Review: Lord of Souls / Author: Greg Keyes / Publisher: Titan Books/ Release date: Out Now
Books based on video games rarely deliver much. Usually, they fall into one of two categories; either they attempt to regurgitate the plot of a game, or they deal with the characters prior to the start of the game to try to give a little background information. Irrespective of these approaches, they are also usually rush jobs, where the publisher gets the author to turn things around in a very short space of time in order to meet the launch of the title.
Greg Keyes has taken a different approach with his Elder Scrolls tie in series, in that the books take place forty years after the events in Oblivion, with all new characters and a plot that is separate from the events within either Oblivion or Skyrim. Essentially, he's created a new fantasy series that's set in the game world, but without the baggage of the standard video game tie ins.
Picking up where the first book left off, the floating city of Umbriel continues its relentless journey across the landscape, towards the Imperial City. Everything caught in Umbriel's shadow dies and is resurrected as an undead monster in service to the cities’ dark overlord. It falls to a disparate group of characters to try and stop Umbriel and avert disaster.
Now, I'm a fan of the Elder Scrolls games. I played Morrowind and Oblivion to death, and while I have Skyrim, I've been a little nervous about actually playing it because I know that it will take over my life for a couple of months at least. As such, I've got more than a passing familiarity with the world and its inhabitants, and in respect of recreating the game world, magic system and people, the author does a reasonably good job. His descriptions of the places bring back memories of the game, and I couldn't help but smile at the paragraphs where characters use things like their alchemy skills, combining base ingredients with soul energy in the same way that you would do in the game.
Unfortunately, the rest of the book does not hold up quite so well.
The beginning of the book, especially for someone who hasn't read the first one is, quite frankly, a mess. There are a bewildering number of characters introduced in a very short period of time and I found it incredibly confusing. That may not be so much of an issue with those familiar with the first book, but a short prologue that gave a synopsis of book one would have made the going so much easier.
The characters remain a problem throughout. Most of them seem to exist for no other reason than to move the plot forward. There is almost no character growth or development in the entire book, and this ultimately meant I didn't care about any of them. In addition, the author's writing style is difficult to get your head around. There were some incredibly long sentences that had no need to be that way, and some of the dialogue was laughable. A decent editor should have sorted this out, but it seems likely that the book was pushed out on an accelerated timescale to coincide with the release of Skyrim and suffered as a result.
The plot, once it settles down and gets past the awkward first four or five chapters is reasonable enough, even if it's pretty predictable stuff for anyone that's ever read a fantasy novel. Some of the fights against the undead are fairly well executed, and the ending was fairly satisfying in that it managed to tie up all of the plot threads. Unfortunately, because I didn't connect with a single character in the book, it meant that it was a relief to finish, rather than a pleasure.
Fans of the first book will probably enjoy it, and fans of the game will enjoy the references, but for anyone else I'd advise that you leave this book well alone, or at least try the first in the series before splashing out on this one.