15th Dec2010

Book Review: Runescape – Betrayal at Falador

by Jack Kirby

Written by T.S. Church | Published by Titan Books


For the uninitiated, RuneScape is an online, multiplayer, fantasy game, set in a world of swordplay and sorcery. Players are free to explore the world of the game at will and interact with other players. Given that the game has ten million active users, this may not be news to you. I, however, had never heard of it and thus approached the book ignorant of any references to the characters, history and locales of the game. This is probably less than ideal, as the book is aimed solely and exclusively at established fans.

The fantasy genre is like Marmite, with those who love it whole-heartedly and unashamedly and those who wouldn’t be caught dead with a book such as this one. The associations of the genre are all too closely linked with seven-sided dice and live action role play for many. I do not count myself as a fan (I found Lord of the Rings, supposedly the high water mark of the genre tiresome), though I was determined to judge the book on its own merits, rather than because of any prejudice I may harbour towards the genre.

The plot of the book follows a number of characters, including knights, squires, wizards, alchemists, monsters and dwarves as various denizens of Falador attempt to uncover the mysterious origins of Kara, a fierce young girl who has somehow managed to teleport herself within the city’s supposedly impenetrable walls. Meanwhile, a monster is haunting the countryside and an evil army is preparing for war against Falador’s knights. There are cross-country jaunts, skirmishes, visits to mysterious locations and of course, a final, enormous battle.

In spite of my willingness to overlook my personal feelings of derision towards the genre, there is no getting away from the fact that the book is poorly written and riddled with clichés. Plot twists are signalled from miles away and the characters are flat and uninteresting. Devoid entirely of literary invention, reading the book was a chore that became a slog. That is, until the narrative picked up a little towards the end as Church describes the (rather long) battle scene, which he does so with a soupcon more flair than in the rest of the novel.

The trouble is that the fans of the game enjoy it so much, presumably because of the sense of freedom and the non-linear possibilities it grants them. It is hard to see them enjoying a book about the game, in which they are merely passive observers of the action, rather than active participants. Church himself has addressed this criticism by stating, perhaps a little patronisingly, that books add “more for fans to experience, and will hopefully get more people interested in reading.” It would probably help if Church read a little more widely himself – despite citing Dickens and Austen as influences, his dull prose reveal the graduate of business, marketing and IT that he is.

Still, it seems a little harsh to criticise a writer on his first novel (which is more novels than I’ve ever written) – perhaps if Church puts a bit more of the passion he has for the game, a lot less cliché and more invention into his prose, the following novel (Return to Canifis, coming February 2011) could be an improvement, especially for the game’s fans.  Until then, if you see this book on the shelves, run; escape!

Runescape: Betrayal at Falador is available now at Titan Books

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