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In 1987, Warhammer 40,000 wargame was first released by Games Workshop and featured the events of the remote future fantasy universe. Soon, its affiliate printing house Black Library started publishing background literature that described the universe and its characters in detail. It has already published more than one hundred books. It is not stopping, and the list of authors is expanding.
A new reader doesn’t know what to begin with. You may start exploring the universe using the following list of books rated best to worst. This selection includes the best Warhammer 40k books that are on the market today. These picks of amazing fantasy novels and stories can serve as a good start to immerse into the atmosphere of great battles and brave warriors that won’t leave you indifferent.
Rated List of Top 14 Warhammer 40k Books
Horus Rising: The Horus Heresy (Book 1) by Dan Abnett
If you are brand new to the WH40k universe, Horus Rising is an introductory book to start since it describes the beginning of the story. The narration takes place in the 31st century (10k years before the main setting) and lays the foundation of all tales.
The Imperium is at its Golden Age of conquest and discovery, stretching out across the galaxy. The Immortal Emperor entrusts the great crusade to his favorite son Horus and promotes him to Warmaster. Will he be strong enough to control his warriors and fulfill the Emperor’s plan? Read this first chapter as an intro to the Horus Heresy’s epic tale to find out.
- It can be read even if you haven’t played the game
- Very captivating
- Requires no special knowledge of the WH40k world
- Vivid gothic-like descriptions
- A hardcover edition is a bonus
- There are more than a hundred books ahead that describe the development of these events
- A lot of politics
- It features many protagonists that are hard to remember
False Gods: The Horus Heresy (Book 2) by Graham McNeill
The Great crusade continues; however, not all is well in the Emperor’s armies. On the moon of Davin, Horus gets injured in combat with minions of the Chaos Powers. Weakened, he has to battle against his brother’s jealousy and resentment as well. The author portrays a gradual fall of Horus, and how corrupting whispers of Chaos and false promises break down his will.
Written by former games developer Graham McNeill, this book is an awesome writing and a worthy sequel to Horus Rising.
- A hardcover edition with a dust jacket
- The author’s creative inventions are thrilling (the descriptions of various planets or chaos rituals)
- The epic battles are incredible
- The experts notice the changes in the characters’ outlook since the novel has a different author
Galaxy in Flames: The Heresy Revealed by Ben Counter
This is the last novel in the Horus Heresy trilogy.
Horus recovers from his injuries and leads the Imperial troops against the rebel planet of Istvaan III. The rebels are easily crushed, but the population of the planet is also destroyed by virus bombs ordered by Horus. Deciding that the Emperor has taken the wrong path, Horus makes a deal with the Chaos forces. The Warmaster with his allies starts removing all who may be in opposition.
The book ends with a blast against his own Astartes troops that have been deployed on the planet. After Space Marines reveal Horus’s treachery, they turn their forces against him.
- More battle scenes
- The narration is socially relevant in questions of secularism and religion
- Surprising plot twists
- The book follows seamlessly on from the previous two
- The tale is rather linear (“this happened-that happened”)
- The plot is brutal: billions die for the ego of one man
Eisenhorn Book by Dan Abnett
Eisenhorn is a trilogy that includes 3 novels: Xenos, Malleus, and Hereticus. Originally, they were published as 3 separate pieces.
The book is written as a 1st person narrative and covers a period of 300 years.
Inquisitor Eisenhorn is a senior member of the Imperial Inquisition, which tries to safeguard humanity and root out heresy in the universe. With his warband, he wants to eradicate Chaos. When heresy is found in the Inquisition itself, Eisenhorn has to rely on himself alone. He has great power, but sometimes he has to make deals with the enemy.
- All stories are compelling
- Due to the fast-paced action, readers won’t get bored
- The characters described look very real
- A well-structured plot full of political intrigue
- This new edition unites 3 books with unabridged contents
- Some readers find female characters flat
Ciaphas Cain: Hero of the Imperium by Sandy Mitchell
Hero of the Imperium includes a series of books that describe exploits and misadventures of Ciaphas Cain, an Imperial Guard Commissar. He is a respected man and an inspiration to his peers. In reality, he is just looking for an easy life. Fate always sends him hard trials, but the Commissar is lucky enough to escape with little wear and tear. He has to dodge and bluff to survive, and this rises his status beyond his control.
The book is written in an unusual manner: an Inquisitor is reading the diary of Ciaphas Cain and leaves his sarcastic footnotes. The novel is good for starting if you want to learn more about Imperial Guard series.
- A lot of humor and jokes are interjected in most situations
- Both the writing style and the plot make the book very captivating
- A lot of characters remain throughout all books in the series
- A refreshing read for those who are tired of Space Marines
- The Warhammer franchise limits a potential audience of the author
- To keep the story fresh, it is better to break up the books, because reading them in one setting is difficult
Ravenor: The Omnibus by Dan Abnett
The trilogy includes Ravenor, Ravenor Returned, and Ravenor Rogue.
The Inquisition leads a secret war trying to root out heresy and fighting the alien, the daemon, and the heretic. Its mission is to reveal the source of chaos-inspired drugs spread within the Imperium worlds.
Earlier in his career, Inquisitor Gideon Ravenor suffered injuries, and now he is disabled and cannot use his physical body. However, he is a very powerful psychic who uses his mind hunting down Chaos. With the help of his Force Chair, he can “wear” the bodies of his agents and be everywhere. He investigates the galaxy and the regions beyond space, even traveling through time. His lethal band never gives up until a mission is over.
- All adventures end in a different way to what the readers may predict
- The fictional world is very vibrant and features various settings
- Vivid battle scenes
- Comes in a hardcover
- Recommended for reading after Eisenhorn
- A lot of blood and violence
- This is hard to keep track of all characters with some of them having similar names
Dark Imperium by Guy Haley
Dark Imperium is the first novel in the Gathering Storm series.
Belisarius Cawl is a rogue genius and the master of the Adeptus Mechanicus. He revived the last of the loyal primarchs, Roboute Guilliman. Cawl healed him and helped use a saved seed gene to revive a new generation of Space Marines. Taller and stronger new Primaris Marines populate the Ultramarines.
Awaken 10 centuries later, a long-awaited hero Guilliman wants to save the Imperium from darkness and death. He starts a crusade and will have to confront hordes of the Lord of Decay.
- The book is very “human” and shows less dark thoughts and grim lives
- The narration is a bridge between past and present events
- An organic father/son relationship theme
- Good battle scenes
- The chapters seem disjointed
- The book doesn’t have a strong finale
The Emperor’s Gift by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
This book belongs to the Grey Knights anthology and chronicles the first war for Armageddon. As the military arm of the Inquisition, Grey Knights defend the Imperium standing between the forces of Chaos and humanity.
After intensive psychic trainings, two aspirants are recruited to Grey Knights and join the ranks of the 666th Chapter to pursue their supernatural enemies.
The story is narrated by Hyperion, a young Grey Knight who is trying to find his place in the new surroundings.
- The narration is very intimate and lyrical unlike typical Warhammer tales
- Multiple plot twists
- The characters are fleshed out very well (especially Space Wolves)
- The ending is exciting
- Recommended for reading after Ravenor
- Chaotic and long fight descriptions
Watchers of the Throne: The Emperor’s Legion by Chris Wraight
This is the second book in trilogy Vaults of Terra written by Chris Wraight.
Since the Imperium has been founded, the Adeptus Custodes watch over the Golden Throne. They are one of the best warriors and have golden armor, and their fearsome resolve is well-known around the galaxy. They are the most trusted guardians, and alongside with Sisters of Silence allies, they protect the Master of Mankind. Sisters of Silence also serve in the Emperor’s legions and have supreme strength and purpose, which is tied to humanity’s survival. These women are untouchable and embody the immense sacrifice.
The story is told through the perspective of 3 main characters:
- Tieron (a human Chancellor);
- Valerian (a Custodian and Shield-Captain);
- Aleya (a sister of the Silent Sisterhood).
The author uses the archaic and enigmatic language that the readers would expect in such a universe.
- An unusual way of storytelling
- The Custodes are convincingly portrayed and are more complex characters than Space Marines
- Gives a look inside at how Terra is ruled
- There is a glimmer of hope for the Imperium after long-term dark ages
- The narration is a bit slow and says a little of a new content
The Talon of Horus by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
This is the first book in the Chaos Space Marines series that chronicles the rise of Horus’s successor, Abaddon.
After Horus and his sons fell, the Black Legion was broken and nothing was heard of Abaddon, the greatest Warmaster’s follower. The confederation of legionaries finds him and convinces to continue Horus’s undertaking.
- Side characters are also very interesting
- The book gives insight into many things that help understand the motives of the protagonists
- Easy to read due to numerous dialogues
- The author is good at creating dark characters and knows how to make villains sympathetic
- Not for newbies in the WH40k universe since the book is linked with some past stories
- The book lacks tension until final chapters
Path of the Dark Eldar by Andy Chambers
The book includes a series of short stories and novels that describe the life of the Dark Eldar. This race is very advanced and so haughty that it has even overthrown their own gods.
Asdrubael Vect is a tyrant who rules Commoragh, the greatest city of the Dark Eldar. Allied with dark forces, a group of rebellious archons plans the downfall of Vect, and they want to resurrect one of his notorious rivals – El’Uriaq.
- The characters are three-dimensional
- Plenty of action and bloody battles
- The pacing is good
- The descriptions are vivid and help explore the violent society, both brutal and magnificent
- For readers who are familiar with the Warhammer 40k universe
- The last novel in the trilogy is not very informative
Battle of the Fang by Chris Waight
This is the sixth book in the Space Marine Battles anthology. It features the 32nd millennium, 1,000 years after The Horus Heresy.
The Space Wolves razed Prospero, a planet of the Thousand Sons. Their Primarch Magnus the Red fell but he didn’t die. He is a copper-skinned giant with tremendous psychic abilities.
The book starts when a Space Wolves’ ship detects Magnus and sends its forces against him. When the Space Wolves are distracted and leave only a small group of warriors to guard the Fang and their homes, the Thousand Sons attack their planet of Fenris. The brutal battle begins.
- The ending is outstanding
- Non-stop action with ground and space battles, sorcerers, and Warhammer weapons
- The portrayal of all characters is excellent (even villains are shown with tortured souls)
- The battles are exciting
- The uninitiated will hardly understand the book
- It is only devoted to a single battle
Firedrake by Nick Kyme
Firedrake is the second book in Tome of Fire series.
The Salamanders undertake a mission in the Dark Eldar territories in order to reveal a secret held in the Tome of Fire. Their Chaplain Elysius is caught by the aliens of the Dark Eldar. The Firedrakes are sent to rescue him because along with the Chaplain’s life there are other important things at stake. Elysius knows some other secrets that can lead to both damnation and salvation of their world.
- Introduces many interesting mysteries and characters
- The text is fluent
- A brilliant description of the battle
- Features a lot of turns and twists with no chances to predict the outcome
- Some readers find the first book more captivating
- The author uses archaic language and many new words that should be looked up in a dictionary
Sanctus Reach by Ben Counter
The book belongs to Space Marine Battles anthology. It includes 2 novellas “Blood on the Mountain” and “Evil Sun Rising” and 6 short stories written by 4 different authors.
The books describe the invasion of the Orks of the Red Waaagh to the Sanctus Reach. The warriors of the Astra Militarum and the Space Marines struggle to defend the Imperium worlds from the alien hordes of green-skinned invaders.
- Two stories are written as viewed by the Orks, which is an unusual decision
- The great confrontation between the Space Wolves and the Orks is nicely described
- Easy to read
- Interesting dialogues
- Funny characters’ names will make readers smile
- Some important game events are not portrayed in the book
|Dead Men Walking||Steve Lyons||2010||416|
Dead Men Walking by Steve Lyons
This novel is one of the Imperial Guard series.
Hieronymous Theta is a mining planet, and its cities are congregated around mining centers. One day, the miners found strange artifacts deep underground and disturbed Necrons. These mutants, which inhabit the lower levels of the city, start moving to higher levels. With the intention to retake the planet, they destroy the human population.
The Death Korps of Krieg are dispatched to the Theta to deal with the mutants. The members of these troops are a complete enigma. They are nameless and have only a numerical designation. They are as unfeeling and cold as their enemies. Will they be able to defeat the Necrons?
- The narration is balanced between the faster contemporary and slower gothic style
- The author shows the emotions during the battles rather than the battles themselves
- Includes a love story
- The book is a little depressive and shows the hopelessness of being a human in the 41st century
Best Warhammer 40k Audiobooks
Along with reading a printed version of your favorite book, you can download it to your phone and listen to it at any time. There are 2 types of Warhammer audio products: audiobooks and audio dramas.
Audiobooks are narrated by one actor. This is the same story you have in prose. One audio novel can provide 10 or more hours of listening time, so you can have a long experience.
Audio dramas are acted out by multiple actors and are spoken by various voices. They are expanded with sound effects and music. They are a kind of show but without visual directions. Each written product is turned into an audio one thanks to the hard work of actors, directors, and composers. While listening to this book, you find yourself in the middle of the action, and your imagination creates countless images. Audio dramas are shorter and take an hour or so.
Both audio products are very convenient, and you can listen to them even when you are not able to read (in transport, while painting, doing housework, or walking).
Not all Warhammer books have an audible counterpart. Black Library has its own studio for recording Warhammer audio stories and selling them through its website and other online retailers.
If you love the Horus Heresy, you can start with Garro written by James Swallow and narrated by Toby Longworth. One of the latest releases is Blackshields: The False War written by Josh Reynolds.
There are a number of funny and interesting facts that you may not notice even having read some of the WH40k books. Here are some of them found in the text by scrupulous readers:
- The Imperium lives in the state of eternal war. Despite this fact, it has a thriving internal tourist industry. It owns some planets that can be compared to 5-star holiday resorts.
- The Imperium might have a thriving fashion industry. This is an obvious assumption when you see multiple suits and uniforms in various themes and colors.
- The Orks reproduce via spores, which are released from their bodies when they die. This means when someone kills an Ork, this will create more Orks.
- The personal names used in these books spin around famous names that already exist. The name of Nurgle (the Chaos God of Destruction, Disease, and Decay) is inspired by Nergal (the ancient Mesopotamian God of war and pestilence). The name of Eisenstein (an Inquisitor) is referred to Einstein (a scientist).
- There is a joke floating around on the internet: “childhood wants to grow up in the Star Trek, while adulthood understands that the real world is more like the WH40k”.
After you read some books about this universe, share more interesting facts you will find in them.
Reading Warhammer 40k books is like a vortex. You turn page after page and cannot stop until the book is finished. All novels are awesome and worthy of your attention. You may not have time to read all WH40k books and determine which character or series you like most.
For beginners, this is better to start with the top books listed above. The novels recommended cover the most interesting topics, various characters, and captivating plot twists. Enjoy the selection!