Wednesday, 29 January 2014

'Betrayer' - Aaron Dembski-Bowden (Black Library)

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 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 love reading Black Library books and I’ve really enjoyed the Horus Heresy books in particular; well, I did but I don’t seem to be reading much of them these days… I spoke about this a little bit when I wrote about ‘The Death of Integrity’, not so long ago, but never really went into one of the aspects of the Horus Heresy series that has kind of dampened things for me. To put it bluntly, it’s too damn long.
Now, there’s a school of thought that questions why this should be a problem. If the quality is maintained (and it is, for the most part) then a series should theoretically be able to go on forever and it won’t be a big deal. For me though, the Horus Heresy series promised explosive civil war that would engulf the galaxy but has settled down into a steady amble where things are slowly being built up to a finale that might happen one day (once Black Library decide that they can’t stretch the series any further). That’s how it feels to me anyway, I’m not the kind of person who appreciates being strung along and there are loads more books out there to read. Right?
So why am I here, right now, about to embark on a post about a fairly recent Horus Heresy book? The answer is Aaron Dembski-Bowden. In all the time I’ve been reading Black Library books, Dembski-Bowden hasn’t written a bad one. If anything, he just keeps getting better and better so the prospect of a book about the World Eaters Chapter (Space Marines that I’ve heard of but never really seen) was an intriguing one to say the least…

Everything that Dembski-Bowden touches seems to turn to gold then and ‘Betrayer’ is no different. While it may be a straightforward read with no big surprises (hence this review being a touch on the short side), ‘Betrayer’ makes up for this in plenty of other ways and this results in a read all too easy to get totally immersed in. Time spent reading ‘Betrayer’ just flew by.

Whatever Legion Dembski-Bowden focuses on, he just seems to instinctively get them and this applies to his portrayal of the World Eaters; a Legion caught between loyalty to their Primarch Angron and hatred of him for what he has turned them into. A Legion then with no other direction than to do what they have always done best, fight whatever is in front of them. Dembski-Bowden imbues the World Eaters with all the raw savagery that you would expect then unleashes the inevitable results on well-meaning but ultimately doomed Ultramarines. The resulting scenes of warfare (well, carnage really…) make for awesome reading not only for the bloodshed but also for the slight feeling of tragedy that tempers the proceedings. Here is a once proud Legion that has been basically mismanaged into a pack of snarling animals that don’t even have the nobility of the Space Wolves. Angron himself is the most tragic character of all, a man forced to turn his back on everything he knew was right and take up a life of cold loneliness. It’s a sad state of affairs and Dembski-Bowden uses the sense of inevitability, which comes with it, to introduce powerful new tones to the plot as stronger minds take control and force events to their own ends. Yes, fans will know the outcome but the stops that Dembski-Bowden forces us to take along the way really make the reader appreciate what the unfolding events mean for everyone involved. From Primarchs and Marines at the centre of the Heresy to the humans caught in their wake and forced to readjust their entire lives; Demsbki-Bowden more than any other Black Library author paints the Heresy as the galaxy wide phenomenon that it is. If only the rest of the series had followed his approach, things would actually get done in this series…

‘Betrayer’ is a book that forces the reader to examine that very concept at all levels and really appreciate how all that betrayal has resulted in civil war. Everyone is guilty and everyone must reap the consequences. I can’t think of anyone better than Aaron Dembski-Bowden to bring these concepts into the Warhammer 40K universe; a writer brave enough to write stirring battle scenes whilst having his warriors mock the ability of people to capture these moments on the page. I love that attitude and I hope to see a lot more of it in this series. 'Betrayer' might take a straightforward route from A to B but what you find along the way makes that journey a little tougher than you expected.

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