What is it with the Horus Heresy and the World Eaters legion? Whenever they show up as secondary or background characters they tend to edge out against the protagonists, giving interesting hints about their legion and why the Emperor allowed them to exist in the first place. Yet when they actually get their stories, short ones unfortunately, they’re consistently unremarkable and can easily be passed over. This is the real problem with Butcher’s Nails, it’s the first proper look at the legion and primarch since the betrayal from their own viewpoint, and you could skim over it without losing anything.
To make matters worse the blurb manages to both completely misrepresent the story and spoil a good half of it. It seems to suggest the whole thing will be the pivotal moment in which Angron truly turns to Chaos, becoming Khorne’s champion, and a follow-up to an apparent attempt by the Eldar to kill him while he was young. Instead most of what we get is just conflict between the Word Bearers and some expansion upon Angron’s character from his own viewpoint. It’s not bad but it’s not what the audiobook has been advertised as focusing upon. To make matters worse is that all we really get about Angron becoming the chosen of Khorne is this: Lorgar changes his opinion on the primarch and realises that the combat devices implanted into the back of the legionaries’ heads were always turning them to Chaos. These are things we’ve always known and honestly it feels like Lorgar should have known about the former far sooner than he did.
None of this is to say that Butcher’s Nails is bad, it’s just unremarkable as a story. While it does have the problems highlighted above there are a few points in here which prove to be interesting – Angron himself is presented as being the berserker gladiator king we’ve known him as but he’s written with far more depth than his original concept. This is most obvious when he’s first introduced, showing more value and respect to the non-astartes members of his crew than any other traitor primarch has. He’s still abrasive and perpetually furious but he treats them as he would his astartes and, if the relationship between Kharn and Sarrin are anything to go by, as do the rest of the legion. Angron even objects to being referred to as “lord” or any similar title, which is a nice touch and fits well with his history as effectively being 40k’s Spartacus. It goes some way to humanising the legion while not detracting from their reputation as the eaters of worlds.
A similarly interesting point is that the audiobook suggests that it was the Dark Eldar who tried to kill Angron in his childhood as they show up here to make another attempt upon his life. This is again a decision which is oddly appropriate. Previously everyone had thought it was the craftworld Eldar who had attempted to assassinate him, but their relationship with Slaanesh makes them far more fitting to want him dead.
One noteworthy thing is that this is the first Horus Heresy audiobook with a fully voiced cast and the second one in the Warhammer universe. This allows for a much wider vocal range and helps to distinguish between certain major characters, always a good thing, the problem is that not all of them really fit their roles. Ones like Lorgar, Sarrin, Argal Tal (yes, he has a cameo in this), and the Eldar all work. Kharn and Angron not so much. Kharn sounds far too in control and calm to the point where it’s effectively impossible to imagine him going into a berserk fury. Angron on the other hand actually has a voice which sounds like it’d suit Kharn far better but is too subdued for the primarch. It sounds like he’s frustrated, angry to the point of decking the nearest person at a moment’s notice but still in control. Angron’s supposed to be a walking avatar of blood, death and rage, when he speaks it should sound like the guy is ready to kill at a drop of a hat, with every word as a sheer blast of sound. More like the one we got in the audio adaptations of the opening Horus trilogy.
The final big problem with Butcher’s Nails, and this is going to sound petty, is the cover. On the one hand unlike the cover of Tales of Heresy this actually looks like Angron rather than an overweight man in armour. He looks like a linebacker, a combat monster capable of cutting swathes through armies and one of the most physically powerful of the primarchs. This helps to offset the current attitude of new fans which consider all primarchs bar Guilliman to be easily dealt with and comparatively weak. Even out of his armour Angron looks like he could easily fight the other primarchs we’ve seen to a standstill.
On the other this isn’t artwork worthy of a cover – a man with two axes standing half naked and screaming at the reader is the sort of thing which looks like it came from a bad 90s comic. That or one of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories. Either way they probably should have kept this one on the inside cover of and used one of the images of him fully armoured. Previous audiobooks have shown Black Library has no problems reusing old artwork from the Horus Heresy Collected Editions, so they could have easily just used Wayne England’s image of the primarch:
Again, in spite of all these criticisms, Butcher’s Nails isn’t overly bad. It’s a big let-down to be sure but it’s not some massive outright betrayal. If you’re a fan of the World Eaters or Aaron Dembski-Bowden then this one is worth getting and you’ll probably be satisfied with it. Everyone else, you can probably skip this one without too much trouble. If you’re looking for more in-depth coverage of some of the less focused upon primarchs’ thoughts and ideologies, you might want to look up the duology of The Dark King & The Lightning Tower. Both of which do a much better job of fleshing out Konrad Curze and Rogal Dorn than this audio does with Angron.
If you do get this though, be prepared for the remarkable stupidity which is the ursa’s claws. No, really, brace yourself – it’s something which when first hearing it I thought I’d accidently picked up a 40K parody.----
Butcher's Nails and all related characters and media are owned by Games Workshop.