“Fate has come for you, Ahriman, as you feared it would and knew it must.”
I was extremely excited when I got my hands on Ahriman: Exile. Not only does it feature a character from one of my favourite legions, it’s also written by John French, a relatively new Black Library author I’ve been quite impressed with so far. This is his first full-blown novel published at BL, and so far his previous short stories (printed in Architect of Fate and Treacheries of the Space Marines) were quite impressive. Now that I finished it, I can say it wasn’t exactly as good as I’d hoped, but it was nevertheless a good read (and at least it end on a cliffhanger, being part of a planned trilogy).
The blurb on the BL website is pretty misleading. The book starts with Ahriman essentially by himself, many years after his exile from the planet of sorcerers, but before he became the Ahriman we know of in the 40k universe. And this is where John French seems to excel. He builds his character pretty well, mixing arrogance with desperation and hubris with just enough depression to not seem like an emo-kid in power armour (of which we have plenty throughout the 40k books, like Pasanius in Dead Sky, Black Sun). The mood in the beginning of the story is very nicely set, I was almost sorry when the story began to pick up pace.
Ahriman spends his time hiding in various chaos warbands until Fate decides to catch up to him, in the form of former brethren from the Thousand Sons legion searching for him and all the others that had helped him perform the Rubric. Events are thus set in motion, prompting Ahriman on a chase around the Eye of Terror that leads to his own coming to terms with his past sins and an awakening to new purpose.
We of course get the usual ‘hack&blow shit up’ 40k action, but with a massive psychic twist. There’ve been quite a few other instances in BL novels where psykers fight and use their powers, but John French takes it to a whole new level, even above McNeill’s Thousand Sons. Sorcerers fight in both the material plane as well as in the warp, all in the blink of an eye or the beat of a heart.
And this is another point the author tackles quite successfully: transitions. Whether it’s from the present, to his own mind, to a specific, old memory and back to the present without skipping a beat, or from a ship hangar blossoming with explosions and tracer fire, to a duel with swords and then right into the aetheric ocean where minds clash like proverbial titans (why is the phrase like that anyway? the titans never fought each other, they fought against the Olympian gods), they’re all nice and quick and seamless – you don’t get lost, you don’t get bored.
If I have one disappointment with the book, it’s the relative lack of sense in the antagonist’s ‘raison d’etre’ (or rather, raison de n’etre pas, as you’ll see if you read the book). It made no sense to me.
The other niggling annoyance is that on quite a few occasions Ahriman, after kicking ass and taking names, falls exhausted and is saved by providence from whatever new threat shows up. I’m not sure if it’s plot armour, or a point of the story (the epilogue contains a typically Tzeentchian ‘just as planned’ moment), or both.
Overall, however, it was an quick and entertaining read that made me want to dust off (pun intended) my Thousand Sons and throw some psychic powering dice around the tabletop. I really can’t wait to read the next two books.
To conclude, here are a few more quotes from the book:
Under Ahriman’s guidance they had created a cure for the mutation which was consuming the Legion. They had called it the Rubric. The Rubric. He ran the phrase around in his mind. A monolith to hubris.
Looking into the face of the dust-covered helm Ahriman shuddered. One day he would die, and time would finally bury his existence.
‘This is a lie.’ whispered Ahriman + Is it? + said the voice behind him + Time is not fixed, nor is flesh, nor is fate. +
‘I will never see the sun again,’ said Thidias, his voice low, ‘but I would die remembering that I knew its light for a time.’
+Why did you not allow yourself to die after your banishment?+ Ahriman [..] thought of the lifetimes he had spent on the edge of the Eye of Terror, never allowing himself to be as he was, always waiting for death that never came but never rushing to meet it. […] ‘Because I still dream of hope, old friend.’
‘What now?’ said Kadin after a long moment.[…] ‘War, Kadin,’ said Astraeos and let out a long breath. ‘A war against fate.’