5 Reasons Why You Should Read a Warhammer 40,000 Book

With the Book Cover Smackdown from a few weeks back, I had noticed that many folks thought that the Salamander cover was an illustration of a robot. Actually, it’s a space marine — not one of those namby pamby space marines found in other books or games, but a 7 foot tall, genetically modified, power-armor-wearing, huge-gun-wielding Space Marine.

So imagine my dismay when I see there is a certain amount of disdain associated with this being a Warhammer 40K novel. These books get lumped together with other media tie-in books in many book stores. This means near the back of the ever-shrinking science fiction and fantasy sections with the Star Wars and Star Trek books. For some readers of this genre, these books carry a stigma. These books do not deserve that sort of treatment; and I’m not just saying that because I enjoy reading them.

Here are 5 reasons why you might like them, too:


(Note: This list focuses upon the Warhammer 40K novels since I find myself reading more science fiction these days, but the Warhammer book line shares many of these same points.)

  1. Excellent World BuildingWarhammer and Warhammer 40K books continue to build upon the worlds originally created by Games Workshop for their miniature games. Now before anybody runs off and screams “MEDIA TIE-IN, see its a MEDIA TIE-IN”, these games had a wealth of information to be used to help define a world within which the game was set. This information was spoon-fed to us gamers through color text in the rule books and short stories in magazines. With books, these authors get to expand and grow the worlds that were only broad brush strokes before. Many gamers familiar with the worlds can drop character names and names of worlds, but it is only in the books that these names reach their full potential.
  2. It’s Space Opera… – These books feature grand heroes wielding fantastic technology in a universe that is very dark and foreboding. They feature travel via warp conduits on ships that are akin to flying cities with ramparts and bastions throughout. They have malevolent entities that feed upon the weak, and protectors who take it as mandate to fight against this evil. All of this and more is what makes space opera such a fun read, and that’s what’s in these books. They are not written as hard science fiction, but they do have consistency throughout. There are fantastical elements and many will call this space fantasy, but is that not an component of a space opera? I think so.
  3. …And It’s Military Science Fiction – Not only do these books give you all the wonderful Space Opera elements listed above, but almost all involve a battle of some kind, and these take place both on planet surfaces and in space. I do realize that does not necessarily imply there are military science fiction elements, but many of the characters (including the aforementioned non-namby-pamby Space Marine) are part of a huge human military force. These forces range from the standard grunt in the trenches to heroes leading troops in battles throughout the galaxy.
  4. Excellent Authors – Yes, it is a simple but strong reason why folks should be reading these books. Dan Abnett writes some of the best military science fiction (see point 3 above) and has been recommended by many others. Starting with one of his books is only beginning to touch the wealth of talent that Black Library has writing for them. I have personally read books by Dan Abnett, Graham McNeill, James Swallow, and Ben Counter. Now, add to that the talents of Chris Roberson and newcomer Henry Zou and you have a great stable of writers to entertain you.
  5. They’re really good reads – I have been working my way through the Horus Heresy series of books. This series starts with a book named (obviously) The Horus Heresy by Mr. Abnett. This is then followed by False Gods by Graham McNeill and Galaxy in Flames by Ben Counter. They tell a story of a pivotal event in this universe (Horus turning against the Emperor of Men). It had been touched on before in the games, but it is finally explored from a point of view not seen in the books or games prior to this series. These books are well written and tell a story about Horus before his turn, and show the universe in a different light. These books were written by three different writers and they are tied so amazingly well together. That just barely scratches the surface of what is available.

I hope this short list will help others explore what these books offer. Take a chance, and you will be rewarded.

39 thoughts on “5 Reasons Why You Should Read a Warhammer 40,000 Book”

  1. Wait, did you just defend Warhamer 40K and diss media tie-ins in the same post? That’s just like those “literary” snobs who condemns science fiction and approves of 1984 and Brave New World.

  2. I have been reading and watching science fiction for 50 years now and reading about matters military for nearly as long.

    So I guess the strange thing is that I have actually read very little military science fiction. Perhaps it’s time for that to change. Warhammer could be a good start!

    I was published recently in the US and a couple of my short stories such as “The Second Battle for Britain” and “The British are Coming” have a definite military sci-fi flavor to them.

    The book is now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble etc and the link to my author page is:

    http://www.StrategicBookPublishing.com/ScienceFictionandAlternateHistory.html

    Cheers    

  3. It’s been my secret guilt that I’ve been obsessively reading the 40k books for some years now. I think Abnett’s a really good author – also the horus heresy books are all super fun. :)

  4. I just have a hard time thinking this isn’t a media tie-in book.   Plus, the cover is so cartoonish it’s hard for me to take it seriously.  I have read both media tie-ins and cartoonish cover books that are ok, but that is rare.  I would never pick them up until all other options are exhausted…including non-SF fare.  I like some of the critieria you listed, so it’s possible I might pick it up.  However, it would have to be from the library, as I’m not spending money on a media tie-in book.

  5. Frankly, in terms of character development, action and literary quality, the 40K books are on par with works by Al Reynolds, Neal Asher, Charles Stross and Liz Williams.  In many cases, the novel are better than what the mainstream SF core group tends to put out. 

    Or to put it another way, everytime I see a 40K novel, I am tempted to pick it up.  I can not say that for other books. 

    Respects,

    S. F. Murphy

  6. Saibot:  My intention was not to “diss” media tie-in novels since I read a large number of those types of books.  The point here was to basically not judge a book by its cover…

  7. I wouldn’t call the art on the 40K novels ‘cartoonish’, to me that has a Bugs Bunny feel to it. Rather, I’d say they are ‘fantastical’, which fits perfectly with the tone of the 40K universe, which is basically a dark science fantasy setting. You want an awesome movie? Put Ravenor/Eisenhorn/Titanicus on the screen. I’d pay to see that!

  8. Well, I always wanted to try one of these books, so, why not..

     

    But, where do I start?!?   I’ve played the games, which I like alot!   The Tau/Necrons are awesome..so, any suggestions??

     

     

  9. Where to start? Good question. My first foray into the 40K world of novels was with Ravenor and the follow on books. But, I’d suggest starting with the Eisenhorn  series before the Ravenor series, as they are linked. You don’t need to read Eisenhorn first, but you’ll get a bit more out of Ravenor.

    Tim can suggest others.

  10. I see that I left out a good suggestion where to start reading these books.  I would start with a Dan Abnett book since there a number of series that he has kicked off.  I would suggest Eisenhorn, First and Only or The Horus Heresy as excellent starting points.  Each of these books have stories that continue beyond the initial novel, and some have the added benefit of being part of an omnibus.  JP has read the Eisenhorn and I have read The Horus Heresy, and both books are solid stories.

  11. Personally I was very leery of reading 40k based Sci-fi even tho I am a huge player/collector and painter of the Minis.

    BUT, the suggestion on this site to check out the Eisenhorn books was spot on and I loved em.  I have since picked up a good number of the books by Abnett and have just started reading McNeils as well.  For me the 2nd Gaunt Omni “the Saint” has been the best but thats cause I play Sisters of Battle and loved the Living Saint in there.

    There also should be a warning that there are some stinkers out there, I have been warned off some of the Eldar books and others so they all arent great Sci-fi

  12. SQEEEEEEE!

    I have been waiting for Warhammer 40k books to get more exposure, and it is awesome that you are doing it here!

     

    I completely agree with you that they are some of the best military sci-fi has to offer.  Anyone that dismisses these books as “media tie-in” books and not worth the time really need to pick up one and give it a shot.  I certainly believe that most people will change their attitude afterwords.

    Tim is completely right about Black Library’s great list of authors.  Dan Abnett is awesome.  I do have a slight quibble though Tim.  The first book of the Horus Heresy series is not called Horus Heresy.  It is Horus Rising.  I know since I am rereading it as we speak :)

    If you want a good place to start, try some of the following:

    The Horus Heresy series starting with Horus Rising.  Make sure you start from the beginning.  You may get lost otherwise.

    The Gaunt’s Ghost series by Dan Abnett.  Starts with The First and Only.  One of his best series.

    The Space Wolf series by Ben King  Starts with Space Wolf.  Grab the Space Wolf Omnibus to get the first four in one volume.

    AstroThumps is completely right when he says that there are some stinkers though with Warhammer books.  Some are no better then bad pulp stories, so check around for peoples opinions.

    I honestly believe that if these books didn’t have the “Warhammer” moniker on the top, that some of these authors would be much more generally lauded then they are now.  Ben Counter, Graham McNeill, and Dan Abnett are superlaative authors, and deserve a lot of credit.

     

  13. I only read the Eishenhorn by Dan Abnett recently when I bought it cheap from a warehouse sale. I must say…..IT’S GOOD! After that I started learn more about the races and even bought the game to understand more about the Warhammer 40k.

    Most of the books that I came across mostly wrote about space marines (They rocks!), I hoped there would be more books about other factions or races too.

  14. This is a great mini-review. Black Library books rock. There are some that are excellent and still in print – The Eisenhorn series mentioned before is top notch for wierd conspiracy space fiction. If you want excellent military fare, then the Gaunt’s Ghosts stuff is top notch. I’d back off from Horus Heresy until you get the hang of the universe. Its got a bit of an insider’s feel to it. Its good stuff, just not intro stuff.  The Space Wolf series mentioned is also a great jumping in spot.

    However, there are some short story books out there that make great reading because they give you a lot of tastes of the universe.

    Sadly, some of the best stuff published in Sci Fi seems to be put on hold. Black Library used to do EXCELLENT “Splat Books”. These were oversized books, such as Xenology with full color illustrations, etc. If you can find any of these (and I’m saying that’s a big if) just jump in! I thought they were spot on top of the line.

    As to Authors: Dan Abnett, William King, Graham McNeill, Matt Farrer (I hope I have spelling correct), Nick Kyme, Gordon Rhennie, blah blah blah…. this is a list of extremely good authors who bring their “A” game to each book they write. You can hit the Black Library website and ask about series. Lots of quick and friendly opinions there as well.

    Later! And Good Reading!

  15. Thanks Butcherbird, you are correct of course.  That book and the two that follow it are very very good.  Even knowing the eventual outcome, I was enthralled by the story telling and following the characters.  

  16. I’m hard to please with SF, and these books have me hooked. I first learned that they had quality reading about them here, so I took a shot and bought one.

    They have several things I like:

    1. They are set in a future where yours is long forgotten.

    2. They’re about complex ideas dealing with politics and ideas. Interestingly, they seem to be writing themselves out of their own product, and you’ll understand that if you’re reading the Horus series.

    3. They’re morally ambiguous.

    4. They’re exciting.

  17. You forgot one reason :

     

    You’re facing a really long jail term and all the prison library has is 40k tie-ins.

     

    Which is pretty much the only situation in which I’d read a 40k book.

  18. Jonathan,

    There’s certainly enough books to keep you occupied for you had a moderate stretch in the tank.

    Meanwhile, what are your reasons?

  19. Wait a minute — The Adlreian has a good point: what are your reasons?  Did you have a really bad experience with them?  Do you dislike that they are already-formed worlds?  What’s the scoop?

  20. 40K books are my favorite reads right now.  There are different tracks to read, depending on what you’re interested in.

    Want insane battles with the finest warriors, uncorruptible devotion, and superhuman feats?  Read Space Marine series such as The Ultramarines books by Graham McNeill or the Space Wolf series by William King/Lee Lightner.

    Want a more human side of the wars, with meat-grinder mentality, agonizing decisions, and a decidedly fatalistic view of war?  Try the Imperial Guard books such as Fifteen Seconds, Gunheads, or the superlative Gaunt’s Ghosts series by Dan Abnett.

    Curious about the Chaos take on all this bloodshed?  Check out the Dark Disciple/Apostle books by Anthony Reynolds or Storm of Iron by Graham McNeill.

    More interested in intrigue and the dark underbelly of the Imperium of Man?  Inquisitor books are what you want, such as the aforementioned Eisenhorn and Ravenor trilogies by Dan Abnett.

    Vehicular combat fans fret not!  Titanicus is a fantastic read into the Adeptus Mechanicus machine cult and the Rogue Star/Star of Damocles books give you some nice reading into the world of rogue traders and capital ship combat.

    Finally, if you’re wanting a lighter take on the dour 40K world, Commissar Cain is your man.  His unabashed trait towards self-preservation has carried him through six books by Sandy Mitchell with more on the way (I hope). 

    One of my favorite things about 40K fiction is that many of the older books are available in an omnibus format, allowing for an easy way to read an entire series without having to hunt down books that are out of print.  It’s also fairly easy to find 40K books at used bookstores, making it a very economical collection to build.  The Half-Price Bookstores in my area always have a few, often older books that are long out of print. 

    Whew, that was long winded.  I’m a big fan of the fiction, as you can tell.  I’m looking forward to the next installment in the Horus Heresy arc, Fallen Angels in July.  If you have questions about the fiction, let me know.  Cheers!

  21. No worries Tim :)  I hate being the guy to make corrections though. 

    You are absolutely right though about the series being great.  I really loved Flight of the Eisenstein.  If you have not gotten that far, I think you will love that one.  Legion was good as well, but for some reason I could not get into Descent of Angels.  Never finished it.

     

    I am going to disagree with you Jeff.  I think the Horus Heresy is a great place to start.  Starting from there, you are exposed to the Primarchs and the foundation of what the later books are built on.  The later books all revolve around that crucial part of history.  Starting with the Horus Heresy series, you get to read about that point in history, and I believe it gives you a solid foundation for the later books.

     

    Good synopsis Vandalous.  There really is something for everyone.

  22. I think Horus is a good place to start as well, and I’ll explain why. On the surface this series seems to be about supermen and battles, but really it’s about victims and suckers.

    Horus takes place in 30k while the rest of the series takes place in 40k. For reasons I won’t say, most everyone in 40k is living a violent and bizarre lie and don’t know it, or at least it seems that way. They’re involved in a religion which was never meant to be, or it might just be real, it’s difficult to tell. This question and the idea of good ideas gone horribly wrong, without anyone left to remember it, lifts the series out of the action realm. Anyway, the Horus series spells out what’s going on in the 40k books and sets them up as tragedy.

    I initially picked up the Gaunt series for some pure action and was surprised to find something more. They’re like a less obtuse and preaching Moorcock. Thus, I believe that “Chaos” in these books is caused by the human mind as it was in his stories.

  23. Vandalous:  Very nice overview of the various series and I appreciate you wieghing in on this topic.

    Butcherbird:  I too had some issues with Descent of Angels, and I think it has to do with the fact that the story feels unfinished.  I am looking forward to reading Fallen Angels to see how that plays out.  I just finished Battle for the Abyss, and that one was very good. 

     

  24. I was being flippant.  I know that a number of WH40K novels are seen as quite decent and that good authors have in the past written for the Warhammer universes.  I also suspect that the Warhammer books have a better pedigree than the D&D books which have given the world Drizzt and Dragonlance and a number of books which are, somewhat mind-bogglingly, worse than them.  But I really don’t like MilSF and I don’t particularly like adventure stories and so it’s simply a weight of numbers thing : there are so many books out there that I haven’t read that I really would have to be stuck in jail with nothing else to read before I got round to looking at WH40K tie-ins.

  25. Thanks for the recomendation Tim, I was hesitant about Battle for the Abyss after looking at the Amazon ratings.  But, I will give it a shot now.  Yes, I am looking forward to Fallen Angels as well.  I still have yet to read Machanicum as well.

     

    Jonathan – That really is a crying shame that you can not see past the “tie-in” moniker.  Comparing 40K books to D&D tie-ins and Dragonlance books is like comparing forks and shoes.  Yes, both can be used as eating utensils, but one is much better than the other and doesn’t smell like feet.  But to each his own.  What do you like to read or are currently reading?

  26. Well, I just stumbled upon this article, and I have to say that it hits the nail on the head. I’m a huge fan of Warhammer 40K books, and Dan Abnett has got to be the best sci-fi writer I’ve read, period. I honestly don’t know anybody who can write a story as compelling and engaging as he does.

    Check out Eisenhorn, Ravenor, Legion and the Ghosts books. Legion was one of my absolute favourites. Talk about a headf**k! Also, if you like funny stuff (yeah, I know…humour in 40K), try Sandy Mitchell’s Ciaphas Cain novels. They’re very similar to the Flashman books, about a coward who keeps getting into trouble and ends up coming out a hero, but not for any altruistic reasons, rather he just likes to save his own arse. Very entertaining.

    Graham McNeil has done some good stuff. Storm of Iron is probably his best: siege warfare, intrigue, and lots of bombs. I have to admit I’m not a huge fan of Ben Counter, though. He wrote a couple of good books, but they kept getting stupider the more sequels he did.

    40K books are my biggest guilty pleasure. I can burn through them at the rate of one every two days. They’re really good, light reads.

     

     

     

  27. OK. I’m going to start out saying I’m quite a literary snob. I stopped reading Sci-Fi and Fantasy books when I was fifteen or so and am completing my Post-Graduate stuff (I say stuff because I’m not sure if I can be bothered doing a Masters or not yet) in English Literature. My favorite books are The Scarlet Letter, by Hawthorne and Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain.

     

    However, I do have a Wargaming background in my roots and am very familiar with the Warhammer and 40k Universes. Recently a friend of mine started reading the Horus Heresy novels and he said they were alright so I decided to start reading them mainly because the world appeals to me and if they were bad I’d just put them down. The first two books were bareable (in my studies I’ve been froced to read “good books” which were far worse) the third book, Galaxy in Flames, was a nice payoff after the built up drama of the first two and was thus quite enjoyable.

     

    The forth book though is one of the best books I’ve read period. Book four in the Horus Heresy series, Flight of the Eisenstein, starts off with a new protagonist and maintains powerful themes and a deliciously simple plot (get to Earth) without being untrue to 40k universe. The development of Nathaniel Garro (the main characters) is as well depicted as the growth of a character from a Joyce novel. The story is written in an incredibly cinematic and epic way without screwing up the pacing and drama of the action. Also the violence depicted in it all has a purpose within the story being told and is actually written quite well (most authors are absolutly dire at depicting violence).

     

    But yeah Flight of the Eisenstein is an absolutly amazing book. I would write more about it but some people here might want to read it for themselves. Very good book.

  28. I resisted the Warhammer 40K books for some time, since I thought they were just going to be more bland military sci-fi. In truth, they’re more like a combination of The Chronicles of Riddick and Dune: the worldbuilding is amazing and full of awesome concepts, such as the Adeptus Mechanicus, the Chaos Legions, and the Inquisition. The whole milieux is a space opera version of the European Middle Ages, and many of the books are really just action narratives–which are certainly fun to read, though a little shallow–but some, such as Dan Abnett’s Eisenhorn and Ravenor trilogies and the ongoing Horus Heresy series have a greater depth and a “future primitive”–almost steampunk–aesthetic that any fan of Gene Wolfe’s New/Long/Short Sun series will love. In fact, the Eisenhorn books remind me a lot of Severian’s adventures.

  29. The new “Cadian Blood” is also a great read, in the vein the Gaunt’s Ghost’s Guard genre (btw: when is the next Gaunt’s Ghost Omnibus due out?) .  Like Zou’s and Kyme’s recent releases, Cadian Blood is hard to put down once it gets going.   Aaron Dembski-Bowden is another strong author for the W40K cadre.  Hopefully he will continue the exploits of the Cadian 88th.  

     

  30. Ok.  You got me.  I just picked up ‘Horus Rising’. 

    All I know about WH40K is that the PC games are wicked fun.

  31. It seems that by releasing the dawn of war series, Games Workshop have appealed to a whole new audience with their WH40K books, I too learnt of Warhammer 40ks amazingly established storyline through playing the campaigns on the Dawn of War series, I was currently searching for someone to englithen me on the first book to start with, and as stated above, Horus Rising is where I will begin.

     

    Thanks.

Comments are closed.