A.L. Zuniga’s finale of his Elder Scrolls trilogy, ‘The Lost Mane,’ presents several initial quandaries for reviewers. First are fundamental questions – how do you approach fan fiction? Zuniga’s series is his entry in the Skyrim Universe, and not all readers will embrace creative work built on the figurative back of another’s imagination. Lesser questions arise as well. Does this third book work as a standalone narrative, or is the story well-nigh incomprehensible without reading its two predecessors?

Many writers of all types enjoy the actual act of writing, some do not, but fan fiction is more a labor of love than most. Zuniga’s love and respect for the Skyrim Universe are obvious in the book’s voluminous detail – he has long since mastered the series’ minutia without ever wearying readers. Managing the multiple plotlines, character connections, and diction over the course of two books is difficult enough, but Zuniga’s three books present a coherent vision of the Skyrim Universe.

ON AUDIO BOOK: https://www.audible.com/series/Zanetas-Chronicles-Audiobooks/B08RZ542YR

Writing action is among his strongest suits. The Lost Mane essentially plops readers down right in the middle of the action without it ever seeming disorienting. He expects the vast majority of his audience to be return customers from the preceding two books and doesn’t provide much backstory for the characters. He develops the cast, however, despite that limitation. There’s no question about the novel.

His storytelling energy overcomes this and other limitations. Zuniga keeps the plot moving throughout The Lost Mane with few if any significant digressions along the way. One of the book’s chief distinctions is his ability to thread an assortment of different strands into a larger whole. His storytelling gifts are apparent from the outset, and the writing exudes confidence that will keep many readers turning pages. His dialogue is a notable achievement. Zuniga is convincing, crafting an idiosyncratic speech for each of the novel’s characters, and it reflects the same tone you find in other Skyrim-related works. His book does an excellent job walking an artistic tightrope – it makes significant efforts to remain faithful to the series’ universe while still allowing Zuniga free rein to re-envision key elements as he sees fit.

The book isn’t especially long in its Kindle edition. Zuniga is a much more disciplined writer than many self-published and fan fiction peers. Considering the trilogy overall, there’s little question that its polished presentation constitutes a bid for respectability rather than a lark. It’s entertainment, but he approaches his work seriously and hopes we do as well. His ambition to produce solid storytelling readers can revisit over the years comes across virtually every page.

Let’s hope Zuniga continues producing fan fiction at this level. Our age is a time of great uncertainty, with history seemingly teetering at some terminus point unlike any in recent human history; we crave respite from these stormy times and can find it here. There are timeless truths, timeless stories, and a rollicking good time recast here, but Zaneta’s Chronicles Part Three: The Lost Mane never neglects to tell us something about how we live.

Garth Thomas