I'll admit right off that I'm not a RuneScape player, so I was a little apprehensive about this project. The game has been on my radar for a while now, though, and Betrayal at Falador seemed like a perfect chance to acquaint myself with the world of RuneScape. That would only work if the book were designed to appeal to both longtime fans and novices, so that was a feature I was watching closely for. To my mind, that's a strong selling point for a novel like this -- if done well it can draw in new fans while still entertaining longtime players. I won't give any spoilers other than basic plot information, so read on without fear!
The central plot revolves around a combination of characters and places both unique to the book and known from RuneScape. Author T.S. Church wastes no time in getting to the action; Betrayal at Falador begins with a dangerous storm, a dark night, and the magical arrival of a badly inured young woman. Veterans will immediately find hallmarks of their familiar game world everywhere: Falador, Ice Mountain, a Ring of Life, and more.
My concern that this would be a book written solely for those familiar with RuneScape was alleviated within the first few pages. The way Church handled the explanation of the Ring of Life is an excellent example of what I'd hoped for. Any fan is going to recognize the broken and smoldering ring in the hand of the nearly dead girl. To those not in the know, it's a mystery, and it's a mystery shared by two characters in the book. One knows the history of this kind of ring, and the other is too young to remember. The elder explains it to the younger, enlightening him on what the rings are and how they came about -- managing to enlighten the readers as well without a lot of heavy-handed exposition.
I found this balance struck nicely throughout the book. Anything that needed to be explained was done so in a manner that wouldn't leave veteran RuneScape fans rolling their eyes. The overarching tale is composed of separate but related stories: the knights and squires of Thalador; the young woman Kara-Meir; a mysterious and dangerous monster stalking the inhabitants of Asgarnia; Doric the dwarf; and the Kinshra leader Sulla. Each separate story is presented from the relevant character's point of view and gives just enough of a hint at the relationships with the other stories to keep the reader interested.
Those in Thalador are busy uncovering the mystery of Kara-Meir. What happened to her, where did she come from, and who is she? Their attention is divided by the increasingly urgent problem of the creature stalking the countryside, a creature called Jerrod who has his own take on things. Kara-Meir's history is bound up in that of the Kinshra. Doric isn't directly attacked by Jerrod, but bears the brunt of his actions in another way. The stories move between viewpoints regularly in a way that could easily be confusing, but Church handles it well. Rather than being jarring, the narrative serves to draw the stories together as the various mysteries are unraveled.
Betrayal at Falador ends with a climactic battle and aftermath that sets the stage for the the sequel, Return to Canifis, set for release in February of 2011. It also provides background for the events leading up to the current RuneScape world, making it a great read for RuneScape lore fans and for those interested in beginning the game.
In the end, I felt like I wasn't an outsider looking in, but rather someone invited to learn the history of this long-running game. The story is a good one, and knowing that it's set in an MMO world I can experience firsthand makes it even more alluring. I found myself invested in the characters for their own sakes, and I hope to see more of Kara-Meir, Theodore, and even Sulla and Jerrod. The world felt rich and well-rounded, something that had a strong background thanks to RuneScape's 10 years of existence. If there's a downside, it's that hardcore fans will find a few minor factual errors related to timing, locations, and the existence of horses. How much that pulls the reader out of the story is really a matter of individual preference.
If you missed this book the first time around, I definitely recommend that you remedy that on October 12th! Until then, check out the sneak peek at chapter one on the publisher's site.