I’d like to start off this book review with a big fat spoiler alert. RuneScape: Return to Canifis is a direct follow on to RuneScape: Betrayal at Falador (review here), and as such this review will contain information that may spoil the first book if you are planning to read it but haven’t got around to doing so yet.
Return to Canifis is set six months after the events of Betrayal at Falador, which saw the evil Lord Sulla defeated and disfigured at the hands of Kara-Meir. The seven heroes of Falador have since gone their separate ways, with Kara-Meir, Gar’rth and Arisha heading off into The Wilderness to track Sulla and Werewolf Jerrod, whilst Wizard Castimir, Dwarf Doric and Alchemist Ebenezer have returned to their homeland.
Squire Theodore has been sent to the city of Varrock to recruit and train new blood to replenish the Falador army that suffered heavy losses in the battle with Sulla. It’s in Varrock where all the trouble starts, as something undead has managed to bypass the protection of the River Salve and cross over from the dark realm of Morytania. This winged beast has been killing seemingly random men, women, and children whilst leaving the grim message “he is coming”. The ‘he’ is assumed to be the Vampire Lord Drakan, a being of immeasurable power and cunning and one of the key figures in a prophecy proclaiming that a new king will rise and rule.
The heroes reunite at Varrock to try and slay the beast, but in the process it is accidently revealed to the King that Gar’rth is indeed a Werewolf from Morytania. Despite having a good heart and fleeing his homeland many years ago Gar’rth is locked in the dungeons and then offered two choices; either lead an embassy into the city of Canifis, in Morytania, to find out what Drakan is up to (and possibly be captured and punished for his desertion), or suffer at the hands of the hangman’s noose.
Somewhat begrudgingly the team head into Morytania, a land where Werewolves, Vampires, and ‘The Ravenous’ roam. All is not what it seems though, as it appears that there may be a power struggle in the dark realm between several of the most powerful Lords. There is also a lot more to Gar’rth than meets the eye – just who is he really? Can he control the rage within him? And are his murderous dreams just that, or a vision of things to come?
As enjoyable as Betrayal at Falador was in 2010, there were a couple of issues that held it back somewhat, and the big question is have these been ironed out in Return to Canifis? Well, the answer is a resounding yes as T.S. Church has taken the negatives and completely turned them around. Whereas before the pacing felt rushed as characters fought to be established, it now unravels at a sensible speed which builds up to the group venturing into Morytania.
Indeed, this event doesn’t even happen until over halfway into the book, allowing for motives and side stories to be explained fully. This in turn drastically improves how the characters develop throughout the quest, with the outstanding example being Gar’rth. One of the more mysterious members of the group, he has strong feelings for Kara-Meir but fears his Werewolf heritage and what he might become in the future. He battles against this feeling of loneliness and isolation but one feels he could turn at any moment. You feel sorry for him, but also fear him.
This suspicion plagues the mind of everyone in the group, which is enhanced by the Vampire’s trickery. Although the group are friends there is a constant stream of tension flowing beneath the surface, threatening to erupt. It feels a lot darker than Betrayal at Falador, because at least there they all had a common goal and fought as one.
Whilst the focus is on the heroes T.S. Church does introduce several new characters, although not to the detriment of the story. All periphery characters progress the story in their own way, with no stragglers. Without Lady Anne perhaps things between Theodore and Kara-Meir would be different. If King Roald hadn’t acted in such a rash manner, perhaps the journey to Canifis would have been avoided all together. Everyone plays their part.
Although almost relegated to something of a side story, Sulla’s determination to restore his honour and take revenge could make for an interesting book on its own. Having lacked menace previously, being crippled by Kara-Meir has made Sulla seem far more dangerous, as he uses a combination of cunning and his Werewolf companion to instil an iota of fear into those who have made a mockery of him over the past six months – and an iota is all he needs to succeed.
The undead also make for a fascinating enemy, mainly due to the group hierarchy. Although feared (and rightly so) it turns out the Werewolves are mere puppets and playthings for the Vampires to amuse themselves with. They live in squalor, starving to death, and those who are taken to serve in the castles never return. They do the Vampire’s bidding just to survive, and this is not an imagery we are used to when talking about Werewolves. There isn’t much interaction between the group and the Vampire Lords, but what little there is will send a shiver down your spine. They are all powerful, and have had centuries to plot their crossing over the River Salve.
The settings in Return to Canifis also manage to evoke far more enthusiasm from the reader than what went before it. Whilst Varrock is perhaps what you would expect from a fantasy title, Morytania manages to conjure up images of grimy, dirty little hovels and a combination of both dank marshland and industrialised hell. It is very well done, and paints a stark image for the reader.
- Fantastic tale
- Great character development
- Interesting enemies
- Very well paced
- It ends on somewhat of a cliffhanger – Hopefully a third book is planned
I can highly recommend giving Return to Canifis a read. Despite having to read Betrayal at Falador to understand what’s going on, no further knowledge of the Runescape franchise is needed. The story is very well told, and when it grips you it is almost impossible to put the book down. The cliffhanger ending gives me hope for a third book, and if it is as good as this then we are all in for a treat.