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Literature / The Elder Scrolls

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A two-part series of novels written by Greg Keyes, based upon The Elder Scrolls video games.

The first novel is set forty years after The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and follows the story of Annaïg, a prodigal young alchemist living in Black Marsh, and her Argonian best friend Mere-Glim. Annaïg spends much of her free time either getting into trouble or reading adventure stories, and she dreams of adventure far from her crapsack hometown of Lilmoth. As usually happens in these sorts of books, she gets her wish when a huge airborn city comes drifting over the ocean to threaten Tamriel. The two of them get stuck in the titular infernal City, known as Umbriel, while it sucks up the souls of everyone in Lilmoth and turns them into an undead army. Now the not-so-dynamic duo have to find a way to destroy Umbriel before it ruins all of Tamriel.


In the author's typical style, despite Annaig being the top billing protagonist the book actually follows several different heroes/hero groups in a character-based third person (basically, you get no more information than what the character the narration is following receives. Likely because being in first person would make it harder to follow which character was speaking). These hero groups are Annaig and Mere-Glim, who do get separated early on and are followed separately. Annaig works in the "kitchens," and Glim, because he can breathe underwater, is put to work in the "Marrow Sump", where all the dead of Umbriel are buried and subsequently reborn. Prince Attrebus is the Warrior Prince who quickly learns his whole life is a lie after his bodyguard is ambushed and wiped out. He is quickly paired with Sul, a Dunmer Knight in Sour Armor who is out for the blood of those who are responsible for the destruction of Morrowind, and therefore also responsible for the deaths of everyone and everything he ever held dear. The ones responsible are his former friend, Vuhon, and the mysterious Umbra, the being once trapped in the weapon of the same name. They go on a chase to find the titular City by taking "a shortcut. Through Oblivion." There is also Colin, a spy for the New Empire, sent to investigate the disappearance of Attrebus, and continues to do so even when reassigned by a jealous superior.


The second novel starts where the first left off, and is largely the payoff to the first novel's buildup. Colin is trying to find the missing pieces of the puzzle of Umbriel on the ground as the College of Whispers and the Synod try to find out just what it is in the first place. Attrebus and Sul are desperately clambering after Umbra the Sword, in order to stop Umbra/Umbriel the Person. Annaig and Glim try to survive day to day on Umbriel the Place, but as their goals and loyalties begin to drift apart, things begin to look bleak.

This series provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Action Survivor: Annaïg tries to be a more typical action-hero at first, but she winds up as this.
  • After the End:
    • Morrowind.
    • The Empire itself, as seen in the four first games, has fallen and human society is just rebuilding itself under a new Imperial Line, while the Elves rebuild their own ancient dominion.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Slyr is traitorous and manipulative with a case of Chronic Backstabbing Disorder a mile long, but she's sniveling and pathetic enough to garner audience sympathy when she's forced to become Annaïg's servant. When she's finally dragged off for "questioning" (and never seen again), Annaïg still feels horrible for having let this happen to her.
  • All There in the Manual: The book details some of the destruction of Morrowind that the Skyrim expansion Dragonborn uses as Backstory.
  • Author Appeal: Multiple characters are described as having "curly locks" and/or "sensuous lips." For that matter, what does a "sensuous finger" even look like?
  • Badass Army: The Argonians. During the Oblivion Crisis they not only drove off the Daedra...THEY INVADED OBLIVION. The Daedra actually had to close the gates in Black Marsh to keep from being overrun!
  • Bathe Her and Bring Her to Me:
    • Toel has Annaig and Slyr very thoroughly bathed before admitting Annaig to his presence.
    • And again, after Slyr poisons Annaig.
  • Bears Are Bad News: One of Hircine's minions rides "bearback," if you will.
  • Black Eyes of Evil: Umbra. Also, Big Bad Vuhon has pure white eyes with black surrounds.
  • Born as an Adult: Everyone on Umbriel.
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: At the start of the first book, Mere-Glim suggests to Annaig some other things they can do instead of pursuing her idea: Stay in her father's villa and drink his wine, take some of her father's wine down to the docks and drink it there, or drink some of her father's wine at the villa and some at the docks.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Multiple occasions for multiple characters. Toel is shocked and disgusted to learn how people are born on Tamriel, and Annaïg is horrified at the implications of Umbrielan reproduction.
  • Break the Haughty: Attrebus.
  • Cat Folk: Khajiit
  • Character Development: A mainstay for Keyes.
    • Annaïg: Coming-of-Age Story, where she learns that adventure is not as easy or romantic as the books make it sound.
    • Attrebus: Learns the hard way just what it means to be a Warrior Prince and a leader.
    • Colin: Goes from an inexperienced rookie to the Only Sane Man in the Secret Police.
    • Mere-Glim: Goes from carefree youth to responsible adult.
    • Sul: As he forms a friendship with Attrebus, he begins to lose the Knight in Sour Armor tendencies.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Slyr.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Fhena, the Dark Elf girl Glim meets in the Fringe Gyre, has elements of this.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: Attebus, Annaïg, Glim.
  • Continuity Lockout: If you are not familiar with the Elder Scrolls 'Verse already, stay away, because none of this is going to make sense to you.
  • Darker and Edgier: There was violence in Infernal City, but in Lord of Souls the first thing that happens is that Attrebus gets eviscerated.
  • Divided for Publication: Given The Infernal Citys short length and inconclusive ending, this seems likely to have happened.
  • Doomed Hometown: Lilmoth
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?:
    • Remember how, in Oblivion, you saved Tamriel? Well, no-one remembers you. Or at least no-one mentions you.
    • Remember how, in Morrowind ...
      • See Nice Job Breaking It, Hero below.
      • In Skyrim a hinted explanation at this is that you became Sheogorath in the Shivering Isles addon, thus 'you' ceased to be and simply became Sheogorath in voice, personality, and appearance.
  • The Dulcinea Effect: Emperor Mede suggests that this is at least part of the reason that Prince Attrebus wants to go and try to rescue Annaïg. And it probably is a small part. Wanting to be famous, not wanting zombies to destroy Tamriel, not wanting to let down someone who believes in him, and just the simple fact that he is a Warrior Prince are also part of it.
  • The Empire: Three of them, now! The Septim Empire of the games has fallen, now there are the An-Xileel Empire encompassing Morrowind and Black Marsh, the Aldmeri Dominion from Summerset to Valenwood, and the Mede Empire, encompassing Cyrodiil, and is usually just called "The Empire."
  • Expanded Universe: This is the first item in the Expanded Elder Scrolls Universe. At least in Real Life.note 
  • Extradimensional Shortcut: Infernal City includes a subplot where Prince Attrebus and Sul need to cross the entire continent of Tamriel in a hurry. The quickest way to do so is to pass through several planes of Oblivion and return at their destination.
  • Failure Hero: Attrebus is like this when he's attempting heroics on his own. Attrebus has a Heroic BSoD when he's forced to reconcile with the fact he's not the hero he thinks he is, as when the Imperial Court isn't playing things behind the scenes, Attrebus finds his entire garrison massacred, himself nearly traded to a Khajiit by his traitorous companion, and surviving all of this through nothing but dumb luck and the timely intervention of others.
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: Emperor Mede and the Imperial Court have been manipulating Attrebus's entire life to make Attrebus look good. Attrebus is convinced that he has won many great battles when in fact they were all rigged in his favor.
  • Fantastic Racism:
    • The Thalmor, if you know your Elder Scrolls lore, are a group of Elven Supremacists who want nothing more than to crush the Empire of Man under their heels, but they don't play a major part in the first novel.
    • There is also all the racism from the games, Argonians conquering the Dunmer, the Mede Empire letting Umbriel wreak havok on the An-Xileel Empire, the urban and nomadic Khajiit, and the view of Nords as uncivilized barbarians.
    • This is surprisingly averted by the Nords in Solstheim, who were very hospitable to their ancient enemies. Most of them get along very well with the Dunmer refugees (many of which now rule over the Nords), and there are even a few Khajiit amongst the Nordic populace. Who, like the Dunmer, are accepted by the Nords.
  • Go-Go Enslavement
  • Hannibal Lecture: Sul gives them to Attrebus as a way to get him to man up. Vuhon tries to pull one on Sul, with predictable results.
  • Hotter and Sexier, at least as compared to Morrowind and Oblivion.
  • I Call It "Vera":
    • Attrebus, being a showman by nature, has the only named sword in the book, called "Flashing." Unlike other named swords in The Elder Scrolls, it doesn't seem to be enchanted.
    • In Lord of Souls, Mazgar gra Yagash has a sword called "Sister."
  • Interrogating the Dead: Colin does this a few times by summoning the shade of a recently killed person.
  • It's All About Me: Vuhon is strikingly indifferent to the monstrous cost of life needed to emancipate himself from Clavicus Vile and gain his freedom. He has nothing against the rest of the world (unlike Sul) and he's even willing to bargain with non-Umbrielians, but he cares about utterly nothing but himself, his city and his pride.
  • Knight in Shining Armor: Subverted, Attrebus and his personal guard.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Sul. He explicitly states that he doesn't care if Umbriel destroys the world, only as long as he can kill Vuhon. However, he begins to snap out of it as he forms a friendship with Attrebus, even foregoing the opportunity to kill Vuhon by saving Attrebus' life.
  • Love Before First Sight:
    • Annaïg seems to be getting quite fond of Attrebus through their long-distance-magic-communication sessions.
    • In the prologue for Lord of Souls, Malacath immediately sees that Attrebus has this hard.
  • The Mentor: Sul, as a mentor to Attrebus. Also Wert to Glim.
  • Mildly Military: Prince Attrebus wants to invoke this with his men. He failed, miserably.
  • Mind Rape: This is the specialty of the Tamrielic half of the Big Bad Duumvirate, Minister Hierem.
  • The Mole: Radhasa
  • Mysterious Past: Sul, right up until towards the end of The Infernal City.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Remember how in Morrowind, you destroyed the source of the Tribunal's power? Well, winds up Vivec's power was all that kept that big rock from destroying all of Morrowind. To top it off, the destruction of Morrowind allowed the creation of Umbriel in the first place.
    • Turns out it wasn't a good idea to give the sword Umbra to Clavicus Vile in Oblivion either. It kick-starts a chain of events that lead to Umbriel's creation.
  • No Ending: The Infernal City just sort of... stops. See Divided for Publication
  • Non Human Side Kick: Mere-Glim
  • Our Goblins Are Different - The cooks and chefs of Umbriel are helped out by dim-witted, monkey-like assistants called Hobs.
  • Our Souls Are Different: Well, not at first. After going through the Ingenium, though...
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: Our werebears and were-crocodiles are also different.
  • Prince Charming: Attrebus. Unlike Warrior Prince, he does play this one straight.
  • Proud Warrior Race: The clan of Khajiit that Attrebus and Sul encounter are like this, and their way of life is threatened under a new post-Imperial Potentate.
  • The Reveal: Three of them:
    • Attrebus is a fake. There is a Genius Bonus for swordsmen to figure it out beforehand.
    • Umbra the Sword-spirit is either the Man Behind the Man for the Big Bad or perhaps even the Big Bad himself.
    • Annaïg and Glim cannot leave Umbriel.
  • Rival Turned Evil: Vuhon and Sul were apparently rivals in everything, but still friends until Vuhon steals Ilzheven's soul out of jealousy.
  • Savvy Guy, Energetic Girl: Mere-Glim and Annaïg are a platonic example.
  • Science Hero: Annaïg. She uses her knowledge of alchemy quite a lot to survive, in a world where alchemy is a science.
  • Secret Police: The Blades no longer protect the Emperor directly, since they were bound by tradition only to the Dragonborn Septim line. The new organization that does so for the Medes is known as the Penitus Oculatus.
  • Shrouded in Myth: Prince Attrebus.
  • Starfish Language:
    • The Argonians use one amongst themselves, which has many words that humans cannot pronounce, and involves smell in some capacity, which humans can learn to identify but not replicate.
    • The Hist have this as well, using psychic links, which humans can not even perceive.
  • Time Skip: Forty years have passed since the events of the video games.
  • The Vamp: Radhasa
  • Vestigial Empire: The Oblivion Crisis ultimately caused The Empire to collapse, and it is just now being slowly rebuilt by a warlord who has proclaimed himself emperor.
  • Warrior Prince: Deconstructed with Prince Attrebus.
  • What You Are in the Dark: It appears that, in the Dark, Annaïg would be the High Fantasy equivalent of Martha Stewart.
    • Throughout the Infernal City, Sul has this on his mind, hoping that in the dark, Attrebus won't just curl up and die.
    • In Lord of Souls, Annaig becomes a lot more ruthless.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Both Annaig and Attrebus start the novel out very idealistic. While they don't become crushingly cynical, they both have their cushy worldviews shattered very early on.
  • Yandere: Slyr will do anything for Toel's affections. Anything.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: The heroes are trying to prevent it.