Now before I start this I want to give a little disclaimer, my knowledge of the 40k universe barely scrapes the surface, and even though everyone Ive ever chatted to from the 40k community has been awesome there’s always someone who wants to gatekeep. Gatekeeping sucks, you can be a fan and really enjoy something without needing to dedicate your life to the subject.
I believe, and I may be wrong, that Warhammer 40k still carries a lot of stigma with the general public, it’s pretty looked down on by a lot of people as one of the nerdiest of activities, but gives a damn what people think, honestly Games Workshop are a fantastic company (shoutout to my local store for being awesome people) and have done something truly great, the scope of this hobby is incredible, from the original tabletop game to video games, upcoming tv and film, board games and what we are here to talk about today, books. Now these books aren’t going to appeal to everyone, Warhammer 40k is war, it is ultimate grimdark, it is hardcore military action and its wonderful, if you’re a fan of military books, space operas and big sci-fi these are going to be a whole new untapped market of brilliance and you won’t be disappointed.
Listed on the Black Library website are 46 different authors, and that doesn’t count the contributors to the many short stories and anthologies, this isn’t just some simple world building, this is universe building, stories spanning across multiple races, millions of planets and light years of space, these authors working together to build off of each other’s work and filling out the story arc that game workshops tabletop game follows, giving it actual flesh and blood so instead of models on a table we have a universe rich with lore and adventure.
Now the size of 40k can be overly daunting, at this point we are on to the ninth edition of the tabletop and we are following the Indomitus Crusade as Gulliman the Avenging Son launches the greatest military campaign since his father, the Emperor of mankind 10000 years before. Do you need to know everything to dive in? No. Do you even need to know a lot about the current releases? No. 40k is pretty easy to get into and here’s a couple of YouTube videos I would recommend if you’re a complete beginner,
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MeVxKZBOfM – The Horus Heresy in 60 seconds if you want a really brief and basic look into the Imperium
Now if you want something a little more detailed then Luetin09 is a fantastic youtuber who does excellent lore videos that you can easily end up falling into the YouTube ‘rabbit hole’.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmZcIX5PEyo – Luetin09’s What is Warhammer 40k? is an excellent 20-minute video that gives you enough information to understand the world of 40k and begin learning.
And honestly, the community have done a excellent job with their own Wikipedia, https://wh40k.lexicanum.com/ , I find myself referring to this multiple times during a read to find out more information about some battle from 1000 years before or the difference between an Imperial guard boltgun and the full sized cannons that Space Marines call a boltgun (honestly it’s scary).
So, were to begin? There isn’t a right answer, you can really start anywhere you like, so instead here’s my recommendations, and again I would like to reiterate my knowledge of 40k and Black Library as a whole barely scratches the surface, but I know books, and these books are a incredible read regardless of your desire to fully get stuck into the Universe fully.
Dan Abnett is the king of 40k literature. That’s all, no counter point. End of the post.
But seriously. Dan Abnett has not only written a few of Black Libraries best books but I think he has written some of the best books Ive ever read and really deserves to be higher ranking in the lists of authors outside of the hobbies bubble.
Gaunt’s Ghosts by Dan Abnett
Inspired by Bernard Cornwall’s Sharp Series, Gaunt’s Ghost’s follows Ibram Gaunt and the Tanith First and Only, a regiment of soldiers conscripted to fight in the Sabbat Crusade, barely escaping off planet before the forces of Chaos burn their planet, now fighting their way through the Sabbat worlds to reclaim the sector from Chaos and maybe one day find a new place to call home. The big reason this is such an astounding series is instead of following the Emperors main boys, we follow the very human Imperial Guard, regiments of men and women without the genetic modifications that turn them into walking tanks, instead they live like us and they die as easily as us and Abnett does an incredible job of writing real people, he does a great job of showing their suffering, and then the small moments of joy and comradeship that comes with being brothers in arms, Abnett claws his way into you, emotionally investing you into their stories and refusing to let go. Gaunt’s Ghosts is sixteen books long, but one of the major joys of Black Library means they like to bundle their stories into nice chunky omnibuses. Can’t recommend these books enough.
Eisenhorn by Dan Abnett
The Inquisition are the Emperor’s secret police, terrifying boys and girls with almost unlimited power to do whatever is needed to protect the Imperium from the threats of Xenos filth, Heretic Scum and Chaos Demons. These books are perfect for any beginner or veteran alike as they blend the perfect balance of action, intrigue, and character building as we follow Gregor Eisenhorn’s fight to protect humanity with whatever means necessary. These books are so popular that we are getting our first Warhammer 40k tv adaption, think Sherlock Holmes in space with Boltguns and demons. Also, if you love this, follow up with Ravenor also written by Abnett, another series following Eisenhorn’s protégé as he battles similar threats.
The Soul Drinkers Omnibus by Ben Counter
There are a lot of Space Marine books, they are the poster boys of Games Workshop and honestly they deserve the attention they get and the books that have come from that are brilliant, The Space Wolves and The Blood Angel series are both favourites of mine, however, The Soul Drinkers omnibus was one of the first Black Library books I read and spawned a love for the genre that hasn’t ceased today. It follows the Soul Drinkers chapter, space marines who have been classified as heretics by the Imperium, you read about their struggles as they continue to fight for a people that no longer want them and will kill them regardless of their attempts to redeem themselves. This series does a great job of showing the human side of Space Marines, that ever after the indoctrination and genetic modifications that make them something different from me and you, they still have those parts of them somewhere, and there’s a crazy amount of action.
Which brings me to my mini review.
The Gate of Bones by Andy Clark.
The Gate of Bones is the second book of Black Libraries newest major series “A Dawn of Fire”, this is being toted as the Indomitus Crusades version of the Horus Heresy series and I’m super excited to see what we get from a brand-new storyline that doesn’t contain as much pre-existing Lore. The first book, Avenging Son, was a fantastic entrance to the series, introducing us properly to Roberte Gulliman, which was a massive bonus for those that haven’t paid a massive amount of attention to Games Workshop newest story arc (such as myself), introducing the new Primaris Marines in all their glory, and setting the grandeur and scale for the task that was being taken by the Imperium. I would recommend reading up a little on the events that happened just before this however it isn’t fully necessary – https://warhammer40k.fandom.com/wiki/Era_Indomitus.
I always find it interesting reading these mega series from Black Library because you often get a different author each time, not only taking the resources of previous books, reintroducing old characters, and sharing story arcs as they become canon, but you also tend to get in some cases very different writing styles. Guy Haley and Andy Clark are both in my opinion very good at character development, both books did incredibly well at building the humanity behind the godlike figures that walk among us and delivering the absolute despair and grimdark nature of regular humans, both writing interesting POVs that don’t leave you bored when reading someone other than your favourite, and honestly that’s hard to do, especially when you look at the scope of these stories and the amount of time and space that they tend to cover. The Gate of Bones was my first story containing the Astarte Custodes, described as the children of the Emperor in the way the Space Marines are children of their Primarch’s, they share the Emperor’s blood line, they are in all ways more Impressive than the regular Astartes and Andy did a really impressive job of showing this. He managed to really show the difference between the Custodes and the Space Marines, up till this point there had been nothing in 40k that really made me see the Space Marines as anything but the almost invincible warriors they are. If the Space Marines are the Angels of Death, what are the Custodes? On top of these demi-gods Andy had to write characters from the side of Chaos which is always such a stark contrast from the Emperor loving Imperium forces, you get to see their hatred for the so-called Corpse God and what drives them towards their end goals. We also got a full Lance of Knights, the mini-Titans of the 40k universe, the fanatical Sisters of Battle and fantastic characters coming from the classic Imperial Guard that just bring the levelling needed so you remember the grimdark nature of 40k even with beautiful Golden Gods that stride across the fields of battle.
Andy’s writing style made this book a lot more of an interesting read for me over Avenging Son, the first book at times felt full of very unnecessary prose that just felt a little over the top, I understand it’s a hard balance because the world of 40k really does need the grandeur to properly explain it sometimes, Gulliman striding into a room demands the attention to detail that is warranted by a Primarch and Guy Haley did a fantastic job of writing Gulliman and the people surrounding him, but that isn’t maybe needed at every turn. Andy felt a lot more to the point, sparing no detail when needed but instead spending more time focusing on the plot and character development, this led to me feeling no inclination to skim over paragraphs like I did in the first book. He also did a great job of writing a tense and exciting plot, which I imagine is a struggle when your main character has full plot protection and a already summarised ending to the Era Indomitus supplied by Games Workshop codex’s, so to still write in a way that gives the reader concern’s about what might happen to Gulliman and to the crusade as a whole is something I find really impressive, and in general this is always something the Black Library authors have done so well, writing something that feels fresh and exciting when you already know the end game really shows the talents of these writers.
This book really had everything needed to meet the demand of the Black Library standard, tons of incredible action but also plenty of really strong character development that never felt boring or like you were being pulled away from the excitement. I can’t wait for the next story in this saga and will continue to follow the Dawn of Fire series eagerly.
Give Black Library a chance, regardless for your interest in the tabletop game the stories themselves are so good that they deserve the attention, and I can almost promise you will not be disappointed. Also, if it makes it helps, as far as I’m aware there are zero love triangles in any of the 40k books and if that isn’t a reason to read it I don’t know what is.