The third and final novel in John French’s ambitious trilogy, Ahriman : Unchanged sees the Thousand Son sorcerer firmly back at the peak of his powers. Using knowledge gleaned from the Athenaeum (see Ahriman : Sorcerer) he prepares to enact a new Rubric, a grand undertaking that will correct the mistakes of his past. To do so he has to lead his forces back to Prospero and the scene of his legion’s darkest hour, and from there to face their father Magnus deep within the Eye of Terror. Standing in his way are foes both seen and unseen, from within the Imperium and without.
By now it has become clear that this trilogy is essentially a single story told over three books, with this final novel forming the dramatic finale to the story. On the face of things it’s a simpler plot than the first two books, as it’s clear from the outset what’s happening – Ahriman knows exactly what he has to do, and how to do it, and French is content for the reader to be aware of this from the outset. There’s much less in the way of warp-induced time paradoxes or sudden revelations (well, mostly), but the vast majority of the story is told through perspectives other than Ahriman’s, so there’s still a strong sense of mystery around what exactly is going to happen.
It’s very much a slow reveal as the book progresses and the plot moves towards its inevitable conclusion. Fans of the 40k universe will be familiar enough with Ahriman’s story to know at least the basics of what to expect, but there’s so much more to this than simply filling in the blanks by rote between Heresy-era Ahriman and the fiend of the 40k era. The sheer scale of the story becomes apparent as the book goes on, with some genuinely awe-inspiring set pieces, and the gradual realisation of just how clever French has been with the plotting of the series as a whole. There’s also an amazing amount of attention paid to the backstories and motivations of the strongly-written supporting characters, allowing the reader to view Ahriman’s actions and ideals through various lenses and marvel at both his strengths and his flaws.
What makes this book so enjoyable, as with the rest of the series, is the expansion of Ahriman’s basic story and the depth it provides – in the space of three books Ahriman has developed into one of the most complex and conflicted characters in the whole of the 40k canon. It caps off a phenomenal series in real style, bringing each of the plot strands together and finally showing just how complex a story French has woven throughout these books. It’s a powerful, emotional ending that’s really fitting for such an intriguing character, and one that leaves the reader satisfied on one level, but definitely wanting more from Ahriman.