Betrayer

Hey everybody,
It may have taken me almost a month to finish it, but I have finally made it through Betrayer, the 24th novel in the Horus Heresy series. The length of time it took me is no reflection on the quality of the book, I’d just like to put that out there now – I think I’ve just been tied up with the joys of moving home, and so reading has been put somewhat onto the back burner for the time being!

There are spoilers in this review, so you have been warned!

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Betrayer is almost a direct sequel to Dembski-Bowden’s first novel in the series, The First Heretic, as we continue to follow Lorgar and his plans to bring about the downfall of his father, the Emperor of Mankind. This isn’t purely a Word Bearers story, however, as the spotlight is shared with the XII Legion, the World Eaters, as the title might suggest. The main protagonists are Argel Tal of the XVII, and of course, Khârn of the XII. While the story is called Betrayer, Khârn didn’t earn the title until the Battle of Skalathrax, years after the Heresy – I thought it curious at first, as I was expecting some kind of payoff for this that never came. However, looking back, most of the characters could be called traitors as the novel progresses!

So it turns out that the Word Bearers and World Eaters share quite a bond, and Khârn and Argel Tal are particularly close. Most of the novel shows them fighting side by side as the combined Legion forces seek to overrun the military training world of Armatura. The planet is one of strategic importance to the Ultramarines who, as we know from previous novels in this series, Lorgar is attempting to utterly break following his humiliation at their hands (albeit, on the Emperor’s orders). The first half of the book explores the relationship between the two Legions, as well as that between the Legions and their respective Primarchs, while the prosecute the war on Armatura.

I think this book marks Angron’s first appearance in the series, as well, which is something of an event in itself! Angron is a tortured and broken man, whose Legion has a peculiarly sad relationship with him. Angron was raised as a slave in the gladiatorial arena on Nuceria, with the Butcher’s Nails hammered into his skull to make him fight all the more brutally. Upon reuniting with his Legion, Angron then insisted that his sons also take the implants, and they willingly agreed in the hope that it would bring them closer to him. However, the implants seem to be killing them slowly, and even the Primarch is being worn down. As for the Legion’s librarians, they cannot take the Nails as the implants outright kill them. Shunned by their battle brothers, the librarians are a sad coterie of outcasts among the wider Legion. The World Eaters are, quite frankly, a very troubled and tense legion!

Lorgar seeks to use this to his advantage, and the results are quite shocking!

Following the devastation of Armatura, we have more of the intrigue that we’ve come to expect from any book involving Lorgar’s Legion. Erebus makes his insidious return from Calth, and the plans are put into motion to move the fighting to Nuceria, Angron’s homeworld. The former slave moves from city to city, destroying all reminders of his former life on the planet, and as they reach the final settlement, a rag-tag armada of Ultramarines vessels arrives in-system, beginning the absolute best depiction of a void battle that I have ever read in a Warhammer 40k novel! Most battle depictions are ground based; I suppose because the source material is a miniature war game where the overwhelming number of models are infantry. But seriously, even with all of the sci-fi I have come across in my time, this battle was just so awesome.

It turns out that Lorgar is attempting to bring about the Ruinstorm here on Nuceria, the Warp Storm that will cut off the 500 worlds of Ultramar from the rest of the galaxy. However, his plans look to have been foiled when Roboute Guilliman turns up, and the two brothers have an epic duel – while Lorgar does manage to hold his own at first, Guilliman gains the upper hand until Angron rushes to his defence. It is kind of suggested that no Primarch can actually hope to defeat Angron in melee combat, due to his unfettered fury and rage, and that really comes across until the full extent of Lorgar’s plan becomes apparent: in order to prevent the Nails from killing his brother, Lorgar has offered Angron up to the Chaos gods to be transformed. The librarians, despite being shunned by their brothers and Primarch, come to Angron’s aid and fight a psychic battle with Lorgar, almost defeating him. But it was not meant to be, and all of the remaining psykers were killed in their efforts to save their Primarch.

At the culmination of everything, Angron is transformed into a Greater Daemon of Khorne…

This was a really cracking book, I really enjoyed it! If I hadn’t been so tied-up with the mechanics of moving house, I think I’d probably have read it through in a matter of days. The action sequences are fantastic, with some truly cinematic scenes – the one that keeps sticking in my mind is the attempt to destroy Lorgar by the Legio Oberon and their plasma cannons; he simply deflects one blast with a kine-shield, the second one almost immolates him completely, though just as the Titan attempts to crush him underfoot, Angron swoops in and basically stops the Titan’s foot with his own brute strength.

That void battle over Nuceria, though. I mean, wow! I’m half tempted to go back and re-read that part just for the kicks!

Of course, no book is perfect, and I think anything that deals with the Word Bearers is almost flawed from the outset by the heavy reliance on Erebus as a character. As we know, the First Chaplain was the one to plant the worm in Horus’ ear about rebellion against the Emperor. However, it has been suggested in several books now that the Word Bearers sent envoys to their brother Legions in a similar attempt to turn them, too. So why is it always Erebus? Where is the Chaplain who attempted to turn the Night Lords, or the Salamanders?

He is an interesting character of course, don’t get me wrong, but he seems to be popping up all over the place and the effect now is almost comic. Like he’s a stock Word Bearer for the authors. Where’s the diversity?! I think it was doubly annoying because it is mentioned here a couple of times that Erebus is intent on turning Sanguinius (the novel, it seems, takes place around the same time as Fear to Tread), but he was also instrumental alongside Kor Phaeron at Calth. While Warp travel is a thing, of course, Erebus gets around super quickly for my liking, and I think I would prefer to start seeing more Chaplains of the Word popping up to take on the role of schemer extraordinaire.

While their duel was fantastic, Guilliman seems to just pop up a bit awkwardly on Nuceria, as well. It was cool to see some element of retribution for Calth, following up from Know No Fear, it did feel a little bit contrived to have him join in the fray when he did.

But there are minor complaints about what is otherwise an amazing book!

The First Heretic

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The First Heretic is the fourteenth novel in the Horus Heresy series, and is an attempt I’ve made to get some inspiration to return to painting miniatures, after an alarming number of weeks where I haven’t taken up a paintbrush at all!

Like several of these early Horus Heresy novels, the book begins decades before the actual Heresy itself, as we see the Word Bearers legion humiliated by the Emperor for their veneration of him. The book opens in the city of Monarchia on the planet of Khur, where the Ultramarines systematically destroy the city on the orders of the Emperor himself. When Lorgar arrives with his legion to discover what is going on, he is met with Roboute Guilliman and Malcador the Sigillite, who explain that the Emperor dislikes the veneration shown to him, but Lorgar refuses to heed them, swatting both aside with zealous fury until the Emperor himself teleports to the ruins of the city and rebukes Lorgar in front of his entire legion. He leaves a squad of twenty Custodes to watch over the legion and ensure they do not lapse into idolatry once more.

The Word Bearers then return to Lorgar’s home planet of Colchis, along with one of the few survivors of Monarchia’s destruction, and essentially lick their wounds. Lorgar determines to renew the Word Bearers’ efforts in the galaxy, and for the next few decades, they appear to make a clean break of things by ensuring compliance after flawless compliance. The Custodes and the Astartes bond somewhat, and all seems well. However, beneath the surface, Lorgar has been swayed by his closest advisers, Kor Phaeron and Erebus, into pursuing a more devious agenda.

They arrive on the world of Cadia, and after being welcomed by the natives as if they had been expected, they are invited to witness a ceremony, at the climax of which one of the Custodes is sacrificed, which allows for the demon Ingethel to be brought forth from the Warp. Lorgar talks at length with the demon, before sending a small contingent of his warriors led by Argel Tal into the warp storm above the planet. In the storm, the demon explains several truths to the legion, such as the fall of the Eldar race, and also the birth of the primarchs in the Emperor’s gene labs. Argel Tal is told that the Emperor learnt how to create the primarchs from the Chaos gods, but then refused to keep his side of the bargain. In a sort of Back to the Future moment, Argel Tal is forced to destroy the haematrope reactor that allows for Chaos to enter into the labs and fling the primarchs to the four corners of the galaxy.

Argel Tal and the marines with him are possessed by demons, and the Word Bearers begin their efforts for vengeance against the Emperor, by sending out chaplains into the other legions to spread the word – notably, of course, Erebus is seconded to the Sons of Horus. Several more years pass, and the legion remains outwardly loyal, though the demonic possession begins to take hold, just as news is brought of the Warmaster’s rebellion in the Isstvan system. The legion makes all haste, making sure to prevent the Custodes from landing first, and join forces with the Night Lords, Alpha Legion and Iron Warriors to provide a relief force for the main traitor legions on the planet.

We get to see the drop-site massacre from a different perspective, with a focus on Lorgar’s fight against Corax, before the Custodes arrive and learn that the Word Bearers have in fact been traitors all along. Argel Tal and his company, now transformed into the demonic Gal Vorbak, slaughter the Custodians. The novel ends as the Word Bearers begin to enact their vengeance against the Ultramarines, setting course for Calth…

The First Heretic

This book was actually a pleasure to read, despite the subject matter! I suppose, having been so intrigued by Erebus since meeting him in Horus Rising, I was looking forward to seeing more of him. That said, the main focus of this book is split between Argel Tal, captain of the 7th assault company, and the primarch himself. Notably, I think this is the first time in the series where we get to meet a lot of the other legions and their primarchs – the Ultramarines, Raven Guard, Iron Warriors and Night Lords all appear with speaking parts, however minute!

The First Heretic deals with what I suppose can be construed as the absolute pivotal moment in the entire Horus Heresy – Lorgar turning from the Emperor and pursuing the path of Chaos. (I suppose “the Lorgar Heresy” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, but anyway). While on the face of things, there isn’t really anything bad about this book, I did feel that Lorgar’s turn to Chaos was perhaps a little too convenient – I know that we know, as readers, what must happen, but as with a lot of prequel stories, there is a fine line to walk when dealing with the inevitability of something and making it natural and believable. For me, I’ve always struggled with accepting just how quickly Horus was seduced by Chaos in the second book, and it’s a similar thing here with Lorgar. While the story does work fine as it is, I couldn’t help thinking at times that it was only going this way because we were expecting it to do so, and it offered little surprise along the way.

As with many other books in the series, we start a long way out from Isstvan V, and I do feel a little tired of this construction for Horus Heresy novels now. With the exception of perhaps Battle for the Abyss, which itself was a fairly contained storyline anyway, none of the novels I’ve yet read has advanced the storyline beyond Fulgrim – though I did skip Nemesis to read this one, so perhaps I’m missing something here. Obviously, Forge World are keen to make this into an epic tale for the ages, but a part of me can already see just how much the storyline is being milked for all its worth!

But when all’s said and done, this was actually a really good book, and one that I found myself looking forward to picking up in the evenings after work, etc. It seems there are very few books that I’ve come across recently where I can say that, anyway!