As readers aren't guaranteed to have read the previous novel, the author has gone to some length to introduce characters from the first book. Most characters are introduced with a description when they first appear, and key characters from the previous novel are brought in very slowly over the first few chapters. The author re-establishes characters from the previous book, like Kara-Meir, through dialogue between other people. This introduces the characters subtly to people who haven't read the previous book without patronising those who have read it.
Throughout the book, I found myself becoming invested in the characters. Every character had his own issues to deal with, and I was compelled to find out how things would turn out for each of them. Some of the characters really seemed to come to life, which made their struggles all the more real.
In general, I'm not a fan of the writing style used throughout the novel. A lot of lines in the prologue were written in the passive past tense, which I thought seriously undermined what could have been a very strong start for the novel. It got to the point that I began counting how many times the author used the word "had" in a page. I also felt there was a little too much explaining of past events in the middle of what was largely an active sequence. Although this was likely done to help readers unfamiliar with the previous book, I didn't like the constant interruptions to explain past events. This issue is largely limited to the start of the novel.
Throughout the book, the author explicitly declares the motivations of characters for taking certain actions, and the private thoughts of many characters are written for all to see. I don't particularly like this omnipotent narration style, but it does make a degree of sense for a book aimed at younger readers. A younger reader may not be able to easily infer a character's motivations and thoughts from actions in the text and descriptions of events. By explicitly declaring those motivations and thoughts, perhaps the book remains more accessible to a younger audience. Given the fact that most RuneScape players are relatively young, keeping the book accessible to them is definitely a good thing.
The main things I disliked about the novel were mostly to do with the author's writing style. As a writer and editor, I often find it hard to switch out of editor mode. Every few pages, I'd come across an awkward sentence or grammatical blunder, and I even spotted a spelling mistake or two. The interactions between characters were very obvious, and it sometimes felt like the writer used a lot more text than was necessary to convey an idea. These issues shouldn't be a huge problem for most readers, and the story was still compelling enough to make me keep reading in spite of them.
For me, the mark of a good novel is how easily it conjures up vivid images while reading. The descriptions in Return to Canifis use very simple language, but key characters and creatures are described with enough detail to summon some important mental illustrations for the reader. I've even found myself thinking about those images between reading sessions and wondering what's going to happen next in the story. I haven't yet finished the entire book, but each night I've definitely been looking forward to reading a few more chapters.
RuneScape's Return to Canifis will be released on March 22nd in the U.S. and Canada and on March 25th in the UK. If you're a fan of RuneScape, I'd definitely recommend giving it a read.