|RuneScape: Return to Canifis|
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I read RuneScape: Betrayal at Falador a few months ago and enjoyed it for what it was: light-fantasy action with a pretty decent cast of characters in a world I was totally unfamiliar with. T.S. Church managed to bring me up to speed quickly on a large, established world filled with kingdoms, monarchs, and gods.
Church has readied RuneScape: Return to Canifis for release next week, and it is not only a better book than its predecessor, it actually makes for a pretty darn good fantasy read. Here is my review of T.S. Church’s new novel, RuneScape: Return to Canifis.
RuneScape: Return to Canifis was provided to me by the publisher, Titan Books.
As a direct sequel to Betrayal at Falador, Church has the benefit of the world and character building he established in that book. Now, the RuneScape series won’t be known for its incredibly deep magic system or cast of hundreds, but the author has built up a solid core of heroes and villains that he can seemingly prod in the right direction and they’ll be entertaining. And with the plot leaving the first book’s Falador setting, we get to see how they react to totally different situations that often throw them into the deep end of the unknown.
The book opens with the super heroine, Kara-Meir, off in the wilderness chasing the evil werewolf Jerrod with her own werewolf buddy, Gar’rth. The action gets underway quickly with a reminder of how awesome Kara-Meir is with a sword and how dangerous a werewolf companion can be. Meanwhile, Theodore, our favorite squire of Falador, is in another kingdom as a representative saving babies from a living gargoyle and trying not to be wooed by the tempting nobles in court. Theodore hasn’t seen Kara-Meir in quite a while but feels something stronger than friendship between them, but when she returns not everything is at appears.
One of my few complaints about Betrayal at Falador is that the Gar’rth the werewolf wasn’t given enough page time to feel properly fleshed out. Well, turns out Church was just saving it all for Return to Canifis, as while Kara-Meir and Theodore are still our main heroes, the action swirls around Gar’rth like a tempest. Being a werewolf in the RuneScape world is not the healthiest life choice.
The settings in Return to Canifis are quite a bit more interesting than in the previous novel. Fans of the game will probably be delighted to see the land of Morytania, a dark, gloomy, swampland filled with nasty creatures including hungry vampires that can’t be killed. There’s also the eponymous Canifis, a town filled with werewolves under the oppressive thumb of Lord Drakan.
The tone of the novel is much darker than Betrayal at Falador but it’s incredibly effective, the shift from our heroes leaving the safety of the human world and entering Morytania is well described and executed. I have no idea if Morytania is as foreboding in the game as it is in the novel, but it would be a scary place to explore if it was.
Canifis introduces a slew of new characters that prove Church is an equal opportunity writer. Some more elderly men are added to show how dangerous the return is for the frail of body, and a sister/brother pair are thrown in for good measure too. Now, kids in fantasy have the habit of being annoying, and while this is no exception, the author lays down some pretty good background on why they’re annoying and always getting into trouble. But kids can also make the main cast act extraordinarily out of character too, and that’s probably their biggest side effect in Return to Canifis.
One of my favorite aspects of the novel is that it doesn’t contain any large scale battles. This isn’t meant to be a knock on other fantasy novels or even Betrayal at Falador, but simply praise that T.S. Church was able to focus his action set pieces on more memorable events. It takes a special skill to plan, describe, and keep a big battle entertaining for dozens of pages, but it requires a much different set of creative talents to feature something totally unique for your grand finale.
My few complaints of Return to Canifis lie with its pacing. The first half of the book felt like it was treading water at times with me questioning after every chapter when the direction of the novel would finally reveal itself. The answer to what Canifis is and who and why someone is going to return to it wasn’t properly laid out until half the book was read, and events started to feel a bit rushed after that. Canifis is the most interesting place we’ve visited in the RuneScape novels so far, and while it is the focus of some great chapters, it is still not given as much attention as it rightfully deserves. I wouldn’t have minded if the journey had been kicked off a little sooner.
Return to Canifis is a great sequel to Betrayal at Falador and undoubtedly an important entry into RuneScape canon. Most importantly, it’s an exciting fantasy novel that is highly accessible by both fantasy and non-fantasy nuts. If you’re a fan of the RuneScape world, you owe yourself a read of both novels. Beware though, T.S. Church has clearly set up what is bound to be an engrossing third act, so you may need a few free weeknights to dedicate towards the RuneScape series in the future.