For a while now, Warhammer 40k has had its own division of Games Workshop dedicated to publishing novels in the setting. This division, named Black Library, has put out quite a few books. Each of these ties into the setting somehow, but penetrating the entry barrier can prove difficult.
Although there is no strict starting point, there are a few novels that prove best for newbies.
The struggle of choosing which one to start with and get into the Warhammer 40k books is something that also needs to be addressed. Considering how even a small selection can feel incredibly varied in tone.
A List of the best Warhammer 40k Books to get started with
Some of the most active and generally popular Warhammer 40k books series:
- Eisenhorn Trilogy
- Dawn of Fire
- Vaults of Terra
- Gathering Storm
- Gaunt’s Ghosts
- The Beast Arises
- Space Wolves
Dan Abnett’s “Gaunt’s Ghosts” series is a fan favorite and a great place to start, as it showcases the gritty and brutal side of the 40K universe from the perspective of a human regiment. Graham McNeill’s “Ultramarines” and William King’s “Space Wolves” novels are excellent choices for readers who want to explore the space marine chapters, while “Eisenhorn” by Dan Abnett is a must-read for those interested in the inquisitors’ activities.
“The Beast Arises” series is a more recent addition to the Warhammer 40K novels, focusing on a major conflict in the Imperium’s history, while “Night Lords” by Aaron Dembski-Bowden delves into the lore of the Chaos Space Marines. Finally, “The Horus Heresy” series is a vast collection of novels that chronicle the events that led to the Imperium’s current state, and it’s a great way to understand the backstory of many factions and characters.
Individual books that are generally decent reads and shed more light into the 41st millennium setting of Warhammer 40K:
- Assassinorum: Kingmaker
- Angron: The Red Angel
“Assassinorum: Kingmaker” is a book that explores the secretive world of the Assassins of the Imperium. It follows the story of an assassin who is sent on a mission to a world that is torn apart by political intrigue and power struggles.
“Witchbringer” is a book that follows the story of Inquisitor Ravenor and his team as they investigate a cult of Chaos that is causing chaos and destruction throughout the Imperium.
“Angron: The Red Angel” is a book that explores the tragic backstory of the Primarch Angron, the leader of the World Eaters Chaos Space Marine legion. It delves into his brutal upbringing as a gladiator and the events that led to his eventual fall to Chaos.
“Krieg” is a book that focuses on the Krieg Imperial Guard regiment and their never-ending battle against the forces of Chaos. It explores the bleak and brutal world of Krieg and the harsh realities of life and death on the frontlines of war in the 41st millennium.
These books offer readers a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Warhammer 40K universe, its characters, and its themes. While they may not be essential to understanding the universe, they can be enjoyable and informative reads for every newbie in Warhammer 40k.
The different series and books available in the Warhammer 40K universe
There are plentiful book series in the Warhammer 40k universe. Naming all of them would be impossible but we’ll drop some of the currently most active ones and generally popular series.
- Dawn of Fire
- Vaults of Terra
- Gathering Storm
We won’t be covering most of these, as they aren’t the best entry point into WH40K. They are, however, generally decent reads that shed more light onto the 41st millennium of this setting.
Most of the books are of more recent dates of the Emperor’s calendar. Meaning a lot of fresh intrigue is bound to be found within their pages.
These book series, along with many others, offer a deep dive into the lore and history of the Warhammer 40K universe. For those new to the franchise, it can be helpful to start with a standalone book or novella before diving into a longer series
As far as individual books go, there are dozens to cover each year. Some of the recent books released would include:
- Assassinorum: Kingmaker
- Angron: The Red Angel
How many Warhammer books are there?
There are over 350 books in the Warhammer 40k universe and over 50 series.
The quality varies between them, with some being regarded as generally good books and some as mediocre reads. Rarely does the quality really dip into truly bad territory, but you can rest easy that none of those will be found as recommendations either way.
Why are there so many WH books?
The Warhammer 40k game has been around since the 80s. With the richness of its setting and the constant release of novels, it’s no surprise so many books were released.
Especially when you take into account that Black Library, a division dedicated to publishing these books, has been constantly working since 1997.
One reason why there are so many Warhammer 40K books is that the franchise has a rich and immersive setting that lends itself well to storytelling.
The 40K universe is vast, with a complex history, multiple factions, and deep mythology, making it a fertile ground for writers to explore.
Also, the Warhammer 40K fanbase is passionate and dedicated, with many fans eager to consume any new content related to the franchise. Black Library, the publishing division of Games Workshop, recognized this early on and has been dedicated to producing a steady stream of Warhammer 40K books
The combination of a rich and expansive setting, a passionate fanbase, and a dedicated publishing division has helped to make Warhammer 40K one of the most successful and enduring franchises in the world of gaming and literature.
What was the first book?
The first book ever set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe was “Rogue Trader”, which was published in 1987 by Games Workshop. “Rogue Trader” was not a novel, but rather a rulebook for the first edition of the Warhammer 40,000 tabletop game.
By publication date, the first Warhammer 40k Novel book was the Inquisitor, released in 1993.
While it ties into the setting, Inquisitor doesn’t impact it much. It wasn’t even published by Black Library, which makes Inquisitor even less involved with the book standards of today.
“Inquisitor” is set in the 41st millennium and follows the exploits of an Inquisitor named Jaq Draco as he battles Chaos cultists and other threats to the Imperium. Since the publication of “Inquisitor”, the Warhammer 40,000 universe has expanded significantly, with numerous novels, novellas, and short stories set in the setting and exploring its rich lore and history.
What is the latest 40k book?
The Latest, most recent book in the setting of Warhammer 40k is Angron: The Red Angel, released on February 11, 2023 by Black Library.
This book covers the return of Angron, one of the 20 primarchs. Angron rises as a daemon prince of Khorne, hellbent on exercising his boundless rage upon the galaxy once again.
Angron is another major threat to the already weak galaxy, a threat observed from multiple points of view across the sector this traitor primarch threatens. These include both traitor and loyalist marines, all of whom are shaken by this development.
Is there a beginning to the Warhammer 40k books lore?
As far as the 40k book series go, there is no chronological beginning. Series and individual books cover their own, mostly self-contained stories.
Even when there is a hinted timeline, inconsistencies are more than expected. This comes from varied writers involved in the franchise and the world of Warhammer 40k having a lot of its calendar messed up.
If we are taking a broader look, there are Horus Heresy books but those count as 30k. This massive series is meant as a prequel rather than a proper explanation of the current universe. Not to mention that the series has over 60 books, making it far from a concise introduction to the world.
Explanation of the key themes, characters, and factions
The themes of Warhammer 40k are scattered throughout books no matter their subject. The setting is about a violent and oppressive dystopian future of humanity. Social and scientific progress have both been stumped while humankind struggles to survive in a world filled with hostility.
There are plentiful other themes you can extrapolate from the books. The dangers of superstition, loss of humanity, the effects of fear on mankind, and other topics are also present.
There is also a constant reinforcement of sacrifice being required for life to keep going.
In the end, the key theme of the entire setting is given to us in a sentence most commonly associated with it “There is no peace amongst the stars, only an eternity of carnage and slaughter, and the laughter of thirsting gods.
The characters are usually isolated to their own series. These include Eisenhorn, Ravenor, Ibram Gaunt, Caiphas Cain, and Sebastian Yarrick. Each with its own personality, achievements, and harrowing struggles.
Of course, there are bigger figures in the Imperium that are showcased throughout. These are often primarchs such as Roboute Guilliman.
Factions that play their part in hundreds of books would be tough to summarize. However, the most common and important factions are Space Marines, Imperial Guard, Inquisition, and Chaos.
Additionally, alien factions such as Necrons, Eldar, and Tyranids are seen in a decent amount of books, some having their own novels too.
Is there a book that is the beginning or the start of the whole universe?
No, there are details of lore about the older ages of humanity, but not a book on it. Many disparate details are scattered throughout multiple books, almost all of them disconnected from each other.
The youngest fully documented events come from the Horus Heresy series of books. However, these count as 30k fiction rather than 40k fiction.
Some information is pulled from the wargame, making most of this old lore difficult to find in a single format. Unless you are browsing fan wikis, which congregate all the important details.
The Best Book To Get Into Warhammer 40k Books
The Eisenhorn Trilogy:
The best book to start with is the first entry in the Eisenhorn trilogy, the novel Xenos. Xenos follows Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn, who has to uncover a deep conspiracy brewing on the planet of Hubris.
Eisenhorn by Dan Abnett is often considered one of the best Warhammer 40,000 books to start with because it offers a compelling story, well-developed characters, and an immersive experience getting into the 40K universe.
The story follows the journey of Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn, a member of the Imperium’s secret police force, as he investigates heresy and corruption throughout the galaxy. The book is structured as a trilogy, with each novel building on the previous one to create an overarching narrative. Through Eisenhorn’s eyes, the reader is introduced to the diverse factions and cultures within the Warhammer 40,000 universe, including Space Marines, Chaos, Necrons, and more.
One reason why Eisenhorn is such a good starting point is that the reader can experience the world of Warhammer 40,000 through the eyes of a relatively ordinary character.
The writing in Eisenhorn is superb, with careful attention to detail and a strong emphasis on character development. The book balances action-packed sequences with moments of introspection and reflection, making for a well-rounded and immersive reading experience.
This book is rather grounded in the grand scheme of things. The story is not unlike detective fiction with the added elements of Warhammer 40k.
As mentioned before, the first Eisenhorn novel is a detective story set in the world of Warhammer 40k. It will help those who have not experienced the setting before get cozy with a more standard story and slower inclusion of more elaborate details from the setting.
If the book strikes your fancy, and it most likely will, other entries make for great continuations of your reading endeavors.
First 5 books to read when getting into Warhammer 40k books
If you read fast or want to queue up multiple books, there are a few extra recommendations to be had. None of these are in any specific order, so if one doesn’t seem enticing you can always make the jump across the list.
The book follows the story of the Ultramarines, one of the most famous and respected Space Marine chapters in the Imperium of Man.
The plot of the novel revolves around the Ultramarines’ mission to defend their home planet of Macragge from an invasion by the Tyranids, a race of monstrous alien creatures. As the Ultramarines fight to protect their planet, they must also uncover a traitor in their midst who threatens to undermine their efforts.
Throughout the novel, McNeill delves into the rich history and culture of the Ultramarines, exploring their beliefs, traditions, and tactics. The book also features intense battle scenes, as the Ultramarines face off against the relentless Tyranids in a struggle for survival
A perfect book if you want a regular human’s point of view in the grimdark future of Warhammer 40k. Gaunt’s Ghosts is a long series of books that follows Tanith First-and-Only regiment as well as their commissar, Ibram Gaunt.
The books take place within Sabbat Worlds and consist of the regiment jumping between warzones and intense firefights. Gaunt’s Ghosts: The Founding compiles the first three stories into one and makes for a great read.
Dark Imperium books are set in a far more recent part of the setting’s lore. They follow Roboute Guilliman, leader of Ultramarines and the conquering primarch who has recovered from his wounds. The books provide insight into Ultramarines and Guilliman, while the plot follows their fight against the primarch Mortarion.
Books provide information on a lot of machinations the primarch of Ultramarines has engaged in. Of course, it doesn’t lack action either. Within the pages of the novel, we get to experience the immediate clash between Space Marines and their Chaos counterparts.
Space Wolves are a Viking-inspired Space Marine Chapter with some peculiar details. They present a rather non-standard chapter due to their overall behavior and traditions, which makes them fun to explore. The Space Wolf novel series follows one of their most storied characters, Ragnar Blackmane.
The first novel serves as an origin story of Ragnar. It covers everything from his last days as a mortal man to his transformation into a Space Marine. As pages roll on, Ragnar reveals a new danger to the Space Wolves, which is located right on their homeworld.
Crusade and Other Stories
Crusade and Other Stories is an unimaginatively named anthology of various stories. There is a story or two for just about any big faction. With that much diversity, you’ll get a bit of information on everybody. It’s a fun time to go through.
The book can also be a good first read but the more rapid-fire introduction of the setting’s elements can be overwhelming. However, it’s still a worthwhile read in general, so get it as part of your starting set of books.
Top picks and must-read books and what books to watch out of
Aside from the great starting books, others are more than worth a read. These include some out-of-the-box choices as well as generally appealing options. Those would be:
- Day of Ascension: A book about oppressed and exhausted workers turning to aliens to escape their painful existence.
- The Infinite and the Divine: Novel covers the rivalry between two Necron leaders, Trazyn the Infinite and Orikan the Diviner. Their millennia-long feud reawakens once more as a new artifact is revealed, one which could change the Necron race’s future.
- Wraithbone phoenix: A lighter story about two deserters from the Imperial Guard and their shenanigans. Although the story is lighter this doesn’t mean it’s void of grim dangers found within Warhammer 40k’s world.
- Blood Angels: A standard pick for those who want to read more about Space Marines. Introduces yet another chapter into the fray and further details on Chaos that they fight.
Books to watch out for
Despite there being no firm chronological order to books and general releases being odd to follow, there are some books to look out for.
Namely, anything in the Horus Heresy isn’t part of 40k, it is technically part of 30k. The prequel series assumes you already know a lot about the setting before going into it.
Not to mention said series is over 50 books long in total, which makes it a horrible entry point.
While some of the other books that take place near that time can prove to be nice pieces of fiction to read, it is not recommended to get into them until you have a bit more knowledge of the world.
Suggested order for reading
As noted, there isn’t a chronological order of things. Which means any order can be a legitimate way to go. Though there is a way to “escalate” your reading experience if you wanted to.
This involves going through a few books that vary in genre and tone. All of them including regular humans, or somebody approximately fitting that mold, who keep the fight for the Imperium going. These books would be the first entries of the following series:
- Caiphas Cain
- Gaunt’s Ghosts
By following this order you’ll get a serious detective story with Eisenhorn as a first taste of the universe. It’s a fantastic starting point and a generally good book no matter one’s experience with Warhammer 40k.
Although it wasn’t in five starting books, due to lacking space, the Caiphas Cain novel series bears mentioning. The exploits of this commissar carry humor and levity rarely seen within the Warhammer 40k novels. Often compared to Blackadder, Caiphas Cain’s books follow the charismatic character through his many adventures.
This should freshen up readers from the grimness of the setting a tad before hopping back into the grime of the world with Gaunt’s Ghosts. Ibram Gaunt and his regiment will take the reader to the front lines. Giving a direct look at the battlefield in the world of Warhammer 40k.
When you read through an entry from each of those series, moving onto less human Space Marines is the best move.
Their concerns and dangers are far greater, some of the books that show that off are:
- Dark Imperium
- Space Wolf
- Crusade and Other Stories
Ultramarines are the most cookie-cutter of the Space Marines, making them perfect for a first dive into the ranks of these superhuman warriors.
While their exploits can be a bit too impressive at times, books of the Dark Imperium series do not lack in general quality. The first book especially is a decent read.
Space Wolves are a more peculiar Space Marine chapter and so is their novel series. Generally, the writing is kept to the point and explores a few points of conflict. The introduction of yet another line of Chaos Marines does shake up stories from this book series.
As suggested above, Crusade and Other Stories is a great book that has a lot of diverse stories to tell. By the time you reach it a lot of the factions and details will be known, so comprehending the new ones that get dropped in should be easy. Stories themselves are fun and the anthological style allows readers to chip away at the book at their own pace.
Upcoming releases and exciting new titles
In December, Black Library announced 18 new novels for the year 2023. While not all of these are Warhammer 40k, a decent number of them are. This means you’ll be just in time to get in on some recent books, keeping you engaged in the conversation.
There are two Imperial Guard books. One is Longshot, a novel that talks about the exploits of the Imperial Guard and their struggle among many burning battlefields of Warhammer 40k.
The other is Creed Ashes of Cadia, which follows a Cadian Supreme Commander, Ursula J. Creed. The book will go over her mission to the shattered homeworld of Cadia. Where she must face many horrors and confront the remains of her home.
On the more Space Marine-oriented side, there is The Iron Kingdom. The book follows a battle group of Space Marines as they attempt to fulfill their missions on the Knight World of Kamidar. It’s yet another novel in the Dawn of Fire series, but can be read without previous knowledge of the series.
Despite the vast nature of the published novels, Warhammer 40k books have some really good entry points. The most common recommendation will always be Eisenhorn but getting into it with any of the other top five starting books works just as well.
Once you read through those, get ready for a whole lot more exciting novels. the massive number of books means a ton of options for further exploration of the world. No matter what strikes your fancy, the Black Library will provide.