A small but perfectly formed anthology collecting together eight short stories, most of which were previously available in one form or another, Ahriman : Exile fits in and around the three novels in the same series, extending the overall story and fleshing out some of the secondary characters. The stories are split into two sections – The Tale of Ctesias, containing five stories that introduce and add detail to the titular Ctesias, and Voices of Fate, which contains the remaining stories, three micro-shorts featuring Helio Isidorus, Ahriman and Magnus the Red.
The Tale of Ctesias is a really interesting concept. Essentially a novella in five sections, the overall arc covers the period between the novels Exile and Sorcerer, looking at Ctesias’ recruitment to Ahriman’s cause and his subsequent involvement in their exodus (yep, it doesn’t just sound good) from the Eye of Terror. Each part is a perfect little story in itself, but taken as a whole there’s a delightful sense of completion as Ctesias plays his part and gradually comes to understand what his role is in Ahriman’s schemes and why he in particular is so important. It’s a real testament to French’s skill that this works so well, showcasing not just his writing style but the thought and planning that went into this, to fit everything in so carefully and cleverly around an already extremely complex series.
Voices of Fate offers a total change of pace, each of the three stories focusing almost exclusively on the internal thought processes (such as they are) of the protagonists. Making good use of the short word count in each story, French drills down to the essence of these characters – Helio Isidorus’ fragmented, tortured existence, Ahriman’s tremendous weight of sadness and the lifeline of hope he clings to, and Magnus’ complex blend of pride, naivety and madness. Laden with hints and clues to plot lines from the wider series, these stories once again work well on their own but also offer a fascinating extra dimension to the series when read with hindsight.
In keeping with the series as a whole this is an unusual, thoughtful collection, focusing as it does on extending a secondary character and showing the main protagonist of the series through someone else’s eyes. It’s a fantastic choice however, and fits in perfectly with the style of the series and the complex, meticulously plotted story that John French has created. These stories might not all appeal to every Black Library reader, but they cater very specifically to fans of the Ahriman series who want to see an expansion in scope and another layer to the whole thing. It’s not an ‘essential’ read in the sense that you can happily read the novels without needing to read these stories, but if you want to see the full picture, or as much as French is prepared to reveal, then you need to read this.
Contents (click on the links to go through to reviews of each story) :