Runescape: Return to Canifis

The problem with books like this is that they get overlooked incredibly easily. Take a look at the cover and what we see is a generic picture of a vampire that wouldn’t be out of place in a rundown tattoo parlour on Yarmouth sea front. Then there’s the fact that it’s loosely based on a videogame franchise, and on that’s relatively obscure to the more casual fans. If this novel was placed in a pile with Feist, Barclay and Martin it would likely be picked last. But if anything it should thrust its shoulders back, stand on tippy-toes and take its place as great fantasy fiction.

When I say that it’s loosely based on a videogame franchise, the word loosely should be flashing in six foot high neon letters. The novel takes place in locales familiar with the videogame Runescape, but as the game is one that allows you to create your own character and experience, the cast here are merely reflections of what you would find in the game. That is perhaps a good thing because the book doesn’t force you towards the game; it simply accentuates an already developed universe.

This novel takes place after the events of the first book and so becomes a direct sequel, meaning that to read this you’re probably best to track down Betrayal at Falador, otherwise many of the moments of reflection would be lost on you. It would have been nice to see a summary of previous events, but it is no black mark against T.S. Church, the author.

What Church has created is an entry level fantasy novel. Take away the associations with the videogame and what you have is high fantasy for the uninitiated. The cast are stereotypical, a proud knight, grumpy Dwarf, wizard, you know the score, but they invite you into their world comfortably. It’s a world with a clear cut line of good and evil, a river in fact, and it’s this river that must be conquered by our intrepid bunch.

That sounds a little bland as really the river Salve is a barrier between the land of Misthalin (good guys) and Morytania (Baddies). Our cast are set the mission of crossing the river to parley with the Government in Morytania in order to stop a rampaging beast that crossed the river and is eating a portion of the population of Varrock. It’s a pretty standard fantasy plotline, but it’s in the relationships of the characters and the dangers that they face, where the story comes to life.

The “will they, won’t they” romance plot of Theodore the Knight and Kara-Meir, hero of Falador is perhaps the strongest arc of the novel and many of the intertwining plots run alongside. The romance is pivotal to the surrounding world as it breaks down boundaries known to our cast. But the whole “will they, won’t they” is a tool used a lot by Church, even if it isn’t always linked to romance. Many of the characters are paired off and have opposing views, so much of the time you’re turning the pages to see how these people coexist while they attempt to achieve a same goal.

The friendship of the wizard, Castimir and the Alchemist, Ebeneezer, is perhaps the most intriguing as it’s the archetypal argument of science and faith, something that is a constant theme in the novel and one the is often welcome. Never does the book get bogged down in religion or politics. It’s just enough to whet your appetite, but never enough to drag you away from the fun of the tale.

But it is quite a dark story. Many of the moments can leave readers with a discerning constitution towards violence a little queasy as werewolves rip human children to shreds or as we hear tales of a vicious leader and his ravenous past. Thankfully there’s enough humour to counterbalance the violence and the writing will inspire you to smile just as much as frown.

It’s a fitting sequel to a great first book. My colleague, Pete, wasn’t bowled over by Church’s first attempt with the Runescape universe. I however enjoyed it and would recommend it heartedly. So, this sequel also gets the nod from me. Of course, it isn’t for everyone. Fans of in depth, high fantasy will be let down by the simplicity of the plot and the convenience of the pacing between interactions.

It’s a hefty book compared to the first part but one that disappears swiftly and despite a rushed feel to the ending, it wraps up nicely. And by nicely, I mean on a gaping cliffhanger that guarantees a third part to the story. I for one am glad to see that Church has more to give and the third part can’t arrive fast enough.

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