Anyone who read my Angel Exterminatus review last month how much I enjoyed that book. Now feeling somewhat spoiled, it's time for my next Horus Heresy fix in paperback in a matter of months. With Mark of Calth not due till January next year this will be the last Heresy book I read this year. So will Betrayer be another home run? Could we have two outstanding reviews in succession? If anyone can do it it's Aaron Dembski Bowden, author of the stunning 'The First Heretic', so without further ado let's get stuck into Betrayer.
In the first instance let us establish setting; Betrayer is set shortly after the events of Know no Fear and Presumably Mark of Calth although it precedes it in publication. Although the title uses Kharns adopted moniker (and the World Eaters captain does indeed feature heavily) it in fact is Angrons story, as Lorgar Aurelian (there's a limited -spit- novella we are still waiting for) seeks to both save his savage and permanently irked brother whilst using him to achieve his own goals. As with Angel Exterminates the relationship between the two Primarchs is the core around which this book is formed. Although a very different relationship exists between these two than that of Perturabo and the Phoenician, the detail and car that has been put into their portrayal is comparable. Lorgar is painted as possibly one of the most compassionate of the Emperors Sons and his concern for his stricken brother is well described and realised. A complicated and multifaceted character, Lorgar of the Word Bearers actually comes across as one of the more likeable Primarchs even if his grand designs are utterly evil. Angron too is far more three dimensional than you might expect, at once savage and stubborn, even callous but also depicted by Bowden with a tragic element. A character with a dark past and dark character inflicted by circumstance. An enigma at many stages yet as brutally visceral as you would imagine for the most part. Nor are these the only Primarchs featured on Betrayer. Four more Sons of the Emperor feature, albeit in vastly reduced roles as multiple threads, some of which originated in Novels published many years ago are slowly woven together.
In fact, Betrayer is one of the novels that most frequently refer to previous works whilst supplying a plethora of new material itself. Many of the characters from 'The First Heretic' reappear as the Word Bearers prove a worthy foil for the World Eaters as they continue their blaze of destruction across Ultramar. In fact it seems obvious that events that were no more than a footnote in the original background of the heresy are destined to be infinitely more important this time round. In fact one wonders just when this arc will end and the march to Terra will commence. Still, if the quality remains as high as this ill have no complaints if we have a few more books as both Betrayer and Angel Exterminatus are anything but filler.. Along with the relationship between the two Primarchs the fraternity between Kharn and Argel Tal, the possessed Word Bearer from First Heretic is fairly prominent. Of course it wouldn’t be a Dembski Bowden book without a strong supporting human cast and as seems to be his penchant considerable word count is given over to a titan crew, Lotarra the feisty Captain of the Conqueror and another that I’ll not mention here as the review is meant to be largely spoiler free. However I will say that this characters inclusion initially seems a little superfluous and silly. Of course when the Cabal shows up it becomes apparent that this character also has a greater destiny than might be initially considered from their seemingly shoehorned inclusion. Now it is obvious that the author high lords are in collusion regarding the Cabal (and I would expect several other elements) and I have to wonder if this communication between authors may have resulted in probably the only problem I can identify in Betrayer.
Some events in Betrayer are VERY similar in many aspects to Angel Exterminatus, don’t get me wrong, Betrayer is its own book. It is one hundred percent a separate entity and I make no claims of plagiarism or any lack of originality. That said a few similar events do take place in both books. Particularly those at the very start and the very end. This may well be coincidence but it is rather noticeable. BUT elsewhere there is SO much about Betrayer to like. Like Angel Exterminatus there are many memorable sequences and events that will stay with you long after you close the book. Be it the titan battles, the ship boarding sequences or the entirety of Leman Russ' attempt to bring Angrons Legion to heel, this novel often gives more to the reader in the space of a few chapters than a couple of entries have in this series in their entire length. In fact it may be a little TOO ambitious at times as it just seems here and there that the main thread gets slightly lost and the overall plot loses a little cohesiveness.
So in summary, Betrayer is a VERY strong Horus Heresy book, I enjoyed it immensely and apart from the first couple of chapters devoured the entire novel in one very quiet nightshift. Although the narrative stumbles very slightly at one point (you'll spot it when it happens) it turns out to be necessary and could well be of supreme importance in the future. In fact the only bugbear that I can land on Betrayer that cannot be contended is a couple of VERY similar events (a small part of the book but noticeable in their similarity) to Angel Exterminatus which immediately preceded it. This is the ONLY reason that Betrayer scores just under a perfect score. Had Betrayer been published first then Angel Exterminatus would have suffered the ignominy of losing half a point.
4.5 Skulls out of 5. Highly recommended.