Betrayer ‘Blood for the Blood God’ Review
Apologies for the delay since my last blog. A planned break leading up to Christmas, coinciding with a dose of the plague over Christmas, means that I’ve been away far longer than I had planned. I can only assume Papa Nurgle was disappointed that I didn’t put Flight of the Eisenstein into my top 5 novels! Anyway, I’m back now, and it’s my pleasure to review the latest novel within the Horus Heresy series, Betrayer by Aaron-Dembski-Bowden.
The Shadow Crusade has begun. While the Ultramarines reel from Kor Phaeron’s surprise attack on Calth,
Lorgar and the rest of the Word Bearers strike deep into the realm of Ultramar. Their unlikely allies,
Angron and the World Eaters, continue to ravage each new system they come across – upon the
garrison planet of Armatura, this relentless savagery may finally prove to be their undoing.
Worlds will burn, Legions will clash and a primarch will fall.
The 24th novel in the Horus Heresy series, and the second full Horus Heresy novel by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Betrayer covers the events of the Shadow Crusade, a lightning campaign by the joint forces of the Word Bearers and World Easters Legions against the Ultramarines realm of Ultramar. Within the heresy timeline, Betrayer follows directly on the events covered in the novel, Know No Fear, and the audio drama, Butcher’s Nails, and also has links to the novels, Battle for the Abyss and The First Heretic, and the novella, Aurelian.
Whilst Betrayer heavily features the Word Bearers and Ultramarines Legions, it is undoubtedly the story of the World Eaters. Just as some of the best novels within the series to date (think The First Heretic and A Thousand Sons) have taken specific legions and given them background and depth, so too Betrayer expands on the back story of the World Eaters and their Primarch, Angron. Before Betrayer, it was all too easy to think of the World Eaters as a one dimensional legion, with all the ‘blood for the blood god’ rage and Angron’s bitterness their defining characteristics. Dembski-Bowden does a superb job of building on these features to add real flavour to the legion. Most notably, there is exploration of the butcher’s nails (implants that moderate the behaviour of the wearer) and their impact on Angron and the legionaries who are desperate to receive these modifications to feel closer to their Primarch.
Betrayer is packed full of action, probably second only to Know No Fear in terms of how much combat we actually see. It features two huge battles, firstly over the Ultramarine world of Armatura, and secondly over a planet of deep significance to the World Eaters. Both battles are combined void warfare between fleets of capital ships, and brutal ground warfare. We see the contrast between the main protagonists; the berserk, close in brawling of the World Eaters, compared to the more orthodox, classical fighting style of the Ultramarines. Both battles contain monumental individual clashes, and without giving any spoilers, some of these will certainly go down in Heresy folklore.
There has been some grumbling on various internet forums about the pace of the heresy series, and how the series isn’t progressing towards the climactic Siege of Terra (not a view I share!). For anyone concerned about this, the strategic aspect of the Shadow Crusade is covered from the viewpoint of Lorgar. We gain an insight into Lorgar’s plans of how he intends to take the Ultramarines out of the balance of power. Crucially, it appears Lorgar never believed it was possible to utterly destroy the Ultramarines legion, and this retrospectively casts new light onto the previous Word Bearer/Ultramarine conflicts from Know No Fear and Battle for the Abyss. Betrayer, without doubt, progresses the series timeline, and although there are some insightful flashback sequences, the novel is definitely set within the ongoing timeline of the Heresy.
More than anything else, Betrayer is a story of brotherhood and loyalty. This is demonstrated through two key relationships; Lorgar with Angron, and Argel Tal with Kharn (both captains within their respective legions, and both effectively the right hand man to their Primarchs). For the two Primarchs, Dembski-Bowden charts the development of their relationship, the fraternal concern of Lorgar who wants to save Angron from being eventually killed by his implanted ‘butcher’s nails’, and the growing respect between the two of them as Angron sees the newfound strength and power of Lorgar. Argel Tal and Kharn’s relationship is simpler. Two powerful, renowned champions of their respective legions, these two figureheads are sword-brothers. Their friendship is critical to maintaining the partnership between two legions who otherwise have little in common, and even less respect for each other! Both captains show ultimate loyalty to one other throughout the course of the novel, with a hugely surprising twist at the end.
I’ve talked earlier about the amount of action involved in Betrayer. In a novel with the by-line, ‘Blood for the Blood God’, this is perhaps unsurprising. The unrelenting pace of the conflict, the desperate close range brawling as the World Eaters get to grips with their opponents, and the abandonment of all tactical plans as the butcher’s nails take hold, left me feeling breathless at times. The reality of warfare; the confusion, loss of contact, poor visibility, and the sheer desperation of brutal hand to hand combat, are superbly portrayed by Dembski-Bowden.
- I can’t believed I haven’t even talked about Titans yet. There are a number of scenes involving Titans on both sides of the conflict that help to demonstrate the scale of the conflict and the power involved on both sides.
- For anyone well versed in 40K (and 30K lore), we are familiar with the Ultramarines as a stoic, tactically superb and disciplined fighting force. In Betrayer, we see a completely different side to their Primarch, Roboute Guilliman, who deliberately ignores the most sensible strategic option in order to vent his anger and take revenge upon the legions that have inflicted so much damage to his legion and realm.
- Erebus, First Chaplain of the Word Bearers and one of the main architects of the heresy, reaches new heights of villainy. It’s also really interesting to see the change in his relationship with Lorgar.
I’m really struggling to think of anything I would change. If anything, I wish the book was longer. There are a couple of sections within each of the key battles that I’d love to have seen expanded. In particular, the battle involving the Titan, Corinthian, and the closing stages on Armatura seemed truncated. I can understand the editorial decisions to keep these brief – neither event is key to the story – so this is only a minor gripe.
Overall, it’s difficult for me to judge this novel outside of the context of the heresy, but within the Horus Heresy this book is an absolute masterpiece. I would put this at the very top of anything we have seen thus far. Dembski-Bowden had a great reputation beforehand, and with Betrayer he has put himself at the pinnacle of Black Library authors. I would certainly recommend Betrayer to anyone with an interest in 30K or 40K, and it would be a great introduction to the Horus Heresy series for anyone who hasn’t yet tried it.
Well, that’s all from me folks. A written book review is a new departure for me, so I would be really interested in your feedback. As ever, if you have any comments about anything I’ve written, please drop me a message on here or on twitter @Marcoos14
All the best,