Any suggestions on Warhammer 40K books?

I’ve always been on the outside looking in on the Warhammer games and am thinking I really need to jump into the RTS games and the upcoming third person shooter. But in the meantime, I thought I’d check out some of the books that are set in this apparently rich universe. So I checked out the section in the science fiction area of my local bookstore and was floored by the number of books that seem to be set in the WH40K universe – where to start? I’m imagining some are better quality than others, some may be better jumping off points. So can anyone lend a guy a helping hand with what to read, what to avoid?

Read anything by Dan Abnett. Sandy Mitchell - particularly the Ciaphas Cain series - is also good. Ian Watson’s Inquisition War trilogy is quite good if somewhat weird. I’m fond of Gav Thorpe’s Last Chancers books, but he’s less consistent in quality and some people don’t like him at all.

Any Dan Abnett book is a safe pick. His Gaunt’s Ghost books are good. Especially the early ones.

The first three are combined into this omnibus: Gaunt’s Ghosts: The Founding
If you are into the inquisition side of 40k, Abnett’s Eisenhorn and Ravenor are also good.
For Space Marine reading I’d go with Ben Counter’s Grey Knights omnibus.

I personally stay away from the Horus Heresy books because I don’t like prequels, and if you know any of the 40k lore, well you pretty much know how the Horus Heresy ends.


I know how it ends, but that’s -all- I know, so I would have appreciated more details. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be on the agenda for that particular line. I mean, there’s some interesting “how he falls” stuff in the first three, but after that they seemed to have gotten sidetracked. And the quality of the authors varies tremendously.

For recommendations that aren’t Abnett I’ll say

Shadow Point and Execution Hour by Gordon Rennie. These two books form a short series and deal with the space battles of the Battlefleet Gothic in the wake of Abaddon the Despoiler’s 13th Black Crusade. It’s 18th century ship-of-the-line combat with 40k trappings.

Storm of Iron by Graham McNeill has Chaos Space Marines lay siege to a fortress on a desolate world that harbour one of the greatest treasures in the Imperium. It’s a good account both of the Chaos Space Marines and the besieged defenders.

Lord of the Night by Simon Spurrier. An ancient Chaos Space Marine captain wakes up from a long time spent in the warp after his ship has crashed on a hive world and scavengers have stolen a relic from him. He follows them into the bowels of the hive to reclaim what is his.

In addition to “anything by Dan Abnett” I would add “anything by Aaron Dembski-Bowden”. Helsreach and Soul Hunter are both excellent 40K books.

Also “Angels of Darkness” by Gav Thorpe.

As mentioned Abnett is the most consistent author although he has his off-days. The Eisenhorn trilogy and the Ravenor trilogy which is the sequel to it are consistently very good indeed. Gav Thorpe is better on his good days but generally not as consistent. Path of the Warrior is a good read if you want to know more about the Eldar.

The Horus Heresy series is generally good although, as you say the quality of the authors varies wildly. Personally I cannot stand Graham McNeill, I think he’s by far the worst regular contributor to the Black Library and I have to force myself to get through his stuff. His Ultramarines trilogy is amongst the weakest genre fiction I’ve ever seen, truly awful writing.

Ben Counter is good when he’s strictly edited - his stuff in the Horus Heresy series rank amongst the series highlights but the Soul Drinkers trilogy is awful.

As an entry point into 40K fiction, I think that Abnett’s Brothers of the Snake is a pretty decent intro. It’s effectively a bunch of short stories that tie in to make a novel-size arc, but each one revels a different aspect of the 40K universe.

There are also a number of 40K short-story compilations out there, like Legends of the Space Marines that may give a better introduction than diving into a single novel that only deals with one small part of the fiction.

I kind of liked it, personally. It’s now a trilogy in the sense that the Hitchhiker’s Guide books are a trilogy, though. (I.e., there’s five of them.)

I’ll second the Eisenhorn Omnibus; I also dig Let the Galaxy Burn (a decent collection of 40k short fiction) and I actually enjoyed the Soul Drinkers Omnibus, but maybe I’m weird that way…

I got through most of the Eisenhorn omnibus on my honeymoon…good stuff. Haven’t decided where I’ll head next, having given up on the ramblings of the Horus Heresy and finished Gaunt’s Ghosts & Fifteen Hours already.

I definitely agree about his Ultramarine novel but I found Storm of Iron to be pretty good. Not sure if it’s an exception or if it’s just my allergy to novels featuring Space Marines.

I mean, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone write Space Marines well. Chaos Space Marines are different because for all their power they are flawed in ways that make them both easier to relate to and easier to characterise.

Aside from the Abnett stuff mentioned, the best spare marine books in my opinion are the Space Wolves series, which can be found in two trilogy omnibusses I think. The first one is particularly great as it really starts out more fantasy than sci-fi.

As I expected, you’re all a wealth of information. I’ll check out the Abnett stuff first, seems to be the consensus, and see where that takes me. Thanks again!

I’d wave the flag for Mike Lee’s stuff as well.

Goddamnit you jackass, listen to me and read Angels of Darkness. It’s what made me play Dark Angels.

Actually, re-reading Kalle’s remark that Abilio replied to, I guess I have a fundamental misunderstanding of what constitutes the WH40K universe since I equated that to Space Marines. So I’m curious now what else there is, since I gather that Kalle likes WH40K but doesn’t enjoy Space Marines. Guess I need to get cracking on that reading.

The WH40K universe is a sprawling affair set in a future so remote that the current era is lost to history. Humanity dominates the galaxy, but the government is a brutal police-state that makes modern North Korea look like a liberal’s dream-California by comparison. Enemies encroach from all sides (and from within!), humanity’s rule is in general decline… and has been for thousands of years.

Basically, Games Workshop took the universe of Frank Herbert’s Dune, threw in aspects of the Holy Roman Empire circa 12th century, and added a supernatural threat to the sci-fi/fantasy mix.

As for the fiction, it runs the gamut of the background material. Most of it revolves around the Space Marines, as you’ve seen.

Abnett’s stuff tends to get a little more in-depth, however. His “Gaunt’s Ghosts” books follow an Imperial Army regiment through a metric ass-load of books with nary a space marine to be seen. It’s kind of like “Sharpe’s Rifles” in space: Abnett takes a wide variety of war story tropes and fits them into the WH40K setting on various planets (e.g., the WWI trench warfare story, the Vietnam jungle-fighting story, the soldiers in a haunted house story, etc.).

The “Eisenhorn” and “Ravenor” books follow the investigations of Imperial Inquisitors trying to root out supernatural corruption. These are pretty much techno-spy thrillers set in the WH40K universe. Again, not a lot of space marine appearances in them.

There are books set on space-navy ships, stories that follow fighter squadrons, stories that focus on the building-sized uber-mechs, books about the half-machine tech-worshiping priests, books about the space-elves, books about the space-orks. Essentially, take an action story trope, add “Space-” in front of it and you’ll probably find a WH40K book about it.

Surprisingly, most of them are more than passably decent.

Oh, I like Space Marines, I just don’t think they’re portrayed very well in the novels. Space Marines are feudal warrior-monks. Genetically enhanced, trained and indoctrinated to serve mankind in the God-Emperor’s name. They walk an extremely narrow path of duty and devotion in all things because anything less is to invite damnation. They are more than human, and also less than human. They literally sacrifice everything to become humanity’s finest warriors but they are much more interesting when they aren’t slaughtering Orks.

I haven’t seen any novel portray Space Marines in a fashion that I feel do them justice, partly because these traits don’t make for interesting characters. They are all larger-than-life heroes, but there is very little to distinguish them from one another. They have no personal lives as such, any free time is spent in prayer or training, and they are all the very best at what they do.