Warhammer 40k Lore -- Where to Start: Books
Warhammer's literature arm, The Black Library, has more than a hundred titles, and when you're new to 40k and only have the lore in the rulebook to guide you, it can be easy to get lost when fans start talking about the Horus Heresy or the Eye of Terror or the background of certain factions.
Every single Space Marine Legion has books dedicated to their history and backstory, and almost every Primarch has a book dedicated to him. Some of the more famous regiments of the Imperial Guard have many books describing their exploits, and even the Xenos races have books from their point of view.
So, with hundreds of books to choose from, and you, a relative newcomer to the Warhammer 40k universe, where do you start?
Here is a good Black Library reading list if you're just getting started. (We totally realize that there are a LOT of books here and you can't possibly get to them all before you begin playing in the hobby. So we've tried to break things down into subject areas and give you some reasons as to why you should read each one. Then you can choose!)
I'm including this first both because it's a great introduction to the Warhammer 40k universe but also because it's my favorite Black Library series, bar none.
Gregor Eisenhorn is an Inquisitor, and Inquisitors are among some of the most interesting characters in Warhammer 40k: they have a great deal of autonomy to move from place to place, to investigate mysteries at will, to aid Imperium factions when they see fit (or to purge the heretical members of those factions.) Inquisitors hold a great deal of power, but are also some of the most enigmatic characters in the lore.
With great action and political intrigue, and some of the best side characters (including some of the best female characters in all of the Black Library), it's definitely worth a read.
It's neck-and-neck between Eisenhorn and Gaunt's Ghosts as to which is the most iconic and beloved series in the Warhammer 40k universe. Led by Commissar Gaunt, the ghosts in question are the Imperial Guard regiment of the Tanith First and Only. These are more than just action novels--they are war novels. But while they deal with incredible battles against terrible odds, the books humanize the main characters. (Characters which, in the new WarhammerFest 2021, got their own model range.) Part Tom Clancy and part Dirty Dozen, the 15-book (!) series will drag you in and keep you breathless for more.
For a great introduction into the inner workings of a Space Marine Legion, this series of books following Uriel Ventris of the Ultramarines goes not just from battle to battle but from planet to planet. It also is a great introduction to the Chaos Space Marines.
If you read the Ultramarines Omnibus to get an idea of how the Space Marines operate, then reading Space Wolves will take you in a completely different direction. With a culture that is so completely foreign to the regimented world of the Ultramarines, and a battle doctrine that rejects the Codex Astartes, this is a truly foreign world. It's also centered, in part, on one of the most iconic Space Wolves, Ragnar Blackmane.
The Horus Heresy
If you really want to understand the lore of the Warhammer 40k universe, to get all the nitty-gritty details that lay the foundation for everything that will happen for the next 10,000 years, the Horus Heresy series will be for you. Be warned: it's a LONG series--more than 50 books. The good thing is that once you get the premise of the series under your belt you can skip around a bit to the factions (traitor and loyal) who interest you the most.
Admittedly, not every book is necessary to get a full picture of the Horus Heresy, the Siege of Terra, and the Great Crusade, but at the very least you need to read the first three books. Then, if you want to know more about the Space Wolves, there's a book about what the Space Wolves were doing during the heresy. Same goes for the Salamanders and the Blood Angels (and the Alpha Legion and the Word Bearers). You can go as deep into the weeds as you want with this series.
While not required reading by a long shot, this book is great because it's just so unique to the Black Library. It's Top Gun for Warhammer 40k enthusiasts. The air division of the Imperial Guard is fighting against a galaxy-renowned Chaos pilot Khrel Kas Obarkon. Worth reading for its completely different take on the world of Warhammer 40k combat.
We've all caught the occasional glimpse of a Warlord Titan, the biggest model that ForgeWorld sells, which is essentially a heavily armored cathedral on legs. But seeing as very few of us actually get to play with the titans in battle (unless we play the small scale Adeptus Titanicus) we never really get the feel and flavor of what combat between these colossal warmachines is really like. This book not only shows life on a Titan, but more of the perspective of the Adeptus Mechanicus.
Hero of the Imperium
For a completely different flavor of book, Hero of the Imperium brings a laughs and humor to the grim darkness of the 41st millennium. Following an Imperial Guard Commissar (not unlike Gaunt's Ghosts) this series is hilarious and clever in a way that we rarely see in a world so fraught with war and evil.
Path of the Seer
It wouldn't be a complete list if we didn't have some books from the point of view of the Xenos. It's hard to get into the heads of non-humans, but in this we follow Thrianna leaving a normal life and learning to use and embrace psychic abilities (and encountering all the horrors of the Warp in the process).
And as long as we're seeing the 40k universe through a different point of view, this book about the Night Lords follows Talos, a traitor marine who shares a trait with Konrad Kurze. It's rare to be able to relate to the Chaos Space Marines ever, but in this book you really find yourself rooting for Talos and his comrades.
That's where I think you should start getting into Warhammer 40k lore through the Black Library. What books do you recommend?