The 8 Best Warhammer 40k Books – Best Novels You Should Read in 2021

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best warhammer 40k books you should read in 2021
best warhammer 40k books you should read in 2021

The Warhammer universe is immense, as you might expect from a game that was first developed over thirty years ago and has been continually developed and expanded upon since. Set in a distant future, humankind is at war with a host of hostile aliens and supernatural creatures, allowing the series to combine aspects of both sci-fi and fantasy in its makeup. Though Warhammer is primarily popular for the game, there have been several books published through Black Library-a division of Game Workshop-and they are also very popular.

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legion by dan abnett

Legion by Dan Abnett (One of the Horus Heresy Novels Series)
  • A standout book in the series with a unique take on Warhammer 40k fiction
  • Plenty of intrigue and mystery

xenos by dan abnett

Xenos by Dan Abnett
  • A great introductory book for the Warhammer universe
  • Good pacing and plot building

ciaphas cain defender of the imperium

Ciaphas Cain: Defender of the Imperium (Omnibus) by Sandy Mitchell
  • Comedy can be a refreshing break from the seriousness of 40k
  • Not too daunting for newcomers

anarch by dan abnett

Anarch by Dan Abnett
  • Brings a beloved story arc to a close
  • Plenty of action

ciaphas cain hero of the imperium

Ciaphas Cain: Hero of the Imperium (Omnibus) by Sandy Mitchell
  • Offers a nice break from more typical Warhammer stories
  • Lead character is engaging and well-developed

pariah by dan abnett

Pariah by Dan Abnett
  • Brings two incredibly popular series together
  • Excellent and engaging writing

the founding by dan abnett

The Founding by Dan Abnett
  • Great Warhammer 40k introduction novel
  • Contains three novels and one short story

fulgrim by graham mcneill

Fulgrim by Graham McNeill
  • Builds the history of the Warhammer 40k universe
  • Well-paced and interesting characters

If you factor in Warhammer 40k books and short stories, there are over 500 stories building on the lore of the Warhammer universe. Understandably, that can make choosing a book or story to read somewhat of a daunting task, whether you are new to the franchise or not.

Fortunately, you don’t have to make these decisions alone. The Warhammer community is full of friendly people who are happy to give you their opinions and advice… and there are also posts like this. So without further preamble, let’s get into our Warhammer 40k book recommendations.

Highly-Recommended Best Warhammer 40k Books Today

1. Legion by Dan Abnett (One of the Horus Heresy Novels Series)

The seventh book in the Horus Heresy series

Rating: 5/5

legion by dan abnett

Like Fulgrim, Legion is part of the sprawling Horus Heresy series, including books like Fallen Angels, Scars, and Corax.

Alpha Legion is a secretive collective of space marines who arrive at a heathen world to assist the Imperial Army in their pacification campaign. Their enemies are strange and intelligent, but the true motives of Alpha Legion begin to be called into question. As the paranoia flies, a Great War approaches. With the fate of humankind in the balance, which side will Alpha Legion choose?

Sticking with a book by Heresy for our best recommendation, we once again return Dan Abnett for the seventh book in the series, and Abnett’s second.

The writing is everything you would expect from Mr. Abnett, while the story itself is quite unique for the world of Warhammer 40k. A tale of espionage and mystery, it almost reads like a James Bond, though in a quite different setting, of course.

As is par for the course for Abnett, the action takes a bit of a back seat to the characters and their plights, which is not to say the novel is lacking in action, but compared to some other books in the series, it is noticeably calmer.

Pros
  • A standout book in the series with a unique take on Warhammer 40k fiction
  • Well-written characters
  • Plenty of intrigue and mystery
Cons
  • Less action than Warhammer 40k readers might be used to

2. Xenos by Dan Abnett

A great introduction to the Warhammer 40k universe

Rating: 5/5

xenos by dan abnett

Xenos is the first book in the Eisenhorn Trilogy, which includes Hereticus, The Magos, and Ravenor.

Xenos follows Inquisitor Eisenhorn as he locks horns with a vast interstellar cabal, not to mention the dark power of the daemons, all of whom are racing to be the first to lay hands on an arcane text of immense power.

Xenos is a first-person tale of mystery and gritty sci-fi. It does a great job at introducing the reader to the Warhammer universe without overwhelming them with lore. It is also not necessary to be familiar with or even aware of the game, which makes it an ideal gateway book if you’re trying to get a friend or family member into the universe.

The narrator is witty, the plot is well-paced, and the overall experience redefines the expectations of what tie-in fiction can look like. At times, the plot can feel a little simple, which is perhaps more obvious because of how good everything else is, but it is a minor gripe.

Pros
  • A great introductory book for the Warhammer universe
  • Good pacing and plot building
  • Clever and engaging narrator
Cons
  • Plot may feel a bit simple for experienced sci-fi readers

3. Ciaphas Cain: Defender of the Imperium (Omnibus) by Sandy Mitchell

Omnibus of the middle novels from the Ciaphas Cain stories

Rating: 5/5

caiphas cain defender of the imperium

This omnibus collects together Death or Glory, Duty Calls, and Cain’s Last Stand, as well as the short stories, Traitor’s Gambit and Sector Thirteen.

One of the great heroes of the Imperium, Ciasphas Cain, is once again thrust into danger by circumstance. Unfortunately, despite his reputation, Cain has no interest in being on the battlefield.

We know we already have a Ciaphas Cain omnibus in this article, but that’s just how good these stories are. Like the previous entry, Defender of the Imperium injects some refreshing comedy into the Warhammer 40k universe. It has plenty of adventure to keep you turning pages, a supporting cast of interesting and entertaining characters, and great writing.

Like the previous books in the series, the story is told through the memoirs of Cain himself, edited and organized by a mysterious inquisitor. Despite this omnibus covering books 4-6 in a series, it is still quite beginner-friendly.

Pros
  • Not too daunting for newcomers
  • Comedy can be a refreshing break from the seriousness of 40k
  • Excellent value for money
Cons
  • Can be too light-hearted for some 40k fans

4. Anarch by Dan Abnett

The final chapter in The Victory arc

Rating: 4/5

anarch by dan abnett

Anarch is the fifteenth and latest entry in the long-running Gaunt’s Ghosts series, which includes First and Only, and Blood Pact.

Picking up from where Warmaster left off, Ibram Gaunt is forced to fulfill his duties commanding the defense of the Imperial lines at Urdesh. The world has become a key battleground, but as the Ghosts make their move, Chaos attempts to destroy them from within, and past mistakes come back to haunt them.

Anarch is not necessarily the last book in the Gaunt’s Ghosts, but it does mark the end of The Victory arc. In truth, the book fails to reach the lofty heights of some of its predecessors, but that by no means makes it a bad book-it is just a high bar to clear. It contains a good mix of drama, action, and horror, and should be considered a must for any fan of the series. That being said, if you’re new to Gaunt’s Ghosts, you’ll want to start earlier in the series.

Pros
  • Brings a beloved story arc to a close
  • Plenty of action
  • Will satisfy fans of the series
Cons
  • Not suitable for newcomers to the series
  • Story can feel a little bloated in places

5. Ciaphas Cain: Hero of the Imperium (Omnibus) by Sandy Mitchell

An omnibus of the early novels in the Ciaphas Cain series

Rating: 4/5

ciaphas cain hero of the imperium

This omnibus collects together For the Emperor, Caves of Ice, and The Traitor’s Head, as well as some short stories from the series.

Ciaphas Cain is a hero, respected, beloved… at least that’s what the propaganda tells us, but things are not always what they seem. Will Ciaphas be able to keep his reputation intact?

Hero of the Imperium takes the form of the memoirs of the eponymous Ciaphas Cain, a style that is used across the three books collected into this omnibus. The stories may catch some off guard, as what seems at first like a regular hero-drive sci-fi turns out to be the plight of a man constantly thrust in harm’s way despite being completely unqualified to be there.

Expect plenty of humor and sarcasm that break the mold of typical novels in this universe, all the while being respectful to the Warhammer franchise at large.

Pros
  • Offers a nice break from more typical Warhammer stories
  • Lead character is engaging and well-developed
  • Several novels and stories in one
Cons
  • Memoir style is not to everyone’s taste

6. Pariah by Dan Abnett

The first book in the final trilogy of Dan Abnett’s “Trilogy of Trilogies”

Rating: 4/5

pariah by dan abnett

Pariah is the first book in the Bequin Trilogy, which at the time of writing this post only consists of one other book, Penitent, as the final book has not been released yet. It follows on from previous trilogies, the Inquisitor Trilogy and the Ravenor Trilogy.

Alizebeth Bequin is a Pariah who finds herself caught between Inquisitor Eisenhorn and Gideon Ravenor as the former allies battle a mysterious yet deadly foe. Bequin must unravel her own past if she is to have a future and survive the coming battle.

Pariah was a long-awaited Warhammer novel that received a bit of a mixed reaction at first but overall has been welcomed by the fandom. The book attempts to bring two beloved trilogies together while introducing new characters and a new lead in the form of Bequin.

The novel brings Dan Abnett’s usual talented writing to the fore, but it does feel a bit unfinished. While previous Abnett books could stand well on their own, this novel relies on the previous trilogies and clearly leads into the next novel in this series. In other words, not a great choice for a first read.

Pros
  • Brings two incredibly popular series together
  • Excellent and engaging writing
Cons
  • Pariah does not stand very well on its own

7. The Founding by Dan Abnett

Gaunt’s Ghosts omnibus

Rating: 4/5

the founding by dan abnett

An omnibus of the first three books in the Gaunt’s Ghosts series, collecting the novels First and Only, Ghostmaker, and Necropolis.

Follow Ibram Gaunt and his First and Only regiment-nicknamed the Ghosts-as they move from war zone to war zone in Chaos infested space, carrying out the most dangerous missions while also trying to survive the political games of the Imperial Guard.

In what is allegedly Dan Abnett’s first novel, he introduces us to the Tanith First and Only regiment, and their heroic leader, Ibram Gaunt. As a complete work, it is heavy on the action in the first and final third, with a bit more world and character building in the middle. Of course, the “middle” is the second book in the series.

Despite being his first book, Abnett shows the feel for pacing and page-turning storytelling that readers of the 40k franchise know and love. The characters are interesting and well-developed. All in all, this omnibus is a great introduction to the universe, and to Dan Abnett.

Pros
  • Great Warhammer 40k introduction novel
  • Contains three novels and one short story
Cons
  • Early sections can be hard to follow as writer finds his feet

8. Fulgrim by Graham McNeill

The best Horus Heresy novel narrated perfectly

Rating: 4/5

fulgrim by graham mcneill

Fulgrim is book five of the Horus Heresy series, which includes Horus Rising, Descent of Angels, Legion, and over fifty other novels and counting!

It’s the 31st millennium, and humanity is as powerful as it has ever been. Under the stewardship of Warmaster Horus, the Great Crusade continues its conquest of the galaxy. Fulgrim, Primarch of the Emperor’s Children, leads his warriors into a battle that would change everything, and sow the seeds of treachery in their loyal hearts.

Set a good 10,000 years before the “present” of the Warhammer 40k universe, the Heresy series can be thought of as a prequel series of sorts. This particular storybook, five in the series–is a tragedy following the fall from grace of a great hero.

Unlike many other series in the franchise, the Heresy books are written by different authors, with no one author writing successive stories. This makes the books incredibly easy to pick up at any point in the series since the reliance on previous books is minimal.

In terms of writing, the book is well-paced and the characters are interesting and believable, something that is especially important in a tragedy.

Pros
  • Builds the history of the Warhammer 40k universe
  • Does not rely on previous novels
  • Well-paced and interesting characters
Cons
  • Can feel a little disconnected in places

Other Warhammer 40k Books to Consider

This is by no means a comprehensive list, of course. When you have hundreds of loved books to choose from, recommending just 8 is obviously going to result in a lot of great options being left off of the table. Further complicating the issue is the fact that the 8 books we chose can’t even be said to be the best in any objective sense, since taste is subjective.

These were our top 8 picks, but yours might differ. In any case, here are a few more recommendations for you to sink your literary teeth into:

Interesting Facts

Not every piece of information you consume about a thing needs to be a full novel, sometimes you just like quick little bites, which is exactly what these are. Whether you’re new to the franchise or a longstanding player of the game and reader of the lore, here are some facts you might find interesting.

Warhammer Started Off as a DnD Game

The first iteration of the Warhammer franchise was released in 1983, and was called Warhammer Fantasy Battle. This was a medieval fantasy game similar to Dungeons and Dragons that gamers love. Warhammer 40k was an evolution of that.

Warhammer 40k was Originally Called Rogue Traders

The new game was to be called Rogue Trader initially, but this was dropped to avoid confusion with a game called Rogue Trooper that was in development at the time. Warhammer 40k was marketed as a spinoff of Warhammer Fantasy Battle and was released in 1987.

Tolkien and Lovecraft are Influences

With a sprawling fictional setting like this that is continually being developed, it is likely that influences on the series range far and wide. That being said, Rick Priestley, one of the creators of Warhammer, has cited the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien and H.P. Lovecraft, as well as stories like Dune, Paradise Lost, and 2000 AD as being major influences.

There are 24 Factions

The factions are the different armies that are at play in the Warhammer 40k universe and are playable in the game. The most popular faction in terms of taking a central role in fiction and having the widest selection of models available is The Imperium of Man, which is a human empire.

There are no “Evil” Factions in Warhammer 40k

It is quite commonplace for fictional worlds to have some kind of “big bad” that all the characters will eventually butt heads with. This is not the case in 40k. All the factions are doing what they need to do to survive, and no single faction can be said to be morally or ethically superior.

There Have Been Nine Editions of Warhammer 40k

Since its initial release in 1987, there have been nine editions of the game at the time of writing this post, with the most recent one being released in 2020.

Warhammer 40k is a Multimedia Empire

Though it started out as a tabletop game, Warhammer 40k media has been released in book form, as video games, there has been Warhammer 40k musical releases, a film, and a TV series following the adventures of Gregor Eisenhorn has been announced.

Warhammer 40k has won Several Awards

It shouldn’t come as a surprise for such a long-running and beloved franchise, but Warhammer 40k has picked up a number of awards in its time. These include the 1993 Origin Award for Best Miniature Rules, being inducted into the Origins Hall of Fame in 2003, and the 2017 Origin Award for Best Miniature Game and Fan Favorite Miniature Game.

There’s a Space Combat Spin-Off

Space Hulk is a tabletop game set in the Warhammer 40k universe that focuses on close-quarters combat, with the game taking place in the narrow corridors of derelict spaceships, as well as other locations. Space Hulk was first released in 1989, and has had four subsequent editions, multiple video games, and an official card game based on it.

Frequently Asked Questions

Something as grand as Warhammer 40k will naturally engender a lot of questions, so we’ve done our best to scoop up some of the most frequently asked of those questions and answer them.

Is Warhammer and Warhammer 40k connected?

Despite the similar elements (and name), there is no direct link between the two fictional worlds.

Who is the Strongest Race in Warhammer 40k

A question like this rarely has a simple, non-contentious answer, and there will always be someone with a different opinion. However, the most common answer to this question is Chaos.

Are 40k Orks Evil?

Though orks commit what many would consider to be evil acts, it is a biological imperative to them. In that sense, they are no more “evil” than something like smallpox.

What is the Least Popular 40k Army?

Given the nature of popularity, it is impossible to give a definitive answer that all 40k players would agree with. That being said, Dark Eldars seem to come up as the answer to this question more than any other army.

What is the Cheapest 40k Army to Collect?

Thanks to the high number of points required to field each model, Adeptus Custodes is probably the most affordable army to assemble, as a complete army will contain fewer models.

Conclusions

The universe of Warhammer 40k is quite imposing when you are just starting out, with a wealth of content across several mediums, diving into the franchise from any angle can feel a little like starting a long-running TV series halfway through.

Fortunately, much of the Warhammer 40k media stands up well on its own, and you do not need a thorough grounding in any of the other aspects of the franchise in order to enjoy it. Of course, that’s false or not true for all books-some of them certainly rely on the reader’s previous knowledge-but there is such a vast selection to choose from that there is no reason you need to go straight for one of those books.

And for those of you already well versed in the Warhammer universe, the chances are you haven’t read everything yet (if you have, well done!), so there’s always something for you to explore, and as we’ve stated, the books we included in this article are far from the only Warhammer 40k books worth reading.

So go read the books, play the game, listen to the music, and enjoy this immense science fiction playground.

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