If you can survive the opening scene of The Last Son of Ahriman, you’ll be doing good. I don’t mean that in a it-takes-a-while-to-get-into-the-story kind of way. I mean it in a do-your-best-not-to-get-eaten-by-a-horrible-monster-or-sucked-into-a-terrifying-portal-to-a-hell-dimension kind of way.
This opening scene is worthy of being the ultimate climax of the book. Justin Robinson immediately throws his readers into the action, yet at the same time accomplishes a fair amount of exposition while we’re gasping for breath. We are introduced to an untold number of monsters, a house with morphing abilities (More on that below!), a whole new planet (Ahriman) with a terrifying connection to Earth, and a hierarchy of sorcerers who are sometimes doing their best to battle the evil it brings and sometimes joining up with that evil.
At the center of the story is Simon Bell, the middle child of a family with strong connections to the Order of Ahriman (those sorcerers I mentioned earlier). His story is familiar: formerly overlooked, but now thrust into power, responsibility, and attention that he never really wanted. Simon has the usual cadre of high school friends, unwanted relatives, local law enforcement nosing around . . . and The Guest.
Remember that morphing house I mentioned? Simon’s house is inhabited by a benevolent entity that can alter the physical nature of the house to protect its inhabitants. I have to admit, I kind of fell in love with The Guest . . . totally want one for my house! Altogether, this cast of characters is fresh and intriguing (with a nice dose of ethnic and gender diversity thrown in for good measure).
Robinson deftly handles the action of the story, witty dialogue, and character descriptions (My favorite is the guy who is “pretty much just testosterone held upright by surface tension.”); however, he really excels at his descriptions of Ahriman and its dreadful denizens. His description of the way in which the sorcerers are “possessed” by Ahriman is both horrifying and beautiful. The monsters that are spewed forth during this possession are worthy of Lovecraft . . . and Hellboy. You can taste, feel, and smell the monsters. They come “limbs splattering,” tentacles groping, and teeth gnashing. They are frequently so disturbing that you find yourself reading through your fingers vainly trying to shield your eyes.
All of this takes place in Los Angeles. I loved the juxtaposition of sunny L.A. with the bleak, shadowy influence of Ahriman. The result is a Sunnydale taken to the next level, with a Hellmouth that never closes and five extra layers of creepy demonic goodness.
It does take a while to immerse yourself into all of the detail surrounding the Order of Ahriman and the complexity of the world Robinson has created. It was slow going for me on this front for about three quarters of the book, but I will say that by the close of the story, I finally felt I had a good handle on all of the various cabals, mages, agents, monsters, and associated parties. The payoff is a richly intricate universe, a rare find in a story of this scope.
My wish list only has one item of real significance. I found that Simon’s motivations, and sometimes those of his friends, were somewhat muted. [MINOR SPOILER ALERT] From the very beginning, Simon is tasked with trying to help his sister, who suffers a mysterious and troubling injury; however, Simon never quite achieves the desperation to help her that I felt as a reader. Additionally, Simon reveals the reality of Ahriman, its magics and monsters, to his unsuspecting friends without much turmoil that I expected him to feel at what could result from bringing them into this new world.
The Last Son of Ahriman is a wonderfully detailed, terrifying, creepy descent into potential madness. It will be a happily recognizable world to fans of Lovecraft, Buffy, and Hellboy . . . to monster lovers of all descriptions. It ends with the words “To Be Continued” . . . and I’m going to take Robinson at his word on that.
Now, I have to go and re-watch Constantine. (The Keanu movie version, please.) I’m in the mood for some demon fighting!