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Lord of the Night reviews the vivid and immersing Ahriman: Exile by John French in a special end of the year review.
“French knocks it out of the park with his debut full novel, telling the story of one of 40k’s most well-known characters and showing him like you’ve never seen him before. A promising start to the trilogy that is coming.” – The Founding Fields
Now i’ll say this first of all. I do not like ebooks. I dislike reading streams of data by scrolling, I do not like not having a real book in my hands and I do not like the eye-strain you get from reading an ebook. But after I received Ahriman: Exile as a gift for Christmas I was hardly not going to read it, and though I am no fonder of ebooks than I was when I started, I am very pleased with the book and my effort to read it. This is a beautifully written start to the coming trilogy and though it has a few issues these did not lessen my experience a bit.
Azhek Ahriman, Chief Librarian of the Thousand Sons, once greatest of his Legion and the man who cast one of the greatest spells in history, is a shell of a man. Broken by the memories of the brothers he betrayed to a horrific fate, Ahriman has wandered the galaxy with no goal in mind other than reaching the next day. But when a visitor from his past comes looking for him, Ahriman must seek answers hidden in his past that he would rather not learn, and discover who it is that hunts him after so long. With only a handful of renegade Space Marines and a half-crazed tech-witch and her aging ship to aid him in his quest for answers, Ahriman must face the consequences of his past if he and the Thousand Sons are to have a future.
Now the story is at first somewhat tricky. The best way to describe it, I feel, is that it reminded me of John French’s GK short Crucible in that Ahriman and the other characters are privy to information that we are not. Because of this they do things for reasons that we cannot fully comprehend because we do not know what brought them here. As the story moves on we slowly learn more of Ahriman and his small crew, but not everything is revealed in this first novel and the story itself does not end here but rather reaches the end of a stage. This part of the story is started and begun but the wider story, that of Ahriman, continues on. I enjoyed the need-to-know style of the story, the mystery kept me hungry for more information on the characters and made the knowledge we are given very interesting. But at it’s heart this story is about Ahriman and how must deal with his past to move into his future, and it is well written and really keeps you absorbed until the final pages.
The characters are a rather mysterious cast. Ahriman of course we know but this is Ahriman as we’ve never seen him before. Broken, despondent and self-hating over what he has done, Ahriman is a haunted man after the Rubric and it really shows in his actions and his words. He is unsure whether he made the right decision and the story forces him to confront what he did and decide whether he was right or wrong, and I really enjoyed how he reaches the conclusion that he does and it is one that I can agree with. The other cast are an interesting bunch, more so by the fact we know so little about most of them. Astreos and his renegades from an unnamed chapter, they held to their oaths when those around them did not but what does that mean?? Regardless of that I enjoyed Astreos’s attitude towards Ahriman and how these renegades try to keep themselves from sliding down that dark road into heresy. And the tech-witch Carmenta whose past is only partially revealed plays a large role in the novel, and I quite enjoyed her own dilemna as she faces losing herself to her own ship. One other character really impressed me but I cannot reveal that character’s name here for spoilers, but I liked the conclusion that he had reached regarding the Rubric and his decision on what to do about it.
The action is very very well done, not only for the situation of the fights but for how they are written and the methods used to fight in them. The sorcery that French depicts is shockingly powerful and he really hammers home how powerful it is by, in my opinion, infusing the writing with a sense of time. You can feel the world around the characters slow down as sorcery comes into play and they unleash their powers. The minutiate of the sorcery is also shown, the preparation that it takes for them to unleash such spells and fight with such power and it’s a nice reminder that all that power takes effort and has a cost. But the fights are almost artistic in the use of magic and feature not only the warp being used to augment regular fights, but the always welcome thought-form battles that Ravenor did so well, as Ahriman: Exile does just as well.
The pacing is a little off. The first third of the book felt so much longer, the chapters were of a bigger length and things moved at a slower pace. But as parts two and three rolled along it felt quicker, like things were speeding up towards that final confrontation. However this might be because of the ebook format, which I am not used to reading. But with 22 chapters the novel does read nicely, it’s larger than most and I enjoyed that as it really fleshed out the story and at one point took something that I think other novels would have brushed over and made it into a fairly important plot point. It may feel superfluous to others but I enjoyed that scene very much and it did serve a real point in the end. And I simply must say this, the narrative and description that French uses is just beautiful. I think that is his real strength, giving you settings that you can picture so vividly you can actually hear the sounds and smell the scents that they have, and painting a very colourful and vivid world by using mundane things such as describing the scents, sounds, colours and even the atmosphere or the lighting of a place. French’s narrative and settings are a delight to read and some of the ones he’s written here definitely stick in the mind.
Now for my favourite quote, there are a few really good ones but this one is my favourite for being so emblematic of 40k.
“Hope. The cruellest poison.”
The ending is a good one that both ends the story this book started, sets up the stage for a wider story across the trilogy, and puts Ahriman through the initial part of his own story and readies him for the next part. And of course Ahriman is one step closer to the godhood-seeking stealer of knowledge that we all recognize. Some questions and plot strands remain unanswered, and the ending adds a few new questions to them, but as this is the start of a trilogy that is to be expected and gives us more reasons to read the next book in the series. I’ll definitely be looking forward to that one.
For a cracking story with a enjoyable cast of characters and beautifuly description and settings I give Ahriman: Exile a score of 8.0/10. I would recommend this novel to any fan of the Chaos Space Marines, of Ahriman as a character and definitely to those who like psykers and sorcery as this novel is full to the brim with them. John French has laid the seeds for a hell of a trilogy here and I am glad that I got to read the start of it so early, my disdain for ebooks would have prevented me from buying the book but since another kindly did it for me I was able to enjoy this story.
That’s it for this review. Another year gone with many many books ranging from excellent to unfortunately bad, and a new year filled with new reviews is coming. Until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX! HAPPY NEW YEAR!