|RuneScape: Betrayal at Falador|
|Buy from Amazon|
I’m one of those people who enjoys reading novels set in familiar video game worlds. Growing up, I read Castlevania books starring some flavor of Belmont, and even remember finishing a Bionic Commando novella at some point (which, undoubtedly, did not end in Hitler’s head exploding). More recently, I’ve been enjoying the Mass Effect fiction that does a tremendous job adding to the already rich universe found in the video games.
But when I was asked to read a RuneScape novel, I wondered if maybe I was crossing the line of reading video game books. I’ve never played RuneScape, I’ve never even thought about playing RuneScape, and before I did some research, I found that everything I thought I knew about RuneScape was wrong.
I tried to limit my research though to just the facts about the game itself, and not the game world. If RuneScape: Betrayal at Falador was meant to be read by both fans of the game and readers who might not be familiar with the series, then it should serve as both fan-service and as a great introduction to the RuneScape universe. But really, there have been over 130 MILLION registered RuneScape players, there’s apparently no lack of market.
Since I knew nothing about RuneScape, I not only wanted to read a good fantasy novel, but I also wanted to learn something about this popular game that somehow managed to miss my radar for the last decade. After a surprisingly quick read of what appears like a thick paperback, I believe the author has succeeded on both accounts.
Betrayal at Falador gave the impression of an intimidating read at first; Church introduces a lot of the characters and problems early on, and I felt like I was scrambling to keep up. It seemed like since I wasn’t familiar with the in-game lore, I had already missed out on some of the connections between characters and factions that wasn’t apparent in the book. I’m still not sure if this is true, but it doesn’t take long for the novel’s heroes to emerge and the focus of the plot to take shape.
The story mostly follows Theodore, a squire of Falador who is entrusted with watching over the mysterious young woman, Kara-Meir. Kara recently appeared at Falador, and while she may or may not be the daughter of an exiled knight, she’s definitely got a weird vibe around her. Many chapters also have us following a monstrous creature prowling the land around Falador looking for someone, and of course, there’s the titular issue of the betrayal. Then we begin meeting the rest of the cast, which includes a priest, alchemist, dwarf, werewolf, and mage. All we’re missing is an elf.
Unsurprisingly, this seems like a generic, well-balanced MMORPG party at this point, but the same could probably be said about any number of fantasy novels, so I won’t hang on this point. Most of the characters besides the priest and werewolf are pretty well defined outside their class, and that’s really one of the most interesting aspects of a fantasy story: do the characters still look and sound like people even though they’re battling evil with runes in the pockets and adamantine swords strapped to their backs? Betrayal at Falador succeeds at this pretty well with the main cast, though growth by some of the minor characters makes it seem like a few pages might have been excised (Marius’ change of heart is most questionable).
The world of RuneScape has a bit of a religious tone to it. Three gods, Saradomin, Zamorak, and Guthix are in a constant power struggle for worship among the humans, dwarves, and other races in RuneScape. Saradomin is apparently some kind of god of light, as he’s favored by the noble knights and people of Falador. Zamorak is a chaotic being and thus followed by the werewolves and other bad guys of the story. Guthix is more about balance, and the generally neutral dwarves worship him. Saradomin and Zamorak clash particularly often in Betrayal at Falador, and there is a great line near the end about how their two chosen mortal representatives have much more at stake than just their own lives. RuneScape’s gods are the most effective way Betrayal at Falador sets it apart from other fantasy work I’ve read.
I wouldn’t have minded more information about the magic system in RuneScape. The little insight we get into the runes required to cast a spell seems to hint at so much more. I’m kind of a fanboy of well established magical rules, but this book isn’t about the magic, it’s about the characters and battles at hand, so let’s move on.
The actual betrayal of Falador is a bit further in the background than I expected. None of the main characters are actively involved in trying to figure out who the traitor is until the end, and the actual reveal is rather underwhelming as the cast of Faladorians isn’t fleshed out very well. It’s mostly just political intrigue mentioned every 10 chapters or so and seems odd that it is the title of the book, in retrospect. If you think you might be getting a mystery novel along with your Tolkien-lite action adventure, you should probably look elsewhere.
The book does read very quickly though, the action set-pieces are frequent and the amount of exposition of the established universe is surprisingly light. Much of the world building is carefully mentioned off-hand and pages are spent on moving the plot along instead. The characters generally fall right out of the fantasy world mold, but they all have a few quirks about them that make them memorable.
If you’re a fan of RuneScape, you could easily plow through Betrayal at Falador in a few late nights. Avid readers of the fantasy genre may enjoy this generally light fare in between heavier doses of Jordan and Sanderson. For those unfamiliar with the RuneScape world, this book does seem a bit intimidating at first with its length and jumble of characters and events at the beginning, but T.S. Church is able to corral it all in quickly.
And after all that, I’m honestly looking forward to the second book which apparently continues the adventures of Kara-Meir and Theodore. Not a lot of bonus fiction like this does that for me.