If you’re a fan of science fiction and fantasy, then it is likely you’ve seen mentions of Warhammer everywhere. But the Warhammer universe can be overwhelming with its breadth and scope. So, this list has distilled their bibliography down to the best Warhammer 40k books that you need to read first.
Warhammer is the most popular product from its parent company Games Workshop. What began as an RPG tabletop game has since expanded to include literally hundreds of companion books that delve into the history and lore of this universe. On top of the multitude of books and products, there are different factions, wars, and eras.
So, we’ve taken a look at the ratings and popularity on Goodreads to create a list of the best Warhammer 40k books. This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the books. However, it will be the perfect introduction to your Warhammer reading journey.
Then, if you want to learn more about the prequel era, you can read our article about The Horus Heresy reading order.
About the Warhammer Franchise
Of course before there were the books, there were the Warhammer models and tabletop game. The books derived out of the desire, and demand, to delve further into the background and lore of this alternate militaristic universe.
Warhammer began as a grimdark parody, not afraid to laugh at itself. While that remains, the books frequently oscillate somewhere between that parody and serious grimdark reality.
It has been popular for the last 35 years, but Warhammer has experienced a definite spike in popularity during recent years. Instead of being something that was secretive or a guilty pleasure, it has become more mainstream with the current surge of unapologetic nerd culture. The endorsement of celebrities such as Henry Cavill of The Witcher fame and Ed Sheeran, despite his Game of Thrones cameo, certainly didn’t hurt that larger appeal either.
In a BBC interview, a Warhammer fan described the appeal of the tabletop element as partially due to the tactical component, saying its not as detached as video games can be.
With the surge of Warhammer in mainstream media, it means that more and more people are hearing about it for the first time and wondering where to begin. There are more than 350 books within the Warhammer 40k universe, and more than 50 prequels alone in The Horus Heresy series.
But don’t let this ever-expanding universe intimidate you.
While it can be overwhelming to look at the breadth and scope of models, games, books, and more, you can choose to immerse yourself in the universe as much as you would like for your best personal experience. The below best Warhammer 40k books are perfectly approachable to those who have never played the tabletop game before, but have an interest in dark military science fiction or space operas.
18 Best Warhammer 40k Books
It was exceptionally difficult to create a list of just a few of the best Warhammer books while trying to be fair and encapsulate as much as possible. This list was made by using Goodreads data to look at the popularity and success of certain titles, then filling in the gaps with other great recommendations to create a well-rounded list.
As well, in most cases, only the first book in a series features on our list. That’s because, obviously, new readers should start with the beginning of a series. So, some beloved books from later in popular series such as Eisenhorn, Ciaphas Cain, or Gaunt’s Guard are missing from this list in favour of the first book in the series.
However, there are two exceptions to this guideline. The first is when books have since been collected and re-published in an omnibus. This is something that is incredibly common from the Black Library.
The second exception is for books that fall within The Horus Heresy series. Technically these are prequel books to the Warhammer 40k lore. That’s because these books depict the lead-up to the 41st Millennium, but the books are seen as integral to this universe. Therefore, there will be spoilers for The Horus Heresy series in the below summaries.
There are literally hundreds of books that fall within this universe. This made it incredibly difficult to whittle our list down. As well, any list of the best books is bound to be incredibly subjective, which is why we tried to gather a consensus on the best Warhammer 40k books through Goodreads data.
So, don’t fret if your favorite Warhammer 40k book is missing from this list. But do let us and other readers know your favorite read down in the comments.
18. Enforcer: The Shira Calpurnia Omnibus by Matthew Farrer
This first Warhammer 40k book recommendation is a bit of a forward one. That’s because it’s an omnibus edition of the Shira Calpurnia series. However, these books are only available in the bind-up edition now.
Enforcer combines the three books of Crossfire, Legacy, and Blind. The series follows Shira Calpurnia confronting assassinations, psykers, family legacies, and much more. This omnibus edition has an average rating of 3.72 on Goodreads.
The Adeptus Arbites are responsible for enforcing law and order across the vast reaches of the human Imperium. Newly promoted officer Shira Calpurnia is assigned to the fortress system of Hydraphur. It is home of the vast Imperial warfleets that dock, rearm, and repair in an endless cycle of conflict.
But Shira soon finds herself in the thick of the action. Her investigations embroil her in the corruption behind multiple assassination attempts, the vicious greed over an ancient charter, and encounters with psykers and murderers.
17. Soul Hunter by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
The next book on our list is the first book in the Night Lords series: Soul Hunter by Aaron Dembski-Bowden. This was Dembski-Bowden’s second novel and a fan favorite within the Warhammer 40k books. It has an average rating of 4.35 on Goodreads and depicts the Long War from the Night Lords’ perspective.
The Night Lords were once among the most potent forces of the Imperium. They are Space Marines who used fear itself as their weapon.
But now they have been cast adrift from the Emperor’s light and hunted as heretics after their monstrous betrayal. So, the Night Lords clad themselves in symbols of death and fight the Long War. They are intent to bring pain and terror to all who worship the corpse-god of Terra.
Then a summons from Warmaster Abaddon sends these rebels on a dangerous journey that leads inexorably to a conflict with the Emperor’s chosen warriors: The Blood Angels.
16. The Talon of Horus by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
If you enjoy reading from the antagonist’s perspective, then the sixteenth best Warhammer 40k book is a great option for you. The Talon of Horus by Aaron Dembski-Bowden is the first book in the Black Legion series. It has a 4.49 average rating on Goodreads.
This first book in the series follows the rise of Abaddon, who is the successor to Horus and the Warmaster of the Black Legion.
When Horus fell, his Sons fell with him. Subsequently, the broken Legion have scattered across the tortured realm of the Eye of Terror. The former Luna Wolves are beset by rivalries and hunted by their erstwhile allies. And of Abaddon, greatest of the Warmaster’s followers, he has been missing for many years.
But when Horus’s body is taken from its resting place, a confederation of legionaries seek out the former First Captain. They then must try to convince him to embrace his destiny and continue what Horus began.
15. The Uriel Ventris Chronicles: Volume One by Graham McNeill
Next on our list in the fifteenth spot is another cheeky recommendation, because it’s another omnibus. However, the Ultramarines books are also only available in the bind-up edition now. So, this recommendation includes four books and connecting short stories.
The first book in the omnibus is Nightbringer. Also included in this volume is Warriors of Ultramar, Dead Sky, Black Sun, and short stories. The first Ultramarines volume has an average rating of 4.27 on Goodreads.
The series follows the adventures of Space Marine Captain Uriel Ventris and the Ultramarines as they battle against the enemies of mankind. From their home world of Macragge, into the dreaded Eye of Terror and beyond, Graham McNeill’s prose rattles like gunfire and brings the Space Marines to life like never before.
In the first book, newly promoted Ultramarines Captain Uriel Ventris must investigate Pavonis. This imperial planet has been plagued by civil disorder and renegade elder raiders.
But nothing is as straightforward as it seems, and wheels are turning within wheels. Uriel and his allies must enter a deadly race against time to destroy their shadowy enemy. Or else the whole planet must be sacrificed for the good of humanity.
14. Titanicus by Dan Abnett
The next book on our list is special as it is the only standalone title. It is also a vision of total war in the 41st Millennium, from the smallest soldier to the largest God-Machine. Titanicus by Dan Abnett has an average rating of 4.17 on Goodreads.
It takes place within the Sabbat Wars and in characteristic Abnett fashion is wildly entertaining while also painting a degree of humanity on these non-human characters and scenarios. It depicts war on an epic scale while also showing the smaller details. As well, it also as giant fighting robots.
When the vital forge world of Orestes comes under attack by a legion of Chaos Titans, the planet must appeal for help. The Titans of Legio Invicta are fresh from combat and in desperate need of refit and repair. But they respond, committing their own force of war engines to the battle.
As the god-machines stride to war, the world trembles. For the devastation they unleash could destroy the very world they have sworn to save.
13. Legion by Dan Abnett
The thirteenth best Warhammer 40k book on our list is the seventh book within The Horus Heresy series. Again, technically these books are prequels to the Warhammer 40k time period as they take place during the 30th Millennium. These books explain how just such chaos and havoc enveloped the universe, instigating such widespread war and destruction.
So, if you are a fan of the premise of these books, then you should absolutely read The Horus Heresy books. This list does include a few of them.
However, because they are listed in order of popularity, the books will be out of order. Therefore, this is where the spoilers will begin for elements of The Horus Heresy in the summaries for those books.
But Legion by Dan Abnett has an average rating of 4.14 on Goodreads. It is also a great recommendation for readers who like spy novels such as James Bond. That’s because it follows the Space Marines of the Alpha Legion as a Great War looms. This war threatens to engulf the Imperium of Man, and loyalties are put to the test.
The Space Marines of the Alpha Legion are the last and most secretive of all the Astartes brotherhoods. They arrive on a heathen world to support the Imperial Army in a pacification campaign against strange and uncanny forces.
But what drives the Alpha Legion? Can they be trusted, and what side will they choose when the Great War begins?
12. First and Only by Dan Abnett
This next book is one of the first books ever published by Black Library after its creation through Games Workshop. As well, it is the most read Warhammer 40k book, making it a classic.
First and Only by Dan Abnett is the first book in his Gaunt’s Ghosts series, and it has a 4.24 average rating on Goodreads. It was also Dan Abnett’s debut novel and the beginning of his journey as a Warhammer author. This series is a great recommendation for fans of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series.
For a thousand years, prior to the start of this novel, the Sabbat Worlds have been lost to the Imperium, claimed by the dread powers of Chaos. Now, a mighty crusade seeks to return the sector to Imperial rule.
And at the forefront of that crusade are Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt and the Tanith First and Only — better known as Gaunt’s Ghosts.
Trapped in the grinding trench warfare of Fortis Binary, the Ghosts find themselves drawn into a conspiracy to assassinate the crusade’s leader: Warmaster Macaroth. With enemies all around them and no one to trust, Gaunt and his men must find a way to save the Warmaster and prevent the Sabbat Worlds Crusade from falling into anarchy.
Even if it means waging war on their supposed allies.
11. Prospero Burns by Dan Abnett
As we inch closer to our top ten best Warhammer 40k books we have another book that is also a part of The Horus Heresy series. Prospero Burns is the fifteenth book in the series and is written by fan favorite Dan Abnett. It has a 4.14 rating on Goodreads.
At the beginning of this book the Emperor is furious. That’s because Primarch Magnus the Red of the Thousand Sons Legion has made a terrible mistake. One that endangers the very safety of Terra.
So, with no other choice, the Emperor charges Leman Russ, Primarch of the Space Wolves, with the apprehension of his brother from the Thousand Sons’ home world of Prospero.
This planet of sorcerers will not be easy to overcome, but Russ and his Space Wolves are not easily deterred. With wrath in his heart, Russ is intent to bring Magnus to justice and bring about the fall of Prospero.
10. The First Heretic by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
Then, rounding out the top ten of our picks for best Warhammer 40k books is The First Heretic. This is the fourteenth book in The Horus Heresy series and is written by Aaron Dembski-Bowden.
This book is one fans of Warhammer 40k should absolutely read. But first you want to make sure you have a thorough understanding of both the 40k-verse and prequel setting of The Horus Heresy series. That’s because in this book the backstory to the Horus Heresy is finally revealed with the explanation of the manipulations that led to Horus’ fall and subsequent the civil war.
It begins amidst the galaxy-wide war of the Great Crusade, as the Emperor castigates the Word Bearers for their worship. Distraught at this judgement, Lorgar and his Legion seek another path while devastating world after world, venting their fury and fervour on the battlefield.
Their search for a new purpose leads them to the edge of the material universe. That is where they meet ancient forces far more powerful than they could have imagined. Having set out to illuminate the Imperium, the corruption of Chaos takes hold and their path to damnation begins.
But unbeknownst to the Word Bearers, their quest for truth contains the very roots of heresy…
9. The Flight of The Eisenstein by James Swallow
The ninth best Warhammer 40k book on our list is the fourth book in The Horus Heresy series. The first book after the original opening prequel trilogy has a 4.03 average rating on Goodreads. With the title of this character, Eisenstein, you can see some of parodical origins of the series.
It begins with Death Guard Captain Garro witnessing the events on Istvaan III. Consequently, he seizes a ship and heads to Terra to warn the Emperor of Horus’s treachery. But the fleeing Eisenstein suffers damage by enemy fire, and becomes stranded in the warp.
Can Garro and his men survive the depredations of Chaos and get his warning to Terra in time?
Not only does this novel continue the story from the epic opening trilogy, it also introduces one of the key figures of the series to come: Nathaniel Garro. His destiny might be murky (and clad in grey), but in this book he’s a simple Death Guard captain. Find out what drove him from his Legion with this book. Also, Rogal Dorn finds out about Horus’ treachery.
8. A Thousand Sons by Graham McNeill
This is the twelfth book in The Horus Heresy series and the second title on our list by author Graham McNeill. It has a 4.27 average rating on Goodreads.
A Thousand Sons is described as one of the most tragic tales of the entire Horus Heresy as the Sons are brought low by their relentless quest of knowledge.
Censured at the Council of Nikea for his flagrant use of sorcery, Magnus the Red and his Thousand Sons Legion retreat to their homeworld of Prospero. Once there, they continue their use of the arcane arts in secret.
But then the ill-fated primarch forsees the treachery of Warmaster Horus. When he warns the Emperor with the very powers he was forbidden to use, the Master of Mankind dispatches fellow primarch Leman Russ to attack Prospero itself.
But Magnus has seen more than the betrayal of Horus. The witnessed revelations will change the fate of his fallen Legion, and its primarch, forever.
Magnus is sure that he knows better than the Emperor, but isn’t that what caused Horus to fall as well?
7. Ravenor by Dan Abnett
The seventh best Warhammer 40k book with a 4.25 average rating on Goodreads is Ravenor by Dan Abnett. This is the first in the Ravenor trilogy.
However, it is important to read the Eisenhorn series before you move onto this series. So make sure you keep reading to find out, spoiler alert, where that series ends up on our list.
In the war-torn future of the 41st Millennium, the Inquisition fights a secret war against the darkest enemies of mankind — the alien, the heretic, and the daemon.
When Inquisitor Gideon Ravenor and his band of lethal operatives are drawn into a conspiracy to spread the taint of Chaos across a sector, their investigations take them into the gravest peril through space and even time. Wherever they go, and whatever dangers they face, they will never give up until their mission succeeds.
The Ravenor Omnibus contains the complete story of Gideon Ravenor’s greatest triumphs and failures. It brings together a cast of compelling characters thrust into a mission that tests all of them to their limits. None of them are quite what they seem, and all of them have a story to tell.
And some of those stories are brutal and end very, very messily…
6. False Gods by Graham McNeill
The second book in The Horus Heresy series lands as the sixth best Warhammer 40k book on our list. False Gods has a 4.10 rating on Goodreads. Once again, this is a prequel to events which take place in the 41st Millennium.
In this book, the Great Crusade that has taken humanity into the stars continues. The Emperor of mankind has handed the reins of command to his favoured son, the Warmaster Horus. Yet all is not well in the armies of the Imperium.
Horus is still battling against the jealousy and resentment of his brother primarchs. Then, when he is injured in combat on the planet Davin, he must also battle his inner daemons. With all the temptations that Chaos has to offer, can the weakened Horus resist?
The seeds of Horus’s betrayal are planted here, and the true nature of the universe revealed. Also, one of the most reviled villains, Dark Apostle Erebus of the Word Bearers, reveals his true colours, and becomes the Space Marine you love to hate…
5. Galaxy in Flames by Ben Counter
Next on our list is the third book in The Horus Heresy series. Galaxy in Flames has an average rating of 4.10 on Goodreads.
This book wraps up the original opening trilogy of this series, which sets the tone for the rest of the Horus Heresy books. However, keep reading to find out where the first book in the original trilogy lands on our list of the best Warhammer 40k books.
In this book Warmaster Horus has recovered from his grievous injuries. So he leads the triumphant Imperial forces against the rebel world of Isstvan III.
Though the rebels are swiftly crushed, Horus’s treachery is finally revealed when the planet is razed by virus bombs. Consequently, Space Marines turn on their battle-brothers in the most bitter struggle imaginable.
4. Fulgrim by Graham McNeill
The fourth best Warhammer 40k book on our list is the fifth book in The Horus Heresy. It takes place in the 31st Millennium as humanity is at the peak of its powers. It has an average rating of 3.99 on Goodreads.
The Great Crusade, led by Warmaster Horus, continues to conquer the galaxy. Meanwhile, Fulgrim, Primarch of the Emperor’s Children, leads his warriors into battle against a vile alien foe. But pride comes before a fall, and this most proud of Legions is about to fall a very, very long way…
That’s because from the blood of this campaign are sown the seeds that will lead this proud Legion to treachery, taking them down the darkest of paths of corruption. Leading up to the carnage of the Dropsite Massacre on Isstvan V, this is the tale of Fulgrim’s tragic fall from grace.
Loyalties are tested, and every murderous whim indulged as the Emperor’s Children take their first steps down the road to true corruption. A road that will ultimately lead them to the killing fields of Isstvan V…
3. For the Emperor by Sandy Mitchell
Our next title on the list of the best Warhammer 40k books is slightly different from the other recommendations. That’s because this book, the first in the Ciaphas Cain series, offers somewhat of a reprieve within this grimdark universe. For the Emperor by Sandy Mitchell and the other books in this series, at least relatively, have a more light-hearted feel.
This book introduces readers to the unique hero of Commissar Ciaphas Cain and his trusty Valhallans. It includes such characters as the obnoxious Corporal Sulla and Cain’s malodorous aide Jurgen.
On an Imperial outpost world on the fringes of tau space, the renowned Commissar Ciaphas Cain and his fractious regiment of Valhallan Guard, newly created from the remnants of two devastated units, find themselves in the middle of a war. As the Astra Militarum struggle to contain worldwide civil insurrection, can the wily Commissar Cain identify the real villain before the planet is lost to the Imperium forever?
2. Horus Rising by Dan Abnett
Of course, with all the other Horus Heresy titles on this list, it would be impossible not to mention the very first in the series. It lands in the second spot on our list and winds the clock back to where it all began. Horus Rising by Dan Abnett has an average rating of 4.21 on Goodreads.
It is the origin story of Horus. He was the hero, humanity’s greatest champion, and the Emperor’s favoured son. But then it all went horribly, tragically wrong in a galactic civil war that threatens to bring about the extinction of humanity…
It is the 31st Millennium. After thousands of years of expansion and conquest, the human Imperium is at its height. Under the benevolent leadership of the Immortal Emperor, the Imperium of Man has stretched out across the galaxy. It is a golden age of discovery and conquest.
But now, on the eve of victory, the Emperor leaves the front lines, entrusting the great crusade to his favourite son, Horus. Promoted to Warmaster, can the idealistic Horus carry out the Emperor’s grand plan, or will this promotion sow the seeds of heresy amongst his brothers?
1. Xenos by Dan Abnett
Then, finally, the best Warhammer 40k book on our list is Xenos by Dan Abnett, which is the first book in the Eisenhorn series. It has an average rating of 4.17 on Goodreads and for good reason. Xenos is the most approachable entry point into the universe from one of the most beloved authors.
Just like in the other books, there will be familiar mentions to those already well-versed with the setting. But Abnett’s writing makes everything easy to understand for newcomers as well. This is also a series that gets better as it progresses, after a very strong start, with fascinating character development.
The Inquisition moves amongst mankind like an avenging shadow, striking down the enemies of humanity with uncompromising ruthlessness. Then, when he finally corners an old foe, Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn is drawn into a sinister conspiracy.
As events unfold, he gathers allies — and enemies. Eisenhorn faces a vast interstellar cabal and the dark power of daemons, all racing to recover an arcane text of abominable power: An ancient tome known as the Necroteuch.
Final thoughts on the best Warhammer 40k books
In conclusion, here is a wrap-up of the best Warhammer 40k books. These titles have been pulled using Goodreads data and the Black Library website to compile the most popular books, as well as the best introductions to certain eras or factions.
- Xenos by Dan Abnett (2001)
- Horus Rising by Dan Abnett (2006)
- For the Emperor by Sandy Mitchell (2003)
- Fulgrim by Graham McNeill (2007)
- Galaxy in Flames by Ben Counter (2006)
- False Gods by Graham McNeill (2006)
- Ravenor by Dan Abnett (2004)
- A Thousand Sons by Graham McNeill (2010)
- The Flight of The Eisenstein by James Swallow (2007)
- The First Heretic by Aaron Dembski-Bowden (2010)
- Prospero Burns by Dan Abnett (2011)
- First and Only by Dan Abnett (1999)
- Legion by Dan Abnett (2008)
- Titanicus by Dan Abnett (2008)
- The Uriel Ventris Chronicles: Volume One by Graham McNeill (2019)
- The Talon of Horus by Aaron Dembski-Bowden (2014)
- Soul Hunter by Aaron Dembski-Bowden (2010)
- Enforcer: The Shira Calpurnia Omnibus by Matthew Farrer (2010)
These books are some of the best grimdark reads on the market. The war scenes are brutal and graphic, but the books are written by phenomenal authors who bring the characters to life. A best Warhammer 40k books list is almost a best of Dan Abnett list with his massive contribution to the world.
The universe is also ever-expanding, so it can feel overwhelming to know where or how to begin with the books, whether you’re looking to supplement the games or a complete newcomer. This list of the best Warhammer 40k books, plus a handful of prequel books from The Horus Heresy series, will set you up well with a thorough understanding on the world.
From there you can determine which factions interest you the most. Then you can delve even deeper into the lore and universe.