Warhammer 40,000: Isha’s Lament
Isha’s Lament, despite what the cover art and name may suggest, has little to do with the Eldar (I refuse to say Aeldari) and is an apt representation of the old adage, never judge a book by it’s cover. Because just about everything I’ve seen about the story thus far seems to be rather disingenuous from my perspective. From reviews calling the story “Dark, unapologetic, heartbreaking,” to one person saying it has “an almost hypnotic rhythm to the sentence structure,” I can’t understand the need to push the wasted potential of this story in such a pretentious manner.
Here’s the setup: “On the edge of the galaxy, many desperate warriors seek their fortunes or futures in the Blackstone Fortress. When Imperial deserter Brakus Andradus inadvertently unleashes a deadly plague on Precipice, he must venture back into the fortress in search of a cure.” Frankly speaking, everything about that is great in the story, right up until that last line about venturing back into the fortress in search of a cure.
Brakus Andradus is the main character of our tale, and he’s established as a sniper of repute among our initial cast of adventurers who have entered the Blackstone Fortress to plunder some goodies that they then can sell in the thriving markets of the space station, Precipice. This particular space station can be compared to Mos Eisley Space Port from Star Wars; it’s inhabited by all number of Xenos, Heretics, and loyal Imperial citizens, like our dear Brakus.
Brakus, being a good Emperor-fearing Imperial, ekes out a living for himself on Precipice, taking work where he can find it, plying his trade by way of his heavily customized sniper rifle, Memoriam, which in his own words is, “for Carnifexes.” Having long since been altered in non-standard ways to chamber Auto-Cannon rounds which he can reliably pump out thanks to an augmetic arm. You see, Brakus is a survivor of a Tyranid Invasion, and he carries with him the shame of leaving a comrade behind to die and a sort of PTSD that leaves him a shaking alcoholic mess if he can’t get the adrenaline flowing by throwing himself into some sort of battle. Life aboard Precipice is, understandably, quite unpleasant for him. Xenos are everywhere and the streets are packed with a heaving mass of traders, thieves, and Proctors, the de facto peacekeepers. The air is hot, and he lives out of a shipping container that is replete with the skulls of creatures he has hunted across the years, and the closest thing he has to a friend is an arms dealer called Danira who makes a living selling firearms to anyone with coin enough to take them off her hands.
Following an expedition into the Blackstone Fortress, locally referred to as Old Unfathomable, Danira comes down with a fairly bad cough that slowly but surely starts to spread throughout Precipice, but she isn’t the vector for the sickness. Somehow, it just keeps spreading. As the human populace begin to worsen, Xenos races start to distance themselves and an edge creeps into the air, a building tension of distrust and fear of infection. Somehow, the sickness mutates and jumps to Xenos hosts of all forms, and fearful panic breaks out on the station when they are quarantined by orbiting ships. This results in riots for food, water, and whatever medicines can be found. Precipice is eating itself.
Unfortunately, what follows is a hasty introduction to an Eldar Ranger, a Mechanicum warrior machine (I hesitate to call it a servitor) and a Dark Eldar Warrior. The Ranger informs this newly formed band of misfits that what is afflicting Precipice is no mere sickness. It is in fact a sort of Psychic Scourge that, if left to its own devices, will surely bring all life in the vicinity to an end. This team, having been recruited by a Xenos called The Echo, is to venture out into the depths of Old Unfathomable and locate Isha’s Lament, an Eldar ship currently being consumed by the Blackstone. It’s revealed that the trinkets taken by by Brakus and Co. during their first excursion were of some importance and should be returned to their original resting place.
From here, the team sets out, and just like that, the interesting world of a desperate space station that’s clinging to life is forgotten, replaced by the usual uninspired vagaries of unknown places in the depths of space, where the angles don’t make sense and gravity never works quite as expected. The Blackstone Fortress is ever shifting and toying with the adventurers, leading them through inescapable mazes and through rooms of altering gravitational alignment. It is, frankly speaking, rote. Aboard the station, where things are falling apart and there’s a chaotic feeling in the air that leaves the inhabitants carrying weapons to defend themselves while trying to give everyone else a wide berth, the story would have been intriguing. But Old Unfathomable does little beyond fall back on tired tropes of the most unoriginal Warhammer 40,000 stories, enemies surge forward from the darkness and are beaten back, unlikely battleforged comradery blooms in defiance of a terrible foe, but is overcome and met with the near death of an ally followed by their noble sacrifice. It’s all just so uninspired that it makes the setup on Precipice feel like bait to lure you into what is otherwise a generic adventure with some battle thrown into the mix to pad out the page space until some sort of page quota is met. Hell, you don’t really get much closure in any meaningful way for anything or anyone, with Brakus merely noting that his hands no longer shake.
If you have an interest in the Blackstone Fortresses and their lore implications for the greater Imperium, being bastions of tremendous power most recently used to laylow the world of Cadia at the hands of the despoiler, you’ll be disappointed.
If you’re hoping for an ex-Imperial Guard sniper infiltrating Old Unfathomable to steal away a cure for his beleaguered would-be home, you’ll be disappointed.
If you’re looking for a distraction that will pass the time and do nothing to expand the universe of 40K or deliver a unique vision, then this is the book for you.
Thomas Parrot has two prior works to his name, Spiritus in Machina and Masters of Shadow. Isha’s Lament is his third published work, and I think it might have been something worth reading had it been properly explored, but I can’t personally recommend this story to anyone and I feel it’s better off being skipped.