Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Skyrim Book Reviews: Barenziah

Working my way through the Bs, after I finished Biography of Barenziah, I felt a great compulsion to immediately read The Real Barenziah. Since I didn't want to drop an R title into the middle of my B list, and I didn't want to wait until I reached the Rs to talk about The Real Barenziah, I decided to pull these two out and treat them together. I'll probably do the same for Biography of the Wolf Queen and The Wolf Queen.

Biography of Barenziah, by Stern Gamboge, Imperial Scribe. (Three volumes.)

Sniff, sniff. What's that smell? It reeks of propaganda. There are two multi-volume sets about the life of Barenziah, and this is the terrible one. It's kind of worth reading as a companion to The Real Barenziah, but on its own . . . it's a little bit awful.

The Real Barenziah, by Anonymous. (Five volumes.)

Unless "Anonymous" is intended to be Barenziah herself, this can't be considered a historical account, but rather historical fiction. There are too many details that only Barenziah herself could have known. (Yes, I know she wasn't a real person. Stay in character here, okay?) That said, the story is very good.

After reading about the "innocent" and "chaste" Barenziah in Biography of Barenziah, I expected The Real Barenziah to present the opposite extreme. I anticipated a tale of a wicked, evil woman. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find her here depicted as a well-rounded character who did some bad things and who also did some good things. She was a thief and a queen and so many other things, and she had to figure out for herself who she really was. Her feelings and deeds were complex, and I found myself liking the character. I have a few quibbles with typos, misused words, and inconsistencies in the spelling of Riften/Rifton (I don't care which, but each author should pick one and be consistent), but overall I can overlook such small flaws in the face of a well-told story.

Biography of Barenziah, as a companion to The Real Barenziah: two and a half stars.

Biography of Barenziah, alone: One star.

The Real Barenziah, with or without the other set: Four stars.


Note: I am not connected to Bethesda in any way, and no one asked me to do these reviews. I am doing this purely for my own fun, as time allows. I don't have an agenda, other than the joy of reading and writing. If I panned your favorite Skyrim book, sorry. If I gave five stars to one you thought was awful, also sorry. These are my opinions and mine alone. You're entitled to your own.

Read these books within the game Skyrim, on The Elder Scrolls Wiki or on the Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages, or download the Dovahkiin Gutenberg.


Redsoul said...

Great review. I agree, as much as the Imperial version can't be trusted, so too must the "Real" one be questioned. For one thing, I read that she may have actually had a full-blown affair with the Nightingale, creating a bastard line that would eventually lead to Karliah of the Thieves Guild (but again, how far can you trust these texts?). I really like that about the ES series, once they begin to include 'authors' to their notes you can begin to speculate biases based on their upbringing (much like texts in real life).

On the Riften/Rifton thing, I think it's Bethesda's way of making a joke on towns/cities names constantly being questioned in historic times - an Imperial guard posted at Riften after the civil war can often say "So is it Riften or Rifton? This place has changed its name so many times, I can't even remember." So I can forgive them for that, since it's more a canon-joke than a grammatic error.

All in all, I'd have loved to see some more evidence of Barenziah in a Riften side-quest, especially since these books spend two volumes of her youth in Skyrim. Keep up the good work.

Anj said...

Redsoul, you make an excellent point on the Riften/Rifton thing. Thank you for your thoughtful observations.

I haven't encountered Karliah yet, because I haven't pursued the Thieves Guild questline. The first quest you have to in order to be initiated into the guild requires framing my favorite merchant, and I just can't bring myself to screw him over.

Redsoul said...

I know what you mean about the first mission. I was playing as a Robin Hood archtype, a Nord who sided with the Empire to help stabalise Skyrim (in fear of it falling to the Dominion) - he'd eventually be disgraced fighting Thalmor and go underground, robbing from the Dominion and greedy nobles for the poor.

Unfortunately, this game's theives guild is far more self-serving than 'man of the people'. :( Nevertheless, if you do an alternate play-through, give them a go since it's probably the most lengthy of the side-stories, and there's plenty of Nocturnal lore that goes with it. There's one book in fact that describes what the little symbols carved into the side of homes and shops signal.

Anj said...

I like your Nord siding with the Empire, and the reasoning behind it.

I always like to create a backstory for my characters, to guide my decisions about who they like and what quests they pursue.

My current character is a Khajiit raised by Nords, Aethelflaeda Frost-Tail. After a Khajiit caravan was wiped out by frost trolls, a pair of Nord hunters found a living cub in the overturned cart, and they raised her as their own. She is curious about other Khajiit, but doesn't really understand their mindset and lifestyle. She thinks and acts like a Nord, and she worships Talos. When she met Brand-Shei, the Dunmer merchant who was raised by Argonians, she felt like she'd found a kindred spirit, someone who understood what it was like to be stuck between two cultures. And that's why she can't do the first Thieves Guild quest; she could never do anything against Brand-Shei.

I've already started planning my next character, an Argonian philosopher-mage, although I don't quite have her origin story set yet. I am planning for her to be more of a moral-gray-area type, so I might be able to take her through the Thieves Guild questline.