Normal history isn’t that interesting. Where’s the magic in it? The demons? The talking cats? You can flick through any of Earth’s factual books without learning about any of these, or how to distinguish between conjuration and necromancy. Thankfully, this isn’t the case in the second book of the The Elder Scrolls Online: Tales of Tamriel series; a series that aims to give more insight into Tamriel: the world of The Elder Scrolls, a fantasy realm akin to Middle Earth or Westeros. Book II: The Lore casts an insight into the world’s culture, covering topics such as race, religion, warfare, and daedra, and dabbles in various writing styles throughout its many stories. It’s speckled with beautiful hand-drawn imagery, and looks like a book conjured up from the world of Tamriel, as its pages are filled with distinctively scribbled notes and a ragged faint-brown colouring.
The writers of such pages are somewhat similar to the subjective historians of our own realm, often injecting emotion and personality into supposedly objective topics. The first section on race offers some insights into the different residents of Tamriel, but from the perspective of a love-torn Imperial. There are deep descriptions of the customs of each race within this tale, all portrayed through depictions of the writer’s encounters, and by deft sketches of each race. But, what acts as more of a hook is the love story within, as the young lady becomes awkwardly stuck in a love triangle, having to choose between two suitors. In contrast, the next section, on religion, is neck-deep in information, but for the most part lacks any personality in its writing and acts as more of a reference guide. It’s purely factual, and monotonously goes through each race’s faith. But it does break this drudgery with some interesting accounts on religion, especially the ones written by the cats and the lizards.
Delving further into the book, tales are weaved not only in a variety of writing styles, but in differing mediums. Extracts from handbooks, reports, journals, and notices, offer the viewpoint of what it would be like to be an inhabitant of Tamriel. We also get multiple perspectives on different topics. For example, the section discussing daedra has two differing attitudes towards the demon-like creatures. It begins with a piece by Lady Cinnabar who believes the world doesn’t quite quiver at the thought of the daedra. From the way she writes, it is clear that her view is quite unorthodox, and she aims some slights towards the more traditional daedra-fearing Phrastus of Elinhir, at one point calling him an ‘old goat’ and a ‘charlatan’. In the next piece, Phrastus rebuts her comments by insulting her and justifying his own view that the daedra are powerful and to be feared. He accomplishes the second by telling tales of past conflicts involving the the mystical and malevolent deities. It appears that the two academics are having a squabble through their papers, and the emotion they show helps to involve the reader within the debate. It’s also quite funny, and is just one example of how the book absorbs you further into the world of Tamriel.
Unfortunately, there are some minor annoyances that break the immersion that the tales are able to create. At times stories are cut away at the last moment, and it can feel as though you’ve been abruptly plucked from the world you were enjoying. The above-mentioned debate is left unfinished, and the love story outlined earlier never really reaches a true conclusion. I’ve tried searching for the finales of some of my favourite tales in the book, but often to no avail. While one can hope the conclusions may be somewhere else, perhaps in one of the games or the other books, the irritation of having no finale to a story is not easy to salve.
To get the most out of the book, it’s undoubtedly beneficial to have played The Elder Scrolls Online. First, many of the tales are centred around the events of the title. The game’s antagonist, the daedric prince and master of corruption, Molag Bal, rears his scaly head several times, and areas such as the desolate Coldharbour are discussed and given detailed drawings. Side characters such as Vanus Gallerion, the founder of the Mage’s Guild, lend several stories to the book, and many of the final pages are shared between the Five Companions, who are of central importance throughout the game’s main story. Nevertheless, if you haven’t played the game, as is probably the case for many fans of the typically single-player series, the tales are still of great interest. The book gives an intricate insight into the events that happened during the game’s timeline, which is situated in a previously dark area of the series, taking place long before the original Elder Scrolls title.
Of course, all of the information could be argued as being needless filler, and unessential for playing any of the titles. But this book isn’t for those who simply want to skim the surface of The Elder Scrolls, it is for those who want to immerse themselves in the fictional world of Tamriel; for those who read every piece of writing they find within the in-game books and still crave more. It’s for those who want to have a piece of Tamriel to hold in their own hands, to flick through solid pages instead of clicking a peripheral. The Elder Scrolls Online: Tales of Tamriel Book II: The Lore acts as a brand-new entrance to Tamriel. It is delightful diving into the intricate undercurrents of The Elder Scrolls, and the book adds some fresh dimensions to a world that is ever-expanding.