Story Rating: 4.25 stars
Audio Rating: 4.5 stars
Narrator: Kirt Graves
Length: 10 hours, 45 minutes
Betrayal is the 4th book in the Fire & Brimstone series and is not a standalone. The books should be read in order as each is a chapter in a continuing story, and this review contains spoilers for previous installments.
In the aftermath of Riley’s angels relinquishing their Guardian status and Riley spending a summer away from them in Utopia, the quartet is establishing a new normal. The angels are learning to navigate their new assignments as Principalities, and with some much needed independence and more open and honest communication, Riley is officially dating Jai and Noel, while forming his own connection with Gideon. Though there are still obstacles and awkwardness to deal with, there is none of the previous emotional toxicity from Jai and Noel. Despite the newfound ease amongst the quartet, with Riley refusing to have another Guardian team assigned to him and still being in danger from Lucifer, his training is of paramount importance and reaches a whole new level of difficulty when he begins training to protect his mind.
The family’s new harmony is built on promises the Others made to each other to be honest and open for Riley’s sake, as well as promises Riley made to Gideon to not only be honest, but to not keep secrets. Unfortunately, promises can be easier to make than to keep and when Riley’s worst fear seems destined to come true, betraying those promises may be the only way to keep his family safe.
Betrayal is a release from the heavy angst and dangerous drama in the previous entry and acts as the proverbial calm before the storm. It sees Riley coming into his own in both the human and angelic world and the quartet establishing healthier boundaries, communication, and acknowledgement/acceptance of their complicated feelings. Riley doesn’t have as many own-page interactions with Danny and Bethany, but of those shown, it’s clear that he’s growing as a person and becoming less a puppy to protect and more an equal member of the friend group. I was definitely on board for all the communication and Riley’s growth in confidence. As Noel, Jai, and Riley begin dating, there’s a nice exploration of everything from the sexy to the awkward. There are plenty of fun times, jokes, and heartfelt declarations of love and forever fidelity.
Gideon too is more introspective and honest. While his feelings for and relationship with Riley are more confusing and less straightforward to him, he’s trying to lower his walls and be more accepting of both their feelings and the different shape they take for each of them. He offers so much more of himself to Riley, giving insight into his personality and history. Gideon’s likely asexuality and the potential issues that may arise from Riley’s clear sexual interest are also discussed; however, it’s handling after a certain point is a bit iffy for me. There’s a literal queer terminology education scene where Riley gets some insight into his probable demisexuality, but it doesn’t translate into him being more understanding of/not personally hurt by Gideon’s nonreciprocal sexual attraction in some interactions later. However, Riley is still a bit young, dumb, and full of…feelings so his behavior does track.
The major conflict in Betrayal is internal for Riley, though there’s less struggle with Alter Riley and control of their volatile powers. Most of Riley’s journey comes from his Snape-style lessons in protecting his mind/dreams from outside influence under the tutelage of the Thrones, Hezekiah, one of the mysterious, clairvoyant angels known as the “eyes and ears of fate.” Since, as Hezekiah puts it, “[his] side is that of the Maker’s desire—of balance and life,” Thrones tend to only interact personally/share snippets of their knowledge with others in the angelic hierarchy to achieve that purpose. With Riley’s importance being prophesied millennia ago and Riley’s past, trauma, and the drugs from his most recent institutionalization making him more susceptible, Hezekiah has come to train him in mental defense. Beyond being intrusive and mentally taxing, Riley’s lessons come with some painful information, and with his cryptic guidance, messages, and insight, Hezekiah becomes another influence in Riley’s life.
As a set up for the last (and theoretically) more high-stakes and character-testing final books of the series, Betrayal is mostly successful. It settles the emotional instability and unhealthy group dynamics that powered the first books, gives more agency, independence, and growth to Riley, while not having Riley unrealistically conquer most of his issues and leaving his interesting blind spot, i.e. his disdain for therapy and dismissal of his own mental obstacles. It’s made clear in Illusion and Betrayal that Riley is so susceptible to mental attack, manipulation, and impulsiveness because of his refusal to even acknowledge his abused psyche and with his increased ability to say no, he’s vehemently and angrily against therapy, not because he was institutionalized and doesn’t trust it, but because he’s fine and not weak. As much as I’ve been praying that boy would get some therapy, it seems like he may have to learn not to be so snide about it the hard way.
My on real issue with Betrayal is that it almost completely undermines its character’s development/main motivations and the threat-level of their antagonists in the end. In order for the third act and subsequent cliffhanger to occur, Riley has to be horror movie teenager + Prometheus scientists levels of stupid. Since book one, Riley’s main motivation has been to protect his angels, willing to sacrifice himself even before he knew he had powers; plus, he has a living reminder in Noel’s physical and mental scars as to the power and ruthlessness of his enemies. It’s his impetus for his actions at the end of this book. And yet,The scene is lovely and intimate and Kirt Graves is selling it and doing the work to make Knight’s words as plausible as possible, sweeping the listener into Riley’s overwhelming emotions, but unlike the other hints and considerations Riley overlooks/chooses not to take, this one feels too much like a cheat. It’s easy to see why it was done, as on its surface the connection between the events fits, but with the stakes the series has already established, it left me less than engaged in the inevitable final events and less forgiving of its other eye-rolling contrivances/plot devices.
As mentioned before, Graves is still bringing his A-game to the series as narrator, and showing his versatility as a performer. Since Betrayal is WAY below the previous books on the angst-o-meter, there isn’t as much (though still plenty) drama, soul-deep agony, and confusion for him to convey. However, Graves is equally in tune with conveying the joy, connection, and nuances of more emotionally balanced characters. Even with Riley’s growing carnal education, there is still plenty of his delightful pearl-clutching and scandalized reactions (though now some tinged with different, darker emotions born from his increasing confidence) that Graves has fun with, and he does well with the opaque Hezekiah and his innate air of mystery. Graves also does a good job making the pacing work and keeping me engaged in a series with a word count that doesn’t always feel necessary to what’s happening in an installment.
While a bit disappointed by the third act, I still really enjoyed Betrayal and with Kirt Graves’s continual great performance, the series remains a recommendation for me.