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Book Review- Ahriman: The Omnibus by John French

Ahriman OmnibusEverybody loves a “bad guy.” Even people like myself who generally read more about the more heroic defenders of Games Workshop/Black Library’s Warhammer 40,000 universe. In fact I’m a big fan of the Imperium of Mankind and the Loyalist Space Marine legions that protect it, but some of Black Library’s best novels have been about the traitorous Space Marine Legions. Horus Heresy books like Legion by Dan Abnett, A Thousand Sons by Graham McNeill, and 40K books like Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s Night Lords Omnibus have been some of the most exciting, powerful, and even poignant 40K fiction I’ve ever read. And now having become fascinated by the Thousand Son’s thanks to McNeill’s Horus Heresy novel I can add another set of stories to that list; the ones featured in John French’s Ahriman: The Omnibus, which I just finished and was absolutely blown away by.

You don’t have to have read A Thousand Sons to appreciate or understand the stories in Ahriman: The Omnibus, but I’m glad I did. I feel like they heightened my appreciation of the book because I already knew the tragic story of the Thousand Sons Space Marine Legion and loved many of their members, especially Ahriman, their chief sorcerer. McNeill introduced me to Ahriman back when he was still a loyal servant of the Imperium. I got to know him and became fascinated by him there, but French made me love him.

In Ahriman: The Omnibus, which contains three novels and several short stories, John FrenchFrench picks up with Ahriman several hundreds of years later when his title character is firmly entrenched in the forces of chaos and wracked with guilt over the spell he cast to try and solve the mutation problems that plagued his Legion, but only made it worst by transforming many of his Space Marine brothers into zombie like Ruricae. Essentially they’re semi sentient dust trapped in power armor that can be commanded by other sorcerer/psychic members of the Thousand Sons. In the Omnibus, we go on a journey with Ahriman as he seeks to rectify that mistake.

As I traveled with Ahriman and the fascinating characters he drew into his orbit I couldn’t help but be reminded of something. I’m a life long fan of comics, particularly Marvel ones. Part of my living comes from writing feature interviews with the creators of their books. One of Marvel’s best villains is the character of Thanos, created by Jim Starlin, and after I finished Ahriman: The Omnibus I couldn’t help, but compare Ahriman to Thanos. He’s that fascinating of a character. I think the comparison is especially apt because both are driven by very human qualities in Thanos’ case a love for the physical embodiment death, and in Ahriman’s a need to atone for what his Rubric spell did to his brothers in the Thousand Sons.

Those needs push the characters forward against seemingly unstoppable odds. So Ahriman is a genetically altered human driven by an indomitable will. It allows him to challenge Empires and even cosmic forces like demons and gods. That makes him a fascinating and even, dare I say, kind of an inspiring protagonist.

Ahriman isn’t the only intriguing character in French’s stories. There’s a whole host of them especially Space Marines like Ahriman’s fellow Thousand Sons; the swordsman Sanakht, the mathematically minded Ignis who’s protected by a faithful robotic bodyguard, and Ctesias a sorcerer who specializes in summoning and trapping demons. French also includes some fascinating human characters as well. My favorite of those is the Inquisitor Iobel, who has dedicated herself to thwarting and destroying the legacy of the Thousand Sons.

I don’t want to say much about the plot of the three novels and short stories that make up Ahriman: The Omnibus because in a way the entire book is one long story, and each novel and short story builds upon what’s come before. So by the time I arrived at the the third and final novel in the trilogy Ahriman Unchanged I was utterly hooked.

The journey to that book and the journey in it was pretty fascinating and fun too. During it French takes readers to some legendary 40K locales and brings his characters face to face to with famous 40K faces, including one entity I had never seen brought to life in a novel before. French did a fantastic job with it too.

The stories are action packed and often have a fun horrific feel to them. Best of all though is there are plenty of organic twists and turns that unfold along the way. So, in a lot of ways, the Ahriman stories felt like great heist and caper tales. That may sound weird, but when you think about it it’s pretty fitting because the Thousand Sons are tied to Chaos God known as Tzeentch, which is the god of change, fate, and conspiracies.

So if you love Chaos or consider yourself a loyalist of the Imperium you really need to check out John French’s Ahriman: The Omnibus. It’s a fun, epic tale featuring one of the most fascinating characters in the Warhammer 40,000 universe.

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