John French’s Ahriman series continues with the second novel, Ahriman : Sorcerer, in which the exiled Thousand Son sorcerer is still searching for knowledge, looking for a way to save his legion and repair the mistakes he has made in the past. Now firmly on this path after the events of Ahriman : Exile, he has gathered a vast warband to his banner as he seeks the Athenaeum of Kalimakus, a record made by Magnus the Red’s personal remembrancer, hoping to find a clue to where his rubric went wrong. A range of foes bar his path or dog his heels, from the Inquisition and the Grey Knights to a tireless pack of Space Wolves, not to mention his own treacherous allies.
Massively larger in scale than Exile, familiar faces return alongside a number of new characters as the story takes us from the warp-tainted Eye into realspace and through twists of time as Ahriman pursues his goal. It’s very much a story of manipulation, not just of people but of possibilities, allegiances and time itself, superbly plotted and full of unexpected twists and turns as schemes spin within schemes. This time round, less of the story is shown from Ahriman’s perspective, the varied viewpoints hiding Ahriman’s motives as each character tries to understand their own place within the wider picture.
It’s to John French’s credit that he manages to take the characters in this story, all of whom are flawed, single-minded and callous, and make them not just interesting but also sympathetic. Ahriman himself is becoming more and more interesting, his intense focus and determination driving him further into the darkness, willing to sacrifice so much for his goals, but still unexpectedly compassionate and empathetic at times. Held up against the Inquisition it’s fascinating to see just how similar both sides can be despite their professed differences.
This is definitely not for those looking for straight-up Space Marine bolter action, although there certainly is plenty of visceral action to be found. It’s much more of a thriller, bound up in mystery and intrigue and slowly unfolding over the course of its three-part structure. As well-written as any Black Library book across the canon, it’s a brilliant follow-up to Exile, French managing to raise his game and produce a truly exceptional book mixing all of the usual Black Library elements with a compelling flair for the mysteries of the warp and this tragic cast of characters. With Ahriman : Unchanged coming up next, the fateful arc of this much-loved character is just getting better and better.