Betrayal at Falador is the first in an upcoming series of RuneScape novels. You might remember it from its limited hardcover run back in 2008, which was only available online. Since then, the author, T.S. Church, has gotten a publishing deal with Titan Books, and Betrayal at Falador has been re-edited, tightened up, and released to the world at large in paperback. You can pick it up online or at most major bookstores.
The story is set five years before the opening of the RuneScape game, and follows the intertwining paths of six characters through a tale of intrigue, self-discovery, and murder, set in the face of a rising evil. Sounds good, right? It's actually a pretty fun read! It won't raise your consciousness or anything, and it doesn't really leave you guessing, but it will definitely give RuneScape newbies a solid and enjoyable introduction, and hardened veterans a deeper look into the RuneScape world.
Betrayal at Falador does an admirable job of relating to people at a wide range of age and reading levels, which is important with a setting as popular and widespread as RuneScape. After all, Jagex's MMORPG is still the most popular free-to-play MMO out there, with over 10 million players worldwide. Church deliberately uses short chapters and break points to make the story easy and enticing to read while on the go, or for those who don't have the time to get overly involved in a book. He also uses an omniscient narration, somewhat reminiscent of the Dragonlance series, which allows the reader to see into the minds of all of the characters in the book, as needed. There is a lot of jumping about from point of view to point of view, and that can take a little getting used to, but it's handled in such a way as to draw the reader in further to the intertwining plot-lines.
The story begins in Falador, home to a zealous order of Knights of the same name; they are worshippers of Saradomin, the god of all that is good. It's the height of a terrible storm -- such that large sections of stone are raining down from the walls above -- and in the first four pages you are introduced to two of the key characters in the novel: Theodore, Squire to the Knights, already with a reputation of being one of the most honest and true to ever walk the halls (see: naive), and Kara-Meir, the badly injured human girl (with a Dwarfish name) who appears in a flash of blinding light not far from Theodore, somehow teleporting through the magical shield that protects the Citadel at Falador.
What follows then is a quick-moving, character and event driven tale of mysteries, monsters, and betrayal, with action that drives the Squire and mysterious girl together, along with a young wizard, solitary old dwarf, strange and ailing boy, and his old alchemist caretaker. They embark on an adventure that changes all of their lives, leading them to a climactic battle between the forces of good and evil that will alter the face of the kingdom forever.
The entire story of Betrayal at Falador takes place in the kingdom of Asgarnia, exploring areas that even people new to the game can easily become familiar with (though they will want to level up a bit before they visit a place like Ice Mountain...). Church uses the setting well, extrapolating real time distances between locations that take players only minutes to travel to on horseback. He also integrates various items of RuneScape lore, but without ever getting too specific or bogging down his writing excessively with stats. The result is a relatively realistic portrayal of the RuneScape world that is, once again, easy for both new and veteran players to relate to. In fact, you can read Betrayal at Falador with absolutely no knowledge of RuneScape, and continue on happily with forthcoming books in the series without ever playing the game.
Of course, if you are familiar with the game, then you will know that the sequel to Betrayal at Falador, Return to Canifis, will have some interesting setting and population differences from the first book. Return to Canifis features the same main characters as Betrayal at Falador, and should have an interesting story to tell. It hits bookshelves in March of 2011.
RuneScape has been long overdue for a foray into the realms of world and brand expansion. After all, there are much less established games out there that have toys, books, and even movies attached to them, each giving people a deeper experience and understanding of that game's world -- shouldn't RuneScape have the same? This was a thought echoed by T.S. Church (also known as Tom or Thomas) when he was still just a RuneScape player like you, or me. Like so many others, his in-game experiences left him with a story to tell. 1000 words per day and some pints of determination later, T.S. actually approached Jagex with the first major draft of what was to become Betrayal at Falador. Much to his surprise, they agreed to work with him. That alone is testament to his ability as an up and coming storyteller.
I liked RuneScape's Betrayal at Falador. T.S. Church has done a very good job of making both the book and the world of RuneScape almost universally available. His characters are well-rounded, the dialogue is believable, and the tensions in his story are real and palpable. It's not a deep read, by any means, but it's fun, engaging, and it moves along quickly. I look forward to the sequel coming this March.