Review: Betrayer/ Author: Aaron Dembski-Bowden / Publisher: Black Library / Release Date: Out Now
As the Horus Heresy series rolls on, those familiar with the setting and the over-arching plot expect certain key stories (and the revelations those stories should bring) to be comprehensive and yet somehow fresh. Betrayer details the initial stages of evolution of the Space Marine berserkers called The World Eaters from common or garden rebels to ravening monsters fuelled by the powers of hell itself. This is an entire novel told from the villains' perspective, and features two of the major bad guys of the series – the blood thirsty and violent Angron and the pious yet twisted dark priest, Lorgar.
Aaron Demsbki-Bowden’s master stroke is to take the utterly unsympathetic and vile Angron and explain how a being who should be a glorious gladiator king and freedom fighter has devolved into a bloody butcher who exists to end lives and increase suffering. Bowden retreads some of the themes from his similarly powerful novel The First Heretic; the nature of faith, the sins of the father and the humanity-defining quest for identity are all re-examined. Angron’s back story is engaging and some of the scenes involving his past are truly heart-rending. That said, the main character does have a tendency to whine, and this isn’t helped by the fact that he occasionally sounds a little bit like Zippy from kid’s TV show Rainbow in the unabridged audio version.
Fans of the series will be pleased to know that popular characters from the books are also here; Argel Tal and Khârn are heavily featured. These villains have appeared in earlier novels and their story arcs are every bit as important as those of the major bad guys. (Khârn is a key character in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and Betrayer does serve as an origin story of sorts). The supporting cast are beautifully rendered as well. Meanwhile, the space ship battles are lovingly detailed and greatly improved through the presence of strong characters such as Lotarra Sarin, the brave and powerful ship’s captain, and Lhorke, a war machine with personality.
It is all highly immersive, despite the ridiculous space opera backdrop, and an engaging page turner. Betrayer is Bowden’s best work so far and it’s a pleasure to see the writer simply get better as he progresses. If you’ve read some of the earlier Horus Heresy books and are looking for more (but don’t fancy reading the whole series), then this book and its prequel, The First Heretic, are very good choices.