind and the final one is dedicated entirely to dragons, which includes a brilliantly pointless piece written by Thromgar Iron-Head, a “prowd Nord” whose spelling leaves leaves something to be desired. In total there’s 232 pages to be found here, and to my genuine surprise almost all of them felt worth reading. The historical collection clocks in at an impressive 156-pages and is by far the most engaging chunk of the book, fleshing out Bethesda’s vast world with a tonne of information. Without a doubt my person favorite stories were contained with the historical collection, the first being A Dance in Fire and its sequel The Argonian Account, which follows the tale of one Decumus Scotti as he ventures out into the world in an attempt broker contracts for construction work in Valenwood. The other favorite of mine was The Wolf Queen, a biography of Queen Potema in which its suggested she causes the madness of King Pelagius by giving him an enchanted necklace which slowly destroys his mind. Both are cracking read, and by the standards of the other in-game “books” quite long. There’s some weak areas, for sure, though.. The first of these is, somewhat ironically, the Skyrim section, which offered some mildly interesting but ultimately pointless texts  such as the Gentleman’s Guide to Whiterun, which is a mere two pages talking about some of the more attractive and interesting women that can be found within the city. It’s curious in a way, a strange glimpse into the mindset of a “gentleman” who likes to play, but compared to what could have been included and the far more interesting information contained within the rest of the book it feels lackluster Likewise most of the rest of the Skyrim section doesn’t offer quite the same quality. As for the Morrowind section, which is just 8-pages, it felt like it was superfluous, especially when you consider the Brief History of Morrowind really lives up to its name at just a single page. It does, though, contain a short story titled the Passing of an Wanderer which throws a neat twist into the idea of the doors which need the Dragon claw carvings to open, suggesting that they aren’t supposed to be difficult because their real reason for existing is simply to keep the Draugr in, and not keep people out.

Having said this, even the weaker sections are interesting enough to keep you turning the pages. Over the years I’ve read a lot of videogame related books, usually in the form of art books which also offer some insights into a game’s development, and have to say that this is one of the better ones, sitting just below the rather excellent Aberstergo Entertainment Employee’s Handbook, which was a wonderful meta work, written as though it was a genuine handbook from within the Assassin’s Creed universe and thereby providing some stellar information and providing a great companion to Assassin’s Creed: Unity. In the same vein this proves a lovely companion to the Elder Scrolls game, granting you some extra context for your adventures. I do, however, wish there was some more history surrounding Skyrim itself and its cities, because that seems to be lacking. Despite the books name, a lot of the historical text talks about other areas, and the Skyrim section itself only offers pieces on a few of the cities and doesn’t provide very much information on the culture of Skyrim and the history of the cities.

What more is there to say, really? There’s no overarching narrative or anything for me to talk about. As you would well imagine there’s some “books” contained within this tome that you wish were longer, or some that were shorter. For the most part the writing is solid if unremarkable, with some rough patches, and some great bits, too. I could argue that the writing styles sometimes feels a bit too consistent across all the various stories considering they were supposed to have been penned by different in-game authors, but given the circumstances that feels like a fickle complaint. It’s quite impressive to consider how much writing went into creating a library of digital books to populate Skyrim, further testimony to one of the greatest RPGs of all time.

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Provided you’re okay with the contents of the Skyrim Library being readily available in the game then this makes for a lovely collector’s item. As somebody who has sunk a terrifying amount of his life into the Elder Scrolls games it’s nice to hold a physical version of the text in my hands and read through it page by page, absorbing bits of information that translate into a better game experience. The presentation is superb and the content is a pleasure to read through, and thus I ordain this a completely recommended purchase. It’s worth a spot on your shelf. Here’s hoping the next two books are just as good or better.

 

 

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