Thoughts on The Ahriman Boxed Set by John French

Yesterday, out of the blue, Black Library released a limited edition boxed set of John French’s Ahriman trilogy. 500 copies only. It wasn’t on the Coming Soon section of the website, it hadn’t been hinted at or teasered…it was a complete surprise. Well. It is, after all, Tzaanuary – according to Games Workshop – so in hindsight it’s not actually surprising that a series of novels featuring Tzeentch’s favourite 40k pawn should get the posh hardback treatment in a month dedicated to the Changer of Ways…

The sixth such boxed set, it follows the Eisenhorn, Night Lords and Tome of Fire trilogies, the first three Ciaphas Cain books, and Matt Forbeck’s four Blood Bowl novels in getting the limited edition hardback treatment, and clocks in at an initially steep sounding £50. That’s the same price as the Blood Bowl boxed set, and £5 more than the first tranche of these sets, which were each £45. I mean, £50 sounds like a lot of money for three books, right? Especially as you can currently pick up an ebook collection of all three novels PLUS the Ahriman: Exodus anthology for £20.

I’ve bought one, though! Having done so, I thought it provided an interesting opportunity to take a look at these limited edition hardback boxed sets…

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From an initial 500 copies the website was already showing a ‘Fewer than 350 copies remaining’ banner somewhere in the region of 12 hours after it went on sale, then ‘Fewer than 150 copies…’ after about 24 hours, followed by ‘Fewer than 100 copies…’ so it wasn’t just me buying this, either.

First of all, compared to the ebooks bundle this is considerably more expensive. No doubt about it. However…how much would it cost you to pick up three hardback books from a physical bookshop? These days the standard hardback price is what…£18.99? £20? So three full price hardbacks from Waterstones would set you back maybe £57-60. That’s for standard hardbacks, not a boxed set of lovely limited edition versions. Already, £50 isn’t sounding quite so steep.

Okay, that’s based on full price books, and we’re all used to being able to get discounts either in stores or online. This set is exclusive to Black Library’s website, so there’s no option to try and find a discount. It’s £50 or nothing. Still…

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LOOK AT IT! I picked up the Eisenhorn trilogy when that came out in hardback and it’s…nice. If I’m absolutely honest though, it didn’t blow me away in terms of production value. Of all of these boxed sets, the Tome of Fire looked the nicest…until now. This looks absolutely beautiful – the standard covers were already great, evocative pieces of artwork, but in this format the whole thing looks fantastic!

Not only that, but you get the usual limited edition extras like an introduction to each book from the author and additional content. That might not be of interest to everyone, especially as there’s an omnibus due out in paperback at some point, but these little extras are a nice touch that appeals to the collectors.

So here we come to it. For better or worse, Black Library these days is all about the different formats – hardback, paperback (two for the Heresy), ebook, audiobook, audio drama…there are options to suit everyone. Including collectors. You like your books in posh, limited-number, high production hardback, and you’re willing to pay a premium? Black Library have got you covered. For a set like this, where the individual books have previously been available in paperback and are still available in ebook, the obvious target market is collectors. People (like me) who love the books enough to want the nicest possible editions on their shelves.

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As I said before, I don’t actually think £50 is that steep for three books – consider the £40 that Black Library charge for the sub-200 page Primarchs novels, or the whopping £150 price tag on the (admittedly beautiful) limited edition Visions of Heresy a few years ago. Less than £17 per book isn’t really that expensive – the standard hardback price on the Black Library website is £18, after all! So £50 for all three books in a series, in lovely limited edition format…that’s priced about right, I’d say.

This might be contentious, but if you don’t fancy paying that much…then don’t. This probably isn’t the edition of the series that’s aimed at you as a consumer.

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That may sound a bit harsh, but think about it – the ebook collection is aimed at the modern reader who wants cheap, convenient access to all of the content. The upcoming omnibus is aimed at the reader who prefers paperbacks, and/or just wants the cheapest option (it will probably retail for somewhere between £12.99 and £15). This hardback set is aimed at someone who wants nicer editions that will look nice on the shelf, and is willing to pay for them.

The only obvious gap is someone who wants individual paperback copies, which sadly isn’t an option (at least not first-hand) as Ahriman: Exile hasn’t been available in paperback for quite a while.

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Anyway, we could debate price points ad nauseum and not really get anywhere. Ultimately, it costs what it costs. As with all of these sets, it’s up to each of us to decide whether we’re prepared to pay the asking price – considering that the Blood Bowl set is the only other one still available (possibly barring the odd copy at Warhammer World), it’s clear that there’s enough demand to sell 500 or so of each of these..

What I’ve not mentioned yet the quality of these stories. For me, the Ahriman series is one of the best that Black Library have ever published, for the depth it added to a classic character and for the mind boggling plotting that saw John French tell a superbly complex story across three novels and multiple short stories that hung together in the end into something incredibly satisfying as a whole.

That’s why I put down my £50 as soon as I saw that this was available. I’ve been waiting for this series to get the hardback treatment ever since the first of these box sets came out, and I can’t wait for it to take pride of place on my bookshelf…alongside all of the paperbacks! Yep, I’ve already got them all. And Ahriman: Exodus as well. And the MP3 of The First Prince.

I genuinely love these books – if you haven’t read them, or need a bit more convincing, here are links to my reviews:

The Novels
Book One – Ahriman: Exile
Book Two – Ahriman: Sorcerer
Book Three – Ahriman: Unchanged

The Short Stories
Ahriman: Exodus – an anthology of all eight short stories, containing…
The Tale of Ctesias – five short stories all featuring Ctesias:
   I – The Dead Oracle
   II – Fortune’s Fool
   IIIHounds of Wrath
   IV – The First Prince (available in audio and prose versions)
   VGates of Ruin
Voices of Fate – three additional short stories:
   All is Dust
   Hand of Dust
   King of Ashes

If that seems like a lot to work through, here’s John’s recommended reading order:

1. All is Dust
2. Exile (novel)
3. The Dead Oracle
4. Fortune’s Fool
5. Hounds of Wrath
6. The First Prince
7. Gates of Ruin
8. Sorcerer (novel)
9. Hand of Dust
10. King of Ashes
11. Unchanged (novel)

I guess what I’ve been getting at through this whole article is this…GO AND BUY THIS SET WHILE IT’S STILL AVAILABLE!

Here’s the link: http://www.blacklibrary.com/Ahriman-ltd-box-set.html

Honestly, you won’t be disappointed.

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