Hello 40k (and 30k) fans! Chris Morgan, Chief Librarian of the Forge the Narrative Podcast, is here again with the next weekly segment of Tomes of the Librarius. Also, check the Tactics Corner for more great articles!
Just as a reminder, in this series we will explore facets of the history and legends of the Grimdark. This is meant to be an easy summary and introduction geared towards new players or people unfamiliar with the setting, but should still be an interesting read or fun refresher for those already familiar. There’s so much detail in this lore that a bare summary seems so inadequate, but for new people this should be the right portion to get a feel for the history of the universe we enjoy our games in.
Last week we got into five books that are some of my favorite faction-oriented novels in the 40k universe. This week I want to respond to several requests I’ve gotten about which are my favorite books in the Horus Heresy series. With that in mind, I put this list together of books I think were the most influential to me. Its a given that Fear to Tread by James Swallow was an important book for me as a die-hard Blood Angels fan, so I took it for granted that you folks would know that I like that and instead focused on some other books that really sparked my imagination and made me fall in love with the Horus Heresy setting. With that in mind – and in no particular order – here are my top five Horus Heresy novels.
Betrayer by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
This is another example of a book I read from a ‘know your enemy’ standpoint, and like many others by this author I found myself sucked in to the deeper complexities beyond what were previously only regarded as one-dimensional factions. In particular, the World Eaters legion finally gets its due from a storytelling perspective. It doesn’t mean I like them, but this book gave me the empathy I needed to see them for more than just cartoony berserkers. Some would pair this with The First Heretic, which was the equivalent treatment for Word Bearers by the same author, but in my mind Betrayer stands far above it. Also, Erebus is a tool.
Horus Rising by Dan Abnett
There’s an old childhood saying that goes: ‘First the worst and last the best of all the game’ and it could never be more preposterously and incorrectly applied than in this case. No single book (or opening trilogy) does more to set up how tragic the fall of the Imperium was more than this book, which provides a framework for the entirety of the 40k setting to come. This sets the stage for the whole series, and I think I’ve re-read it somewhere in the five or six range, and have bought this book for myself and others four times. If you don’t start with this book in the Horus Heresy series, then you’re doing it wrong.
Master of Mankind by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
What did the Emperor set out to do, and what was really the greatest cost of Horus’ betrayal? This book spells it out the best, and while staying shy of the Emperor’s point of view, you get a peek at the grandiose scale of his plan and what he is willing to sacrifice to preserve it. If you come for the concept, you stay for the characters. Even the ‘nemesis’ of this novel is dynamic and oozes with a wrongness and evil that is so compelling and personal. Really, you should check this out.
A Thousand Sons – Graham McNeill
I love the journey this book took me on. The first time I read this one, I was enthralled my Magnus’ magesty, vision, and brilliance. His sheer mental moxy was intoxicating, and then you watch it all come crashing down in a cascade of guilt, deception, failure, and betrayal. The second time I was much more cynical as I felt I saw right through Magnus and his folly, hubris, and vanity. Each time I read it, it was great and an awesome trip with some excellent lore building, characters, and definitely ties in strongly to the central narrative of the Horus Heresy.
Unremembered Empire – Dan Abnett
It always feels special when a Primarch is in a book, but when there are five its a real treat. This book sets up an important act in the series and begins the process of explaining what some of the legions trapped behind the ruinstorm were doing during the middle years of the Horus Heresy. Many of the later books in the series hinge off of the events of this novel, and the fates of several of these primarchs (key characters in any situation) springboard from the setting this creates. There are some really great tense moments in this novel, and there are some amazing and controversial revelations brought to the forefront for the reader to wrestle with. Definitely give this a read!
With the holiday season in full swing here in the United States, life it getting a bit more busy so there might be some gaps in these articles. Even so, I’m very interested in what you guys are interested in hearing about. What are your favorite HH books? What are some lore topics that you are interested in hearing about in more detail in the future? Let me know in the comments! I hope all of you are able to enjoy the next month in safety and happiness with families, friends, and dice.
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