An Accounting of the Elder Scrolls, by Quintus Nerevelus, Former Imperial Librarian.
Since Skyrim is the first Elder Scrolls game I've played, I really wasn't familiar with the lore surrounding the titular Elder Scrolls. This was my introduction to the Elder Scrolls and the Moth Priests, as told by a librarian who sought to catalog these artifacts of arcane wisdom.
Of course, considering that I have worked as a cataloger for well over a decade and am presently working toward a Master's degree in library science, I am predisposed to favor a story that features a cataloging librarian. But even setting aside my bias, I do think this is an excellent story. It is tight, well-written, well-paced, and interesting. The narrator's voice is consistent and strong, and the story has a nice, if not completely surprising, twist at the end.
I believe it is meant to emulate the great epic tales of history, such as Beowulf, however the writing is convoluted and disjointed. Interesting ideas are presented in fragments that flit by with no connection to one another.
Two stars and a half stars.
Advances in Lock Picking
The author admits up front that he is not a good writer, and he is right. However, despite the purposely terrible writing, there was one piece of information worth opening this book for, beyond the skill point you earn for reading it: holding a torch near the lock makes it easier to pick. I have no idea if this is true in real life, and I can't imagine why it would be, but it has helped my lockpicking in Skyrim.
A Khajiit explains the Khajiit mindset and customs to outsiders who are allies in their struggle against the Imperial oppressors. I felt more like I was listening to an oratory than reading a text. The narrator's voice is perfect, and I can envision him speaking these words with sweeping gestures of his hands and sly flicks of his ears and tail. If this were our modern world, I can imagine this Khajiit on stage, perhaps with a witty and clever PowerPoint presentation displayed on a screen behind him. Perhaps I'm just partial to Khajiit, but I found this book absolutely delightful in every way.
The Alduin/Akatosh Dichotomy, by Alexandre Simon, High Priest of the Akatosh Chantry, Wayrest, and Alduin is Real, and He Ent Akatosh, by Thromgar Iron-Head, prowd Nord
Although these are two separate books and you will likely find them in separate places around Skyrim, they should be taken as a set. When I first found Alduin is Real, I was put off by the painfully bad spelling and grammar, and I almost dismissed it as a junk book. But reading it back to back with The Alduin/Akatosh Dichotomy, I formed a very different opinion.
In The Alduin/Akatosh Dichotomy, the pompous priest Alexandre Simon has a theory about the Great Dragon Akatosh being known by different names in different regions, and he insists that the Nord stories of the great dragon Alduin are just corruptions of the Akatosh myth, and he dismisses any evidence to the contrary. In fine academic writing, he builds his case and dismisses contrary opinions from "the primitive peoples of Skyrim."
Alduin is Real is clearly intended to be a rebuttal of The Alduin/Akatosh Dichotomy, and the barely-literate "prowd Nord" makes his case with a treatise that a third-grade teacher would bleed five red pens dry correcting. Of course, the real author is an anonymous employee of Bethesda, who did a rather impressive job of creating the voice of Thromgar Iron-Head, despite a few occasional lapses into almost-correct standard English. The "prowd Nord" makes his case rather convincingly, actually, and I am inclined to believe his interpretation of Alduin over the analysis made by the priest from Wayrest.
Taken together, these two books present a very interesting commentary on cultural hegemony, local wisdom, and academia versus common sense.
Taken individually, neither of these books would have earned above three stars, but together, as perfect point and counterpoint, I give them five stars.
Amongst the Draugr, by Bernadette Bantien, College of Winterhold
Oh, those crazy mages. Who else would think to live in a crypt to study the undead? Her observations on draugrs are actually very interesting, and they serve to elevate the draugr above the average video game zombies. And her explanation of the connection between the rank-and-file draugr and the dead priest in the central tomb is positively chilling.
Four and a half stars.
The Amulet of Kings, by Wenengrus Monhona
This is full of good historical information for the world of Skyrim, but it's a little dry. I really don't have much say about it. I can't decide if it's interesting in a boring way, or boring in an interesting way.
Ancestors and the Dunmer
This provides a very interesting description of how the Dunmer once treated the bodies of their dead, with a particular focus on the Ghost Fence, which was made from the bones of their ancestors to anchor the ghosts to this world, so that the ghosts might protect the living. I didn't find this as creepy as some readers might, because I've seen with my own eyes the Ossuary at Sedlec in the homeland of my ancestors, and I felt it to be a holy and wonderous place. So building structures of human bones (or in the case of the Dunmer of Skyrim, elven bones) doesn't really creep me out. I thought it was a neat custom, and it made the Dunmer seem much more interesting to me. This probably isn't required reading, but I thought it enriched the game world greatly.
The Apprentice's Assistant: Advice from Valenwood's Most Prestitious Spellcaster
The pompous narrator reminds me a lot of Guilderoy Lockhart from the Harry Potter books. Next comparison: The Great and Powerful Trixie, from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. In short, Aramril, the narrator, is incredibly annoying. She gives useful advice on spellcasting, but probably not anything that the average player wouldn't have figured out on their own.
Two and a half stars.
Arcana Restored: A Handbook, by Wapna Neustra, Praceptor Emeritus
Written in stilted, archaic language, this book repeatedly tells you that you must have it in hand, "so that thou might speak the necessary Words straightaway, and without error." The Words here being an incantation for restoring power to depleted magic artifacts with the Mana Fountain. The author also repeatedly lambasts the work of Kharneson and Rattor, who presumably are his rivals. I haven't learned who they are yet. Perhaps they are the authors of another book that I haven't encountered. In any case, the Words of which Wapna speaks are not actually present in this book.
The Arcturian Heresy, by the Underking, Ysmir Kingmaker
This book wanders back and forth between present and past tense, sometimes within the same paragraph, making it painful to read. It has a lot of plot, and the poorest possible execution of that plot. It's almost like the author wrote an outline of the book they wanted to write, then though, "eh, good enough," and didn't bother to actually write the book. It reads like an awful first draft that never went through any kind of editing process.
Half a star, and I'm tempted to give it zero.
The Argonian Account, by Waughin Jarth
This is a four-volume set, and from the title, I expected it to be dull. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the well-written story and excellent pacing. It was neither too long nor too short, but exactly the perfect length without a wasted sentence. The protagonist is a well-paid civil engineer who has somehow managed to get by without ever doing any actual work. His boss, thoroughly deceived into believing that this man is actually one of his best employees, gives him a challenging assignment, one that might force him to work after all. The engineer journeys to the Black Marsh, where he is to improve the roads and bridges in an environment that is exceedingly harsh and hostile. I won't say anything more, because I don't want to spoil the many delightful surprises this story has to offer. Get all four books and read them in order. This is possibly the best Skyrim book I've read so far. Even people who don't play Skyrim might enjoy this story.
Five stars, solid.
The Armorers' Challenge, by Mymophonus
This is an enjoyable, if rather predictable, tale about two blacksmiths competing for a military contract. One is famous, has a magnificent forge, and has access to the highest quality materials. The other has next to nothing in terms of facilities and materials, however, he has the advantage in knowledge and experience. There is nothing new in this little parable, but the writing style is clean, and it's a pleasing read.
The Art of War Magic, by Zurin Arctus, with Commentary By Other Learned Masters
The title fairly well sums it up. This is full of tactical advice for battlemages. How useful any of it is, I can't say. I found several pieces of advice to be contradictory. One passage recommends allowing your enemy to win before striking, while another suggests not engaging the enemy unless your own victory is secure. The anecdote about the Chimer sorcerer's ice demon was reasonably entertaining, though, and the book is worth reading just for that.
Two and a half 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.