The Warhammer 40K universe is packed wall-to-wall with stories of humanity, aliens, love, loss, tragedy, and lots and lots of war. It’s an intimidating canon to approach, especially because so much of it is written by unreliable narrators. Instead of poring over tomes, it can be helpful to listen to the characters and get a sense of their poise, personality, and cadence. Here’s where audiobooks come in, and there’s a surprisingly deep library of Warhammer hits on Audible, which is offering a three-month free trial for new members until Feb. 20. After that, it’ll cost $14.95 per month to enjoy the content below.
These are the best titles on offer from a variety of perspectives, both heroic and villainous.
First and Only kicks off the multi-volume Gaunt’s Ghosts series, one that tells the story of the Tanith First and Only. The Tanith First are a group of skilled Imperial Guard soldiers from a rural, relatively peaceful world. These common folk are thrust Hobbit-like into one of the most treacherous frontlines: the Sabbat Worlds Crusade. If you’re looking for blood-and-guts close-quarters fighting with lots of bayonet charges, look no further.
Written by Dan Abnett (Warhammer 40,000: Darktide, Alien: Isolation), the books are inspired by the Sharpe series of novels by Bernard Cornwell, as well as a 1993 television series adaptation starring Sean Bean. The central character is Imperial commissar Ibram Gaunt, a political officer who is also a military leader, in the vein of the classic Russian commissars. Standout titles include Necropolis, Honour Guard, and Straight Silver. Like the Inquisition series that follows, and many other books on this list, the Audible version is performed spectacularly by Toby Longworth who, for all intents and purposes, is the modern voice of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. —Charlie Hall
The Inquisitor series: Eisenhorn, Ravenor, and Bequin
The Inquisitor Series is a brilliant trio of trilogies by author Dan Abnett that tells the story of the close-knit teams of undercover agents who pursue heresy in all its myriad forms within the empire. The books are gritty noir mysteries that place almost Dickensian period drama right next to heady science fiction themes.
The Eisenhorn Trilogy includes the books Xenos, Malleus, and Hereticus and tells the story Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn, an unconventional agent of the Imperium of Mankind. Expect a pulpy storyline with echoes of Blade Runner and The Young Pope.
Warhammer 40K: Eisenhorn trilogy
The Ravenor trilogy follows Eisenhorn’s protege, Gideon Ravenor, a powerful psyker who is grievously wounded and forced to eke out his existence inside a glorified coffin. The three books are titled Ravenor, Ravenor Returned, and Ravenor Rogue. Expect Cyberpunk 2077-style transhumanism mixed here with elements of Sherlock Holmes.
Warhammer 40K: Ravenor trilogy
Finally, the Bequin trilogy (Pariah, Penitent, and a soon-to-be-published third novel) tells the story of a member of Eisenhorn’s original warband, Alizabeth Bequin, whose unusual ability to negate and disrupt psychic energy makes her a sought-after agent by both the Imperium and the forces of Chaos. This trilogy links together both the Eisenhorn and the Ravenor series into a cohesive nine-book whole.
Warhammer 40K: Bequin trilogy
It’s also the rare example of a female lead in the Black Library, and is artfully performed on Audible by the incredible Helen Keeley. —CH
The Horus Heresy
Horus Rising is the first book in the massive 60-plus-volume series known as the Horus Heresy, and as far as I’m concerned, the most important novel in the entire series. Also written by Dan Abnett, it takes place around the year 30,000 and begins the story of the internecine conflict that will give birth to the eternal war of the 41st millennium.
What makes Horus Rising so special is that much of the narrative is delivered through the eyes of remembrancers — human analogs to modern-day writers, artists, and journalists — who are tasked with following along on a deployment of the Luna Wolves Space Marine chapter. The book also serves as an introduction to the erudite Horus Lupercal, the master tactician who will one day strike the fatal blow against his own father, the Emperor of Mankind. It’s best followed by False Gods by Graham McNeill and Galaxy in Flames by Ben Counter, and together the three novels comprise a solid little trilogy within the larger series.
The final novel in the trilogy also includes the titanic battle known as the Betrayal at Istvaan III, which is the set-piece battle that underpins both the Warhammer: The Horus Heresy and Adeptus Titanicus: The Horus Heresy tabletop games. —CH
Warhammer 40K: The Horus Heresy, books 1-3
Know No Fear is part of the larger Horus Heresy series, which is set 10,000 years before the current status quo of Warhammer 40K. The Ultramarines, a loyalist chapter of the Space Marines, have been lured into a trap. Their brothers, the Word Bearers chapter, have turned traitor and are now subjects of the ruinous powers of Chaos. Know No Fear is the historical documentation of their battle, along with personal notes from primarch Roboute Guilliman.
The novel, written by Dan Abnett, is largely credited with establishing the current tone of the Ultramarines, who are the poster boys of the Space Marines and a fan-favorite army. Captain Titus from the Space Marine games is an Ultramarine, and Ultramarine primarch Roboute Guilliman is one of the most important characters in modern-day 40K. Add in the historical documentation framing the narrative, and this book is a delightful listen for fans of battles and bolters. —Cass Marshall
Warhammer 40K: Know No Fear
Descent of Angels by Mitchel Scanlon is a bit of a departure from the mainline Horus Heresy series. The narrative takes place long before the Heresy itself unfolds on the distant planet Caliban, the eventual home of the Dark Angels chapter of Space Marines.
While it’s an outlier, both stylistically and temporally, including it here in our list serves two purposes. First, it will inform the reader on the backstory of the first legion of Space Marines, and provide a helpful framework for understanding just how estranged the Emperor of Mankind was from his primarch children once upon a time. Second, Descent of Angels helps to set the stage for the betrayal of the Dark Angels primarch Lion El’Jonson, once the Emperor’s favored son and perhaps — perhaps! — a soon-to-be-resurrected force to be reckoned with in the 41st millennium.
The story of the Dark Angels is dotted all throughout the Horus Heresy series from here, with several novels — including Angels of Caliban — that also move the chapter’s storyline forward in meaningful ways. —CH
Warhammer 40K: Dark Angels
Siege of Terra
The Solar War by John French begins the Siege of Terra sequence, the ultimate conclusion to the Horus Heresy. It kicks off with the spaceborn assault on the outer planets of the Sol system, including titanic fleet battles around the outer planets, before zooming into the conflict right around the Emperor’s Himalayan superfortress. There’s even an incredibly metal bit, midway through the book, where a prominent primarch rides his kilometers-long warship into battle while standing on its nose.
The Solar War also contains multiple passages told from the perspective of frontline Chaos Space Marine grunts, which gives the battles a bit more transparency than in previous novels. It also picks up the story of Mersadie Oliton, one of the more important remembrancers featured in Horus Rising, and works to bring the more mystical portions of the story to a satisfying conclusion.
The Siege of Terra series includes The Solar War, The Lost and the Damned, The First Wall, Saturnine, Mortis, Warhawk, Echoes of Eternity, and will conclude later this month with The End and the Death: Volume I, which is expected to include the climactic battle between Horus and the Emperor in detail. —CH
Warhammer 40K: Siege of Terra, books 1-3
Vaults of Terra
The Vaults of Terra series by Chris Wraight is a much more recent series of novels, compared to others on this list that were written nearly 20 years ago. It includes The Carrion Throne, The Hollow Mountain, and The Dark City. The Carrion Throne in particular stands out specifically because it revisits the Golden Throne — the mechanical contraption that keeps the God-Emperor of Mankind alive — during 40K’s current timeline.
This novel, more than any other novel I’ve read, brings the reader closest to the “modern day” Imperium of Man in the 41st millennium. While the Arks of Omen are steaming through space in the current-day storyline of Kill Team and Warhammer 40,000, this is a book about what’s happening on the homefront. Over a dozen hours, it does more to dispel some of the urban legends lurking in the corners of the Black Library than any other book I’ve read. I’m looking forward to spending time with the series as a whole before the end of the year. —CH
Warhammer 40K: Vaults of Terra
The Night Lords trilogy
The Night Lords trilogy is made up of Soul Hunter, Blood Reaver, and Void Stalker. These books, written by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, follows the tenth company of the Night Lords. These Chaos Space Marines aimlessly hunt their way through the edges of the Imperium, spreading terror but also fighting among themselves and fellow renegade warbands. At one point, they even meet the alien Eldar, and find themselves fleeing in turn.
Through their eyes, we see what life is like as a Chaos Space Marine. Because Chaos is such a central antagonist, it can all kind of blend together. But the Chaos Space Marines are interesting in their own right: the remnants of a failed civil war who scrap among themselves as often they fight loyalists. The Night Lords in particular are haunted by the curse of their dead primarch, the Night Haunter. The trilogy follows these doomed soldiers as they drift from objective to objective toward an inescapable fate. —CM
Warhammer 40K: Night Lords Trilogy
- Charlie Hall, senior editor, tabletop
- Cass Marshall, news writer