Let’s start with what this article isn’t. It isn’t a guide to getting into the modelling side of the Warhammer hobby. It isn’t a recommendation of places to start reading Black Library books either. If you’re interested in getting into the hobby side of things, then you’re in the same position as me, and there may just be something coming for you later in the month. And if it’s a starter guide to Black Library you’re after, then I refer you to this article from 2022.

So what is this article? Well, it’s a rundown of the stories from Black Library that I would consider essential to anyone who wants to understand Warhammer 40,000 as both a setting and a narrative. Clearly, you don’t need to read these books before going on to others. You can pick and read as you wish. Nor do I necessarily think that these books represent the very best of what Black Library have put out. there are novels in the universe that are excellent adventures and stories in their own right, but ultimately don’t further the universe.

I encourage people to read as much Warhammer fiction as they wish, and in the order of their choosing. But my Essential collection begins as follows.

Only War: Stories from the 41st Millennium
by Various Authors
Why it’s Essential: Only War does what it says on the tin. It’s an anthology of stories that cover multiple factions and gives a broad overview of the setting as a whole. It drives home just how much of a mess the universe really is, and gets you used to the idea that heroes don’t last very long, be it death or downfall that takes them. With an impressive roster of authors, it’s also a handy guide to help you pick out authors and series to look for as you journey through the grim dark future.

Sanction & Sin
by Various Authors
Why it’s Essential: Sanction & Sin is the perfect summary of the Warhammer Crime range. It has protagonists on both sides of the law, and has enough breadth to show you the level of corruption facing Varangantua. It is also notable for being the most female-driven anthology Black Library have put out to date, both in terms of authors and protagonists. As well as providing strong foundations for potential future Crime novels, it also puts the newer crop of Black Library authors to good use, allowing them to display their talents alongside a handful of stalwart favourites.

by Dan Abnett
Why it’s Essential: Xenos is arguably the most famous Warhammer novel out there. Written over twenty years ago, it set the tone for a lot of the next decade. It introduces readers to Inquisitors and heretics, placing paranoia and corruption at the forefront of the setting. every Inquisition novel since has lived in Abnett’s shadow, and Eisenhorn himself is the model against which all Inquisitors will inevitably be compared, for better and for worse.

Ephrael Stern: The Heretic Saint
by David Annandale
Why it’s Essential: Ephrael Stern: the Heretic Saint is the book that best demonstrates the power of faith in the Warhammer universe. Featuring as protagonist a warrior angel of the Emperor, it pits Imperial dogma against the demonstrably real power of the Chaos Gods. There’s more nuance than you might expect from a science fantasy novel, and it’s also a strong character study of Stern herself. Really, this is the book that best gets at the roots of what it means to live in a universe of gods and daemons.

Brutal Kunnin
by Mike Brooks
Why it’s Essential: Brutal Kunnin is proof that Warhammer can, on occasion, stay true to its roots. This is grimdark as the parody it originally portrayed itself as. While not taking itself too seriously, it’s a powerful reminder that just because a world is a little messed up, that doesn’t mean someone isn’t enjoying themselves. It is also one of the books that spearheaded a recent resurgence in non-Imperial protagonists. For that alone it is worthy of praise.

Avenging Son
by Guy Haley
Why it’s Essential: Avenging Son is the opening book in the ongoing Dawn of Fire series (currently at 6 books). It takes the lessons of the Horus Heresy and applies them to the modern version of the game, giving a narrative that actually has forward momentum, and potentially large ramifications for the setting as a whole. Game settings often feel static, but Avenging Son is proof that things can and do change.

The Bookkeeper’s Skull
by Justin D Hill
Why it’s Essential: The Bookkeeper’s Skull serves two functions on this list. First, it is a perfect example of Warhammer Horror done right. The Horror range has struggled with a lack of overall identity, but The Bookkeeper’s Skull is a testament to how disturbing the Warhammer universe can get. In addition, it’s a fascinating glimpse of life away from the frontline. For obvious reasons, much is made of the war in Warhammer, but even on farming worlds, there is still danger. A stark reminder that nowhere in the grim dark universe can truly be considered safe.

Dead Men Walking
by Steve Lyons
Why it’s Essential: Dead Men Walking is perhaps the best example of how even the heroes of the Imperium are dehumanised by the need for victory. It takes the human warriors of Krieg and pits them against the undead, robotic Necrons. Soon enough, both armies have become killing machines as faceless as each other. if ever you needed a reminder that humans aren’t the good guys of the setting, you’ll find it here. It’s bleak and harrowing stuff, as a war story should be.

2 responses to “AT BOUNDARY’S EDGE ESSENTIALS: Warhammer 40,000”

  1. Bookstooge Avatar

    Thanks for stating right up front what this post is not. That helped me get in hte right frame of mind.


  2. MONTHLY ROUNDUP: May 2023 – At Boundary's Edge Avatar

    […] AT BOUNDARY’S EDGE ESSENTIALS: Warhammer 40,000 […]


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