Horus Heresy: Betrayer by Aaron Dembski-Bowden – Book Review [Bane of Kings]


Milo, aka “Bane of Kings”, catches up on Horus Heresy novels that he’s missed out on, turning his attention to Betrayer, one of the most recent additions by Aaron Dembski-Bowden to the multi-author series, published by Black Library.

“A strong novel that delivers a great look into the World Eaters but is not without its flaws. But even when Betrayer may not be perfect, it does indeed remain one of the stronger novels in the Horus Heresy, and Aaron Dembski-Bowden proves once again why he should be considered among the top tier of Black Library’s authors.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields

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.!

I know, I know, I’m really late to this one. However, when Betrayer came and went, It was always inevitable that I was going to go back and read it at some point, and I’m glad I took the time to – because Aaron Dembski-Bowden has once again failed to disappoint, delivering a very strong read that works wonders when it comes to an exploration of the World Eaters, a Legion that often sees little personality, especially in the current Warhammer 40,000 universe, beyond bezerkers running at you and yelling “Blood for the Blood God”. Dembski-Bowden manages to, like he accomplished with the Night Lords and the Word Bearers, flesh out another Chaos Legion and accomplish it very well indeed, utilizing some great threads here and there that make this a compelling and captivating read.

BetrayerLike most recent Horus Heresy novels, it offers a continuation upon those that have come before. Like most books, it helps to have seen what’s come before – in this case, titles that are of importance include Dembski-Bowden’s The First Heretic (for a look at the Word Bearers) and Butcher’s Nails – as well as Dan Abnett’s Know No Fear. There’s very little chance of you being able to understand this book if you jump in here – but then, chances are there will be very little Warhammer 40,000 readers who will be doing this.

The book itself follows the combination of two Legions, the Word Bearers and the World Eaters – which of course allows Dembski-Bowden to continue the adventures of Argel Tal, a fan-favourite character who we were introduced to in The First Heretic. He plays much of a part here as the infamous Kharn the Betrayer, so if you’re a Word Bearers fan you’re going to be wanting to get as much out of this one as fans of the World Eaters will.

Whilst the stories of the Space Marines are interesting and engaging, one thing that Aaron Dembski-Bowden (among a select few other Black Library authors including Dan Abnett) can do well is deliver a good look into the human figures that serve side by side with Astartes. Dembski-Bowden has given us the likes of Cyrene and Octavia in the past (two awesome female characters in a Universe that often lacks them) and now it’s Captain Lotora, of the World Eater’s flagship, who gets that treatment here, and Lotora’s sections are just as interesting to read about as the Primarch and Space Marine engages themselves – which is far from a small feat when you consider that the Primarchs and Space Marines are the reason that many people pick up Horus Heresy novels in the first place for.

One of the greatest strengths of this book is how it treats Angron as a character. Dembski-Bowden proves that he can flesh out Primarchs as well as humans and Astartes, and building on the foundations of the short story After Desh’ea by Matthew Farrer, he has managed to weave a compelling take that expands Angron’s character well. Whilst there’s nothing new about Angron, with him being a tragically damned figure like most of the renegade Primarchs that we’ve already met, Dembski-Bowden avoids falling into the trap of telling a story that has already been told. He balances the line between making us feel sympathetic for the character and reminding us why he’s so fearsome and formidable – and it’s a success.

One thing I wasn’t happy with this book however is that Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s portrayal of the Ultramarines doesn’t really work as well as it should. Yes, I know the Ultramarines have had their fair share of being displayed favouritism towards in the past being the poster boys of Games Workshop, seeing them treated so horribly here was something that was bugging me throughout the book. They’re meant to be master tacticians, yet they get beaten time and time again by the Chaos forces. It’s a far cry from the balance of Know No Fear, and the book feels incredibly one-sided when it comes to battles, which is a shame.

Don’t get me wrong though, Betrayer is still a good book, and the gripe about the portrayal of the Ultramarines is probably only a relatively minor criticism – because aside from that, I enjoyed the heck out of the book. It’s a mostly well-rounded tale, and I’d rather have Dembski-Bowden or someone else of his caliber write this book and flesh out the World Eaters (even at the cost of the Ultramarines) than have someone come along and screw up both legions. So on the whole, this book can come recommended.


HORUS HERESY READING ORDER (Novels Only)Horus Rising by Dan Abnett, False Gods by Graham McNeill, Galaxy in Flames by Ben Counter, The Flight of the Eisenstein by James Swallow, Fulgrim by Graham McNeill, Descent of Angels by Mitchel Scanlon, Legion by Dan Abnett, Battle for the Abyss by Ben Counter, Mechanicum by Graham McNeill, Tales of Heresy by Various Authors, Fallen Angels by Mike Lee, A Thousand Sons by Graham McNeill, Nemesis by James Swallow, The First Heretic by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Prospero Burns by Dan Abnett, Age of Darkness by Various Authors, The Outcast Dead by Graham McNeill, Deliverance Lost by Gav Thorpe, Know No Fear by Dan Abnett, The Primarchs by Various Authors, Fear to Tread by James Swallow, Shadows of Treachery by Various Authors, Angel Exterminatus by Graham McNeill, Betrayer by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Mark of Calth by Various Authors, Vulkan Lives by Nick Kyme, Unremembered Empire by Dan Abnett, The Imperial Truth by Various Authors, Scars by Chris Wraight, Vengeful Spirit by Graham McNeill, The Damnation of Pythos by David Annadale (TBR), The Crimson King 

Milo, aka Bane of Kings, is a SFF/Comic reader, and watches a lot of TV. His favourite authors are Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Jim Butcher, Brandon Sanderson & Iain M. Banks, whilst his favourite TV shows are Battlestar Galactica (2003), Person Of Interest, Firefly, Game of Thrones, & Buffy the Vampire Slayer