In the far future of the 41st millennium there is only war, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t time to enjoy a good tale or two. There’ve been lots of brilliant Warhammer 40k books over the decades, and many excellent sci-fi authors have lent their pens to this setting. In this guide we’ve gathered together a list of the best Warhammer 40k books in all of known space.
As you’d expect, Warhammer authors can take advantage of the detailed rosters of the tabletop game to deliver great action scenes, but the best Warhammer 40k books dive further, charting out new lore, and tackling the questions thrown up by its grimdark setting. Questions like: how does humanity react when pitted up against a terrifying hostile universe? Can you do the right thing in a flawed, often brutal system? When do the ends justify the means?
Sure, there can be great storytelling in tabletop wargames during play, but if you really want to get to grips with the Warhammer 40k universe, you’re going to have to step away from painting your latest batch of models, and do some reading. Diving into your first Warhammer 40k book is a time-honoured tradition for any Warhammer fan. The list of 40k books below should provide a great starting point. Most of these titles are available as audiobooks or eBooks over at Black Library, so however you like to read, you’re covered.
Oh, and if you want to get stuck into a really long series, we’d advise taking a look at out our guide to the Horus Heresy book order . But now for a list of greatest hits, let’s check out…
The best Warhammer 40k books and book series:
An often-recommended starting point for any fan looking for their first Warhammer 40k book, the Eisenhorn trilogy, by Dan Abnett, follows the career of an Imperial Inquisitor, Gregor Eisenhorn, as he tries to root out and curtail the influence of heretical forces.
Books rule: Warhammer 40k 9th edition Codex release dates
In the Eisenhorn trilogy, Abnett does a fantastic job of bringing a cast of likeable characters to life, while weaving in setting details that will excite Warhammer fans while not leaving newbies in the dark. It’s a must-read for fans of intrigue and adventure, and has interesting overarching themes, as Eisenhorn tackles threats that make him question his methods, and may force him to make unthinkable compromises.
Gaunt’s Ghosts Series
Another Abnett series (and you’ll see his name again before we’re through). Where Eisenhorn follows the exploits of a man wielding immense power and authority, Gaunt’s Ghosts takes us to the other end of the spectrum, following the average soldier of the Imperial Guard, who has to face impossible odds and probably meet a messy end on the battlefield.
This series is often described as Band of Brothers meets 40k, and chances are you’ll be cursing the author a few times throughout the book series when your favourite characters bite the dust. Nothing drills in the horror of the Warhammer 40k setting quite like the perspective of the Astra Militarum.
Ciaphas Cain Series
The Ciaphas Cain series, by Sandy Mitchell, is a more light-hearted set of Warhammer 40k books – quite the rare thing. It follows its titular main character, who’s basically 40k’s equivalent of Blackadder or Flashman, through all sorts of scrapes.
Ciaphas Cain is seen as a hero by the wider world, but in reality he’s something of a shirker, just trying to survive in a setting that seems pretty averse to the idea. Cain’s sardonic, sarcastic humour drives the series, and sets its slightly goofier tone, which can be refreshing when you’re tired of reading about people getting their legs chewed off by Orks or their eyeballs exploded by Chaos daemons. Plus, Cain is actually pretty cool at times, despite his self-proclaimed cowardice.
The Horus Heresy book series is something of a juggernaut among Warhammer 40k books, spanning 54 novels in total. That’s a lot of words for what is basically a prequel series, set 10,000 years before the world of Warhammer 40k as it exists today.
Where next: A guide to the best Horus Heresy book order
There’s much to recommend the series, though it has plenty of peaks and troughs along the way. If you want to dip your toe into these intimidating waters, there’s no better place to start than with book one. In Horus Rising, Abnett writes strong characterisation, and the expected solid action scenes, for godlike superhuman Space Marines.
Horus Rising will introduce you to the Warmaster Horus, and give you a who’s who of the other Primarchs and their legions, before any of them are corrupted and turn on the emperor. It sows the seeds for the long civil war that is to follow, and can’t be missed if you want to get the most out of this mahoosive series.
Grey Knights #1
If you’ve enjoyed Chaos Gate: Daemonhunter and want to know more about the daemon-hunting, battle-prayer shouting, semi-medieval legion of the Grey Knights, then this Warhammer 40k book by Ben Counter, simply titled ‘Grey Knights’ is the place to look.
Packed with action, from hostage scenes in highrise offices, to large scale spaceship battles, Grey Knights is classic Warhammer 40k pulp. It’s the start of a three-book series, but the first one is the best of the bunch. It peels back the curtain on one of the more mysterious subfactions of the Imperium and provides a closer look at the forces of chaos. Read with eyes half-lidded if you don’t want to fall prey to the corruption of the warp.