The universe of Warhammer 40k novels is expansive. The Black Library has published over a hundred books and they aren’t stopping soon. As a new reader, how are you supposed to know which are the best? How do you find the diamonds in the rough? Below is my attempt to list the 10 best Warhammer 40k novels published today.
Obviously, “best” is a subjective term. I compared a variety of sources: articles, reviews, message board, etc. The novels below appeared time and time and again. While no “best of” list is perfect, I think this is a pretty good start.
The hope is that by going through this list, you will hit the high spots of Warhammer 40k literature and be able to delve deeper where you see fit. The novels themselves are in no particular order. Instead, this group represents the best of the best. I have provided Amazon listings, but don’t forget to check your local library. Now go forth and enjoy.
[See also the Top 5 Warhammer 40k Novels for the New Reader list]
The 10 Best Warhammer 40k Novels
Horus Rising by Dan Abnett – Amazon
Whether you are a hardcore Warhammer 40k fan or brand new to the universe, Horus Rising by Dan Abnett is the place to begin. Taking place 10,000 years before the main 40k setting, this tale lays the foundation of the 40k mythos. With the Imperium of Man at its height, the Immortal Emperor leaves the frontlines and entrusts the great crusade to his Warmaster Horus. This sets forth the 40k universe as we know it.
Horus Rising is the perfect mix of militaristic 40k fare and rich character development. Dan Abnett’s prose is top-notch (which is why you will see his name many times on this list) and Horus Rising is just the start. There is something for everyone in this novel. Simply put, this is the one Warhammer 40k book you should read.
Fulgrim by Graham McNeill – Amazon
Fulgrim by Graham McNeill (another name appearing many times on this list) is a true tragedy depicting Fulgrim’s fall from grace. The story follows the Emperor’s Children as they battle an alien foe. In their attempt to achieve perfection, Fulgrim fights against the seduction of Chaos. Fulgrim’s struggles takes the Emperor’s Children to a climactic battle on Isstvan V.
The novel itself is epic in scope and often deals with morally grey themes. McNeill’s powerful writing and vivid descriptions leaves the reader haunted. A noted criticism of the book is that it does not give story-lines the space to breathe. At 512 pages, a lot is packed into this novel. Fulgrim is a definite page turner.
Legion by Dan Abnett – Amazon
A great war looms and loyalties are tested. Legion by Dan Abnett focuses on the Space Marines of the Alpha Legion and an alien organization known as the Cabal. Told from the perspective of ordinary humans, the novels details how and why the Alpha Legion are considered traitors. As you might guess, the answers are not always black-and-white.
Secrets, lies, twists, turns… Legion is a sci-fi thriller. Abnett weaves a web of espionage and intrigue. The novel is often compared to a James Bond story set in the 40K universe. If that isn’t enough to hook you, this book is considered by some to be the best Horus Heresy novel published. Not to be missed!
Eisenhorn by Dan Abnett – Amazon
Eisenhorn by Dan Abnett is a trilogy of novels about the career of Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn. Written as a first person narrative, Eisenhorn follows a man’s quest to safeguard humanity and eradicate Chaos in the universe. Eisenhorn wields great power, but do the ends always justify the means? Good versus evil and everything in between.
The Eisenhorn trilogy was popular enough to be collected as an Omnibus. Fast paced and full of character, Abnett is in top form. This trilogy is self-contained and can be enjoyed by anyone without previous reading. A Warhammer 40k classic.
A Thousand Sons by Graham McNeill – Amazon
The twelfth book of the Horus Heresy series details how the Thousand Sons went from loyal warriors to so-called traitors. Being forced to return to Prospero for their use of sorcery, Magnus the Red and the Thousand Sons warn the Emperor of Horus’ treachery. But the Emperor is not keen on their use of forbidden powers and instead sends the Space Wolves to to attack Prospero.
A Thousand Sons is gut wrenching and powerful, but also thoughtful and complex. The characters are philosophical and the story tragic. By the time the Space Wolves lay down a brutal siege on Prospero you may find yourself sympathizing with the Thousand Sons. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
The First Heretic by Aaron Dembski-Bowden – Amazon
Lorgar and the Word Bearers worship the Emperor as a god. For this they are punished. Questioning their faith, they seek out the true gods. But if the Emperor is not the true god, then who is? In slips Chaos and the first heretics in the 40k universe.
The fall from grace is a common tale in the Horus Heresy series, but The First Heretic is one of the more compelling. It is the struggle of faith, shattered beliefs, and betrayal. We begin to see that many of these tragedies could have been prevented had the Emperor not been a poor father to his children. A heart wrenching novel.
Ravenor by Dan Abnett – Amazon
The Ravenor trilogy follow Inquisitor Gideon Ravenor and his mission to root out heresy in the galaxy. Ravenor is an immensely powerful psychic unable to use his physical body. Using only his mind, Ravenor travels through the Imperium of Man and time itself hunting down Chaos.
To truly appreciate Ravenor, it is recommended that you read Eisenhorn first. For as great as Eisenhorn is, Abnett has taken the universe one step further. The trilogy is a true adventure and Abnett’s writing as good as ever. Similar to Eisenhorn, the trilogy has been collected as an Omnibus. If you enjoyed Eisenhorn, you will love Ravenor.
The Founding (Gaunt’s Ghosts) by Dan Abnett – Amazon
The Founding collects the first three novels that follow Ibram Gaunt, commissar of the Tanith First-And-Only regiment. On the day of the regiment’s founding, Chaos destroys their world. Now Gaunt and his regiment travel from world to world fighting battles both physical and political.
The Gaunt’s Ghosts series by Dan Abnett is widely considered one of the best and The Founding is just the beginning. No need to read any backstory. Abnett knows how to flesh out the micro and the macro. You will care not only for the characters but also the universe they live in. Jump right in. This is good, fast paced stuff.
Storm of Iron by Graham McNeill – Amazon
Storm of Iron by Graham McNeill is the book to read if you enjoy Chaos Space marines. This standalone novel focuses on the Iron Warriors’ siege of the imperial planet Hydra Cordatus. But why have the Iron Warriors invaded and can they be stopped?
McNeill unleashes incredibly detailed military action along with fascinating characters in this 40k novel. Plenty of explosions without neglecting plot. The battles are brutal, both physically and emotionally. Never a dull moment. A classic McNeill ending makes this required reading.
Titanicus by Dan Abnett – Amazon
If you were ever interested in the Titans of Warhammer 40k, this is the novel for you. Huge battles, both literally and figuratively, fill the pages while subplots and twists unfold in the background. The Titans are the big allure of this book, but you might find the non-Titan characters even more interesting. Mech-warfare with political intrigue.
The page count of Titanicus suits the title. It is a hefty work with a bounty of plot threads. Readers who haven’t read earlier works, specifically Mechanicus, might be a bit lost. Titanicus might not be the most new-reader friendly novel. For those of you who are familiar with the 40k universe and/or have a love of Titans, this will be a welcome addition.