Big, menacing, defies explanation. The latest Blackstone Fortress is one of the most recent additions to the current Warhammer 40K plotline. A giant starship of unknown origin, there had previously been several Blackstone Fortresses in use within the galaxy, but most had been destroyed by the end of the Fall of Cadia plotline. Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress written by Darius Hinks tells the story of the early days of the emergence of a new fortress in Segmentum Pacificus.
Most of the novel is relayed through the experiences of Janus Draik, disgraced Rogue Trader, and a playable character from the 2018 board game also called Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress. Driven by a desire to restore his standing amongst his family, Janus assembles a ragged band of adventurers to plunge deep into the heart of the Blackstone, searching for the Ascuris Vault.
Many of the characters featured in the book are from the board game, but Darius Hinks adds a few new characters of his own creation, including a few extra women – before additional supplements, there was only one playable human woman in the board game, so a little more balanced representation is to be appreciated.
There’s some nice little scenes in Blackstone Fortress. I especially enjoyed the exploration of Precipice – the humid and dank space station from which all expeditions are launched. One particular scene dealing with the traumatised survivors of a previously failed expedition really stuck with me. Precipice is certain a fertile ground for telling future stories, and justified its taking up of around a third of the novel. When the party finally reach the Blackstone, Darius Hinks comes up with suitably inventive threats and hazards. Indeed the menaces he comes up with are more interesting than the ones from the board game that were added in.
Where the book suffers a little, is in the final hurdle to be overcome. Without giving anything away, there is little tension in the final scene as Darius Hinks isn’t able to use some of the more familiar tools and levers of establishing and building a threat. A theme running throughout the book is the agency of the explorers, and if and how the Blackstone Fortress is leading them on to its own unfathomable ends. It’s an interesting concept, but it does result in the final struggle seeming a bit disjointed and unrelated to what has gone before.
There’s a lot to recommend the book – the chaotic and multicultural atmosphere of Precipice is a great setting to explore, and the exploration of certain Xenos cultures and backgrounds held my interest. The overall story won’t stay with me, but some of the beats will, and the background and mood will be useful when I get around to finally playing my own copy of Blackstone Fortress.