The Betrayed is a grimdark fantasy that impresses in its scope, themes and ambitious narrative. Deftly juggling multiple main characters and plot lines, Igor Ljubuncic slowly creates an extraordinary world where religious ideology begets bloodthirsty wars, battles lead to sadistic violence, and the killing of humans begin to destroy the very gods. Written in a style distinctly its own, The Betrayed still reminds one of other grimdark fantasy penned by the likes of Mark Lawrence, Joe Abercrombie and Paul Kearney, where even the supposed "heroes" of the story are not so very different from the "villains."
This gripping tale begins with the invasion of the Safe Territories by bloodthirsty armies. For centuries, this kingdom of the gods has been treated as sacrosanct by all its neighboring realms, off limits to their aggressions and lovingly cultivated as a place open to all gods and all people. Criminals are sent there to be changed into better people. Those disillusioned with life go there to start anew. And everyone is governed by the patriarchs, who dedicate their lives to spreading the love of the gods to their flocks. But now the fanatical leader of the god Feor sweeps into the peaceful land, putting everyone to the sword, burning and pillaging, and seemingly determined to wipe the Safe Territories, its people and the gods themselves from the face of the world.
This unexpected and barbaric attack by the Feors takes all the realms by surprise, but they quickly respond. The Kingdom of Eracia sends its own army into the northern territories, and soon Parus marches from the south into the land of the gods. Yet their appearance does little to halt the genocide there, for many of the powerful in both realms see the destruction of the Safe Territories as a way for their own kingdoms to gain more land and power. Quickly, all thoughts of saving the patriarchs is cast aside as a struggle to divide the realm of the gods ensues, and the war begins to spiral out of control, threatening to engulf the whole land in flames and forever transform the world.
As the blood flows and the divinity of the gods wanes, unexpected people begin to rise to prominence in the world. Individuals who would have died unknown vagrants or simple peasants begin to strut upon the world stage and control the fate of whole countries. The young prostitute Adam being one such person.
Convicted by the courts and sent to the army as his punishment, Adam finds himself trying to just survive. Soon, however, fate presents him an opportunity to rise higher than a man sentenced to death should ever hope for. But hidden behind his angelic facade and military genius, Adam has a heart that – if not completely black – is filled with so much pain and anger that neither enemies nor friends are safe from his wrath.
Seemingly a world away is Ayrton. A man who left behind his mass murdering ways when he entered the the Safe Territories. The patriarchs promised him a new lease on life; one where he could become something better than what he had been before. Where others merely pretended to change, Ayrton had truly done so, and when the Feors begin to destroy his new homeland, he joins the ragtag forces opposing them. Yet defeat after defeat and the realities of real war begins to make him doubt the very truths of his new life until he finds his feet set on a path to save the very existence of the gods.
And these are only two of the multi-faceted characters that Igor Ljubuncic gifts a reader with.
In The Betrayed, one will also be introduced to Ewan, a young priest from the Safe Territories, cast from his home by the war and slowly driven by divine inspiration to cross the ravaged lands for some unknown fate. Armin, a master investigator, who is hired to uncover the murderer of several important Caytorian businessmen only to find himself delving into the true nature of the god Feor and its fanatical leader. Mali, general of the Eracian army, who finds herself trying to harness the evil brilliance of Adam and ride it to victory without being destroyed by it herself. And so many more.
Without a doubt, The Betrayed is an undeniably well written novel that is thought provoking, fast paced, and full of dramatic action. It relies on its sweeping storyline and constant narrative shifts to create suspense and leave a reader thoughtfully introspective about the story’s serious themes. The characters are gritty and raw, the battles gory and realistic, and the atrocities of war and of sadistic people plainly described. However, unlike other grimdark authors, Igor Ljubuncic has not forgotten that no matter how deep the grimdark that there must be a hint of light for a great story to exist. For that reason, I thoroughly enjoyed The Betrayed and believe that fans of epic fantasy as well as gimdark will find this novel a satisfying read and a wonderful introduction to The Lost Words series.