Are you interested in reading Warhammer 40k novels, but have no idea where to begin? Perhaps you are curious about delving into the 40k universe, but know little about it. Maybe you’ve heard of “Space Marines”, but you don’t quite understand who they are, other than being marines in space.
If is sounds familiar, then this list is for you. Below are the top 5 Warhammer 40k novels that will help introduce you to the 40k galaxy. The list collects quality novels that don’t require much backstory to appreciate. The novels provide the reader with some basics of the universe, i.e. the important events, characters, and/or locations that shape the overall story, without getting too bogged down. The list leans towards “the basics” over “the best”, but thankfully there is some overlap.
These books are in no particular order. It’s recommended you pick one that sounds up your alley and start reading. Many of the books published in the 40k universe are parts of series. If you like one book, there are plenty to follow. If the first book you read isn’t to your liking, there is certainly another more in-line with your tastes. Ultimately, this list is here for you to discover the 40k universe without any overhead. Onward!
If you want to jump right to the best books published, check out the 10 Best Warhammer 40k Novels list.
Nightbringer by Graham McNeill
Nightbringer by Graham McNeill is a perfect introduction to the Warhammer 40k universe. The novel focuses on the Ultramarines, the most famous and revered Space Marine Chapter. Ultramarine Captain Uriel Ventris and Inquisitor Ario Barzano are sent to investigate the disorderly planet of Pavonis. Once there, a political web begins to unravel.
The story itself is a mystery set in the 40k universe. Nightbringer has a little bit of everything, from explosive action to lovecraftian horror. Even classic antagonists like the Dark Eldar and Necrons make appearances. This is a great novel that covers some of the 40k basics without sacrificing quality. And while this may not be the best 40k novel ever published (some people love it, some people find it middling), it is a good entry point to the Warhammer 40k universe.
Night Lords by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
If the Space Marines are the “good guys” of the 40k universe, then the Chaos Space Marines are the “bad guys”. Night Lords is told from the perspective of the Chaos Marines but at times you might find them sympathetic. The Omnibus contains a trilogy of well regarded novels by Aaron Dembski-Bowden and three short stories, clocking in at over 900 pages. Dembski-Bowden is known for strong characterization and that skill is on display here, sucking the reader into a dark universe.
The main character is the prophetic Talos. His visions lead the Chaos Space Marines through a variety of adventures against the Imperium of Man as well as other noteworthy enemies like the Eldar. The Chaos Space Marines are not good people, but you will gain an understanding of why their story is so tragic. You will also discover beings even more heinous and evil. Night Lords is the perfect first doorway into the other half of the Warhammer 40k universe.
Xenos by Dan Abnett
Xenos by Dan Abnett is the first in a trilogy of novels about the career of Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn. Written as a first person narrative, Xenos 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 is a popular entry point into the 40k mythology. Fast paced and full of character, Abnett is in top form. Xenos is the first novel, but it’s hard not to recommend all three. The trilogy is self-contained and can be enjoyed by anyone without previous reading. Abnett does a terrific job at describing the universe and the elements within for the new reader. A Warhammer 40k classic.
Ciaphas Cain: Hero of the Imperium by Sandy Mitchell
Ciaphas Cain: Hero of the Imperium is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek title. While Cain is certainly viewed as a hero, he is a self-proclaimed coward who has stumbled his way upwards. No matter what the circumstances, Cain always bungles his way to survival yet grow in the eyes of the people.
Often described as a black comedy, Ciasphas Cain is filled with satire and humor. Like Night Lords, this is actually a trilogy of novels based on the Cain character. There is little to no required knowledge of the 40k universe needed to enjoy this novel. And for those of you not ready to jump into the grim and gritty deep end of 40k brutality, this entry point might be less jarring than others. That isn’t to say there isn’t the military action you come to expect in a 40k novel, only that this series stands apart by actually being funny. Ciaphas Cain: Hero of the Imperium is a fan favorite and a great place to start.
Horus Rising by Dan Abnett
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 front-lines 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 and Horus Rising is just the start. Don’t be intimidated by the “10,000 years previous” setting. Horus Rising lays the foundation for everything to come. There is something for everyone in this novel. Simply put, if there is one Warhammer 40k book you should read, this is it.
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