Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics. For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, participants are given a genre freebie, where they pick a genre and built a post/list around it. While I had a few ideas for this list, I decided to put some of my recent obsessive reading to good use and take look at my absolute favourite Warhammer 40,000 tie-in novels.
For those unfamiliar with the franchise, Warhammer is a long-running extended universe that is based around a series of miniature table-top games. Started by Games Workshop decades ago, Warhammer in its various forms has a large and dedicated following to it, and there are several existing or defunct games associated with the franchise, including Warhammer Fantasy, Age of Sigmar, Warhammer 30,000 – The Horus Heresy, Blood Bowl, Necromunda, and more. The most iconic of these is probably the futuristic Warhammer 40,000 franchise which is set millennia in the future and details a grim-dark universe where multiple factions engage in massive wars and battles. Many of the above games are set in and around the larger Warhammer 40,000 universe, and there have been various versions and editions to the rules throughout the decades.
Throughout its run, the various Warhammer games have produced a vast amount of lore to provide background information and intriguing extra details around the various armies and characters players could use. As the years went on, this lore got more elaborate and it formed an intriguing universe around the games, which resulted in the creators creating a ton of extra content like novels, comics, animation, video games, and more. All the Warhammer tabletop games have some form of extended lore around it, with the most impressive wrapping around the Warhammer 40,000 universe. There is a ton of Warhammer 40,000 books and comics out there, with a massive team of great authors contributing more and more to it every year. This franchise is only going to get bigger in the future, especially after the recent announcement that Amazon has bought the film and television rights to Warhammer 40,000. A such, I have seen a ton of extra posts and questions online about Warhammer fiction in recent months and I thought this would be a good opportunity to publish a list about my favourite Warhammer 40,000 books to provide some ideas for new readers looking to explore this universe.
I personally have been a fan of the Warhammer franchise for years, ever since my parents got me into it as a child. While I primarily played the now defunct Warhammer Fantasy game (Empire and Lizardmen for the win), I was always more into the background lore than the actual painting, and I had a lot of fun with that when I was younger. I did take a bit of a break from the game and universe for a while, but in recent years I have come back to the franchise with a vengeance and started really diving into the associated books. Be it nostalgia or an appreciation for the elaborate nature of this universe, but I have been loving all the cool books associated with the games, and I deeply appreciate the sheer range of intriguing and powerful stories that have been built around it, as well as the excellent collection of talented authors writing them. I have also deeply enjoyed the intriguing sub-genres that have been fit into this wider universe, as, in addition to the more common military fiction, there are also clever thrillers, unique character studies, elaborate crime fiction books, and even some freaky horror reads.
While I have read several Warhammer Fantasy novels, my main fiction focus has been on the Warhammer 40,000 novels, as that is where the main bulk of the current books has been released (plus I’m not too interested in Age of Sigmar). I have kind of gone a little overboard with Warhammer 40,000 fiction in the last year or so, and I ended up reading a huge amount of current and older books, including entries from some of the most iconic book series in Warhammer 40,000 fiction. This has only increased in the last month or so when I first had the idea for this list, and I have read quite a few Warhammer books in the start of 2023.
As such, I had a lot of potential books to use for this list and this is where things admittedly got a little away from me as I had a hard time determining only 10 books for this list. So, as I’m a bit of a softie and a huge Warhammer nerd, I decided to expand this out to a top 20 list instead, which gave me a lot more options to work with. I also decided to compact several books from the same series (and written by the same author) into a single entry to increase variety, which I think worked out well. I still had several hard decisions to make, and I ended up cutting several outstanding novels from this list. Still, I’m pretty happy with how my Top 20 list turned out and there are so many exceptional and epic novels I would strongly recommend. So let us find out what made the cut.
Top 20 List (no particular order):
Eisenhorn trilogy by Dan Abnett
The first entry on this list is the iconic and epic Eisenhorn trilogy by legendary Warhammer author Dan Abnett. Generally considered one of the most influential authors of Warhammer fiction, Abnett has written several key series and novels in this canon and the Eisenhorn books are some of his finest work. Made up of Xenos, Malleus and Hereticus, this series follows the titular Inquisitor Eisenhorn who investigates several complex conspiracies while trying to keep the Imperium of Man safe. However, along the way he starts making dark compromises and deals to fight the forces of Chaos, which slowly corrupts him. Providing an outstanding mixture of elaborate stories, impressive characters and some epic moments, the Eisenhorn trilogy is damn near perfect and I have had a wonderful time getting through it. Easily one of the best Warhammer series out there, the Eisenhorn novels are a must-read, and there is a reason why most fans recommend it as a brilliant starting Warhammer 40,000 fiction starting point.
Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker by Steve Parker
Next, I want to highlight the book that pretty much started my current obsession with Warhammer fiction, Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker by Steve Parker. An intriguing and action-packed novel that follows a small team of Deathwatch Space Marines as they infiltrate a Tau held planet and attempt to pull of an assassination. Loaded with combat, intense personal moments, and a compelling look at both the Deathwatch and the Tau, Shadowbreaker is a great read that swiftly drew me in and had me hooked.
Ghazghkull Thraka: Prophet of the Waaagh! by Nate Crowley
For readers looking for something a little less human-focussed, Ghazghkull Thraka: Prophet of the Waaagh! is the perfect book. A unique retelling of iconic ork character Ghazghkull Thraka’s origin story, this fantastic novel presents a powerful and instantly compelling story that shows a far deeper side to the ork boss and his followers. Crowley expertly utilises a series of distinctive perspectives to tell a particularly striking story, and I loved the fun combination of serious elements and humorous undertones. I had a brilliant time with this novel and it ended up being one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2022. Highly recommended, especially on audiobook due to the amazing team of talented narrators the recruited to voice it.
The Wraithbone Phoenix by Alec Worley
One of the things that I most love about Warhammer 40,000 fiction is the sheer range of different stories that can be featured in this universe. Probably the best example of this is the Warhammer Crime subseries that set a series of powerful crime fiction novels in a futuristic and corrupt Warhammer 40,000 city. The first one of these that I read was The Wraithbone Phoenix by Alec Worley, which features a fast-paced, crime thriller romp as several teams of over-the-top criminals fight to recover a mysterious McGuffin, the titular Wraithbone Phoenix. The story primarily focuses on the hilarious team of thieving ratling (a futuristic halfling/hobbit) and an enlightened Ogryn (ogre), who find themselves caught in the middle of the heist and hunted by everyone. Fun, intense and surprisingly moving, this was an amazing book, and readers should also check out Worley’s short audiobook, Dredge Runners, which serves as an exceptional prequel.
Assassinorum: Kingmaker by Robert Rath
Another Warhammer 40,000 novel from last year that topped my best of lists was the insanely good Assassinorum: Kingmaker by talented author Robert Rath. Following three ultra-elite assassins, Kingmaker showcases their mission to assassinate a king and bring a new era to a feudal Imperial Knight planet. The only problem is that their target is permanently bonded to a giant mecha, and there are far darker secrets hidden on the planet than they realised. This book was highly addictive from the very start and I cannot emphasise how impressively amazing the narrative was. You really get attached to the major characters, and I loved all the epic mecha-on-mecha fights than ensued. A top read from one of the franchises fastest rising stars.
Storm of Iron by Graham McNeill
From cool assassins to brutal sieges, my next entry is the awesome epic Storm of Iron by the legendary Graham McNeill. Storm of Iron is a powerful and intense read that chronicles a deadly futuristic siege of a legendary citadel by the Iron Warriors Chaos Space Marines, the galaxy’s most accomplished siege experts. What follows is a brutal and lengthy siege novel that sees both sides engage in a hellish campaign to try and survive. Cleverly showcasing both sides and providing some great context to the antagonists, this is a particularly fun book that is easily one of the best siege novels I have ever read.
Kal Jerico: Sinner’s Bounty by Josh Reynolds
While Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker was the first new Warhammer 40,000 novel I read, Sinner’s Bounty was the book that sealed my fate and ensured I would get hooked on this franchise again. Set in the Necromunda sub-series/game, Sinner’s Bounty presents a whole new adventure from one of the franchise’s best characters, bounty hunter Kal Jerico, as he follows a notorious criminal into the darkest parts of the massive Necromunda hive city. A massively entertaining romp that features multiple teams of bounty hunters, an army of mutants, and all manner of monsters in the dark sewers of the city, Sinner’s Bounty is so much damn fun and I loved seeing my favourite character back in action. I hope we get more Kal Jerico books in the future, but in the meantime Sinner’s Bounty an amazing read that perfectly showcases one of the franchises best settings and protagonists.
Gaunt’s Ghosts series – Dan Abnett
There was no way I could exclude Dan Abnett’s other iconic series, the Gaunt’s Ghosts books from this list. Generally considered one of the key pillars of Warhammer 40,000 fiction and essential reading for all newcomers to the franchise, the Gaunt’s Ghosts books follow the Tanith First and Only, a small regiment from a destroyed planet fighting in a deadly crusade. Containing great characters, compelling storylines, and a gritty examination of the common Imperial soldier’s life, the Gaunt’s Ghosts books are pretty damn captivating and I have had a great deal of fun with them. So far, I have only read the first two books, First and Only and Ghostmaker, as well as the prequel novel, The Vincula Insurgency, but my major reading priority in the future is to dive even further into the series. Despite not finishing it yet, this is still clearly one of the best Warhammer series out there and I would strongly recommend it to anyone wanting to learn more about this cool universe.
The Bookkeeper’s Skull by Justin D. Hill
While quite a few Warhammer novels have a certain horror element to them, especially when dealing with daemons, mutants and monsters, there is a fantastic subseries of books that go even deeper, with the Warhammer Horror novels. I haven’t read too many of these yet, but the first one I got into was pretty damn epic and worthy inclusion of this list, the fantastically named The Bookkeeper’s Skull by acclaimed author Justin D. Hill. A short, but very effective novel, The Bookkeeper’s Skull follows a rookie enforcer on an agricultural world who travels to an isolated farm experiencing problems. However, he is unprepared for the deadly murders, self-mutilating cultists, and other bizarre incidents infecting the farm. Hill paints a pretty grim atmosphere for this brutal story and it is very easy to power through this amazing novel in one terrifying sitting.
While most Warhammer novels tries to capture the gritty realities of war, few have succeeded as well as Andy Clark’s 2022 novel, Steel Tread. Set within the close confines of a tank, the book sees a crew of large personalities try to survive each other amid a destructive and terrifying warzone. A super intense and deeply personal novel, I had an exceptional time with Steel Tread and it was one of the best soldier-focused Warhammer 40,000 novels I have had the pleasure of reading.
The Twice-Dead King books – Nate Crowley
The next entry is another joint entry featuring the two The Twice-Dead King novels by Nate Crowley, Ruin and Reign. A Necron focussed series, The Twice-Dead King follows a fallen Necron prince who battles to regain his power and throne when a deadly invasion of humans threatens his realm. Providing one of the deepest examinations of the intriguing Necron faction in all of Warhammer fiction, you really get to understand this complex race, especially when they are faced with their own terrifying internal demons. This book powerfully showcases Crowley’s talent for diving into alien races with his writing and you come away from these books extremely moved and highly impressed with just how good Warhammer fiction can be.
For The Emperor by Sandy Mitchell
Easily one of the funniest Warhammer novels I have ever read was the brilliant and compelling read, For the Emperor by Sandy Mitchell. The first book in the long-running and beloved Ciaphas Cain series, For the Emperor follows the adventures of Commissar Ciaphas Cain, one of the Imperium’s greatest heroes. However, it is soon revealed that Cain is a manipulative coward who actively tries to avoid combat, only to end up in even worse situations. Mitchell paints a pretty hilarious picture around this scenario, and the end result is just spectacular and side-splittingly funny. An exceptional and fun novel that serves as a great introduction to the Ciaphas Cain novels, while also showing just how impressive and varied this franchise can be.
Another great Warhammer Crime novel I had to feature here was Grim Repast by Marc Collins. Utilising the format of a dark, noir-inspired psychological thriller book, Grim Repast sees a damaged detective attempt to stop brutal serial killer who is stealing people’s organs in his run-down part of the city. However, his investigations reveal some very dark secrets about the city’s ruling class which he is forced to face on his own. A particularly intense Warhammer novel that successfully combines excellent and twisty crime fiction elements with the grim setting, Grim Repast was an excellent read that successfully stands out from the other Warhammer Crime books.
In my opinion, one of the best rising authors of Warhammer fiction now must be the intriguing author Denny Flowers, whose second book, Outgunned, so deeply impressed me last year. While Flowers’ first book, Fire Made Flesh, was a great Necromunda novel, it pales in comparison to Outgunned which had me hooked very early on. Outgunned follows an Imperial propaganda specialist who arrives on a swampy battlefield to film inspiration footage of a legendary fighter pilot as she battles an ork invasion. However, nothing goes to plan as the protagonist soon discovers that his preferred subject is an arrogant drunkard, the planet has a great deal of secrets and the orks are actually winning the war. A brilliant and intense novel that not only featured a ton of great aerial combat, but which also dives into some very dark places that shows just how far humanity has fallen in the far future. Highly recommended.
The Infinite and The Divine by Robert Rath
The most recent Warhammer novel I have read was another outstanding novel from Robert Rath, The Infinite and The Divine. Focussed on two compelling and brilliant Necron characters, The Infinite and The Divine showcases the legendary feud between them as they spend thousands of years battling over a recovered artefact and its secrets. Devolving into quite a petty scrap at times, The Infinite and The Divine is one of the funniest and cleverest Warhammer 40,000 books out there as it makes excellent use of humour, intense lore, and some very serious moments to tell a unique and memorable tale. I had an exceptionally fun time with The Infinite and The Divine, and it is a fantastic novel for all Warhammer fans.
Catachan Devil by Justin Woolley
Justin Woolley pulled out a great novel last year with Catachan Devil, a brutal, intense and surprisingly funny military fiction read. The brief of the novel was to highlight the distinctive Imperial Guard regiment, the Catachan Jungle Fighters, which Woolley does extremely well, using three different characters with their own unique views on the regiment to explore their actions and techniques. However, the genius of this book lies in its third main character, an ork who grows obsessed with tactics and the Catachan’s fighting style and start utilising it against his rivals and the Catachans themselves. This results in some hilarious and fun moments, especially as the antagonist turns into a major fanboy of his intended victims, and the resulting story is an exceptional and amazing read.
The Warhammer Crime hits keep on coming with Flesh and Steel by renowned author Guy Hayley. This compelling read acts a bit of an odd-couple, buddy cop story when two very different detectives are forced to team up to investigate a dismembered body left across a city border. Mixing some fantastic comedy with some pretty dark and horrific elements, Flesh and Steel provided one of the best character-focused stories in the Warhammer Crime range and I was deeply impressed with how everything unfolded. A key Warhammer Crime read and one that I have a great deal of affection for.
Day of Ascension by Adrian Tchaikovsky
A great example of the impressive talent that this franchise attracts can be seen in the 2022 novel, Day of Ascension, written by highly renowned author Adrian Tchaikovsky, making his Warhammer debut. Day of Ascension was a short and sweet novel which sets the robotic and callus Adeptus Mechanicus against a revolution started by a dangerous Genestealer Cult. Featuring Tchaikovsky’s flair for highlighting alien mindsets and cultures, there are some very clever divergent perspectives in this novel, and I loved diving into the distinctive minds of two very different types of human hybrids. Successfully introducing a great talent to the franchise, Day of Ascension is a brilliant read and one that I had an epic time with.
Next up we have the first Last Chancer novel, 13th Legion, that perfectly adds in some expendable space convicts to a desperate military fiction narrative. Written by another iconic Warhammer fiction author, Gav Thorpe, 13th Legion follows the 13th Penal Legion who are forced to participate in a series of suicidal missions to gain their freedom and redemption. Essentially The Dirty Dozen in space, 13th Legion is an exciting and entertaining novel with a very high body count, that I honestly could not put down.
The final entry on this list is the insanely good Warhammer Crime novel, Bloodlines by Chris Wraight. Following a cynical, veteran detective as he is dragged into a problematic missing person’s case, Bloodlines soon devolves into a hard tale of rich privilege and gangster violence as the protagonist refuses to stop investigating a crooked corporation. Probably one of the best pure crime fiction novels in this range, I loved the clever conclusion to the narrative and Bloodlines is a really outstanding read, and one I am particularly keen for a sequel for (the protagonist has some dark secrets that need to come into the light). Highly recommended.
And that’s the end of my list. As you can see, I have quite a lot to say about Warhammer 40,000 fiction, and hopefully I haven’t gone too overboard here. All 20 of the above books/series come very highly recommended, and each of them would make an excellent addition to any budding Warhammer fans collection. Readers unfamiliar with this franchise should really consider giving it a try, especially before it becomes very mainstream in the future, and many of the above books are particularly fine entry points into this elaborate canon. I hope I’ve inspired at least one reader to embark on a Warhammer 40,000 adventure, and you honestly won’t be disappointed.