BOOK REVIEW: Vaults of Obsidian

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  • A multi-author Anthology
  • Set in the Blackstone Fortress
  • Published by Black Library in 2019
  • Grimdark Science Fiction
  • 415 pages
  • ⭐⭐⭐

The Blackstone Fortress is a labyrinth like no other. Forever changing, and infinite in possibilities, the Blackstone calls to the adventurous and the heretical alike. Drawn from across and beyond the Imperium, those foolhardy enough to enter may find themselves paying the ultimate price . . .

The Blackstone Fortress is a setting tailor-made for madcap adventures. Okay, so technically it’s made to be a board game, but my point still stands. If anyone ever wanted to run an RPG in the Warhammer 40,000 universe and didn’t already have an idea for a plot, I would immediately send them in the direction of the Blackstone Fortress. It’s essentially a mega-seized dungeon, that happens to be in space. There’s no real plot to speak of, and the fact that the locations are always changing and warping means there isn’t much to latch onto. That’s a feature, rather than a bug, though. An ever-changing space dungeon is about as evocative a setting as they come. But the real stars of this anthology are the characters. The riffraff and wanderers who come to the Blackstone looking for power, riches, and more.

In his two novels set in the same location, Darius Hinks has chronicled the trials and tribulations of one such adventurer, the Rogue Trader Janus Draik. Draik makes an appearance here too, notably in one of the longer stories ‘The Beast Inside’ – a prose adaptation of the audio drama of the same name. He’s referenced throughout, but what this anthology does very well is expand the Blackstone Fortress beyond one man’s (limited, oh so limited) understanding of it. Some of the names here are wholly new, but there are also those how have appeared before, and are now stepping out of Draik’s considerable shadow to take the spotlight for themselves.

The best of these are Rein and Raus, the ratling twins who make two appearances here. Both ‘Motherlode’ and ‘Last of the Longhorns’ are penned by Nick Kyme, and if any characters deserve a long-form story of their own, it’s Raus and Rein. The pacing and inventiveness of these two stories in particular is matched only by Kyme’s great dialogue. I’ve got a soft spot for babbling cowards, and Rein and Raus deliver in spades. All of the stories in this anthology have something to offer, but these two are the most fun. If you like your fun with a splash of bloodshed and a bit of extreme violence here and there. Which, as it happens, I do.

There’s a good collection of authors here. Hinks and Kyme are among the better known stalwarts of Black Library, while names like Nicholas Wolf are perhaps less well known. Then there’s Josh Reynolds and Thomas Parrott, both of who have parted ways with Black Library since the book’s release. It’s hard for me to point to any real duds among the collected tales, even if I do prefer some to others. In spite of the fact that a lot of the stories cover the same basic ground (go exploring, encounter horrors, suffer pain) each author brings something of their own to the mix. Which is exactly how it should be. Anthologies like this are never going to be my favourite books in the world, but Vaults of Obsidian is a strong example of how they should be done. So long as you gel with the general ethos of Warhammer 40,000, you’re bound to find something in here that appeals to you. It might not stretch the bounds of the setting, but in the Blackstone Fortress, maybe you’re better off playing it safe.

Did you enjoy this book? If so, you may also like:
Blackstone Fortress, by Darius Hinks
Blackstone Fortress: Ascension, by Darius Hinks
Isha’s Lament, by Thomas Parrott

Published by Alex Hormann

I'm a writer, reader, and farmer, with an interest in all things speculative.

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