Black Library’s Echoes of War collection marches on, and on the fourth day comes an Ahriman audio drama from John French. Entitled Ahriman : The First Prince and running to 45 minutes, this is the Thousand Sons sorcerer post-Heresy, set some time after the events of the novel Ahriman : Exile. Unlike the other releases so far within that arc, this is told from not from the perspective of Ahriman himself but from that of Ctesias, another Thousand Sons sorcerer, balanced precariously on death’s threshold. An unwise choice in the past has led him to a dangerous place, but Ahriman is determined not to see him fall.
A long-established character in Warhammer 40k lore, Ahriman was once a one-dimensional, moustache-twirling bad guy, a bogeyman for the 41st millennium. Graham McNeill’s A Thousand Sons novel added depth and detail, showed him as both likeable and honourable, and started him off on a tragic arc that would lead him to where he is in the contemporary 40k background. John French has since built on those foundations, picking up the character and running with it into some dark and wonderful places; here we see Ahriman many steps down the line from where he started, bargaining with the first Daemon Prince of Chaos for the life of his brother. It’s unsurprisingly twisty and tangled, and needs close attention paying to get the most out of Ahriman and Be’lakor’s verbal sparring, but it’s also wonderfully evocative and completely enthralling.
John French gets Chaos. More than most Black Library authors he has the ability to show the reader or listener a recognisable and understandable face of the warp that makes just enough sense while still bringing home quite how vast, terrifying and unknowable it really is. The Ahriman stories are perfect vehicles for this, and here he makes full use of the audio medium to bring his wonderfully twisted vision to life. While Ahriman and Ctesias are voiced superbly, the sheer malice and towering arrogance in Be’lakor’s honeyed words are spine-tingling, combining French’s writing with the actor’s performance to perfection.
Compared to Parting of the Ways, The Glorious Tomb and Accept No Failure, this is a different beast entirely. Darker, more ethereal than the others, it deals with the reverse of the Space Marines, the way that Ahriman embodies their strength turned to twisted purpose, their sense of brotherhood broken by time and circumstance. What it shares with the first three in the collection is a link to a wider story arc and an enticing glimpse at what’s to come.
Voiced by : Gareth Armstrong, Robin Bowerman and Jonathan Keeble