Xenos, Malleus, Hereticus, So We May Never Forget

Hello, it’s been a while since my last post, sorry about that, but here I am, back from the blogging equivilant of death.

I was recenty talking to a guy who had only been in a hobby a few years but told me his whole hobby revolved around the amazing backstory of 40K. This is something I always love to hear plus, he had been working on an Inquisitorial army, AWESOME!

So, without any thought, I leapt into my shpeel about the Eisenhorn Trilogy by Dan Abnett only to have him stop me and ask, what are these books? Followed by (and no, I am not joking) who is Dan Abnett? Now, striking another person is technically assault, and I have no wish to go to prison; however, I can honestly say I have never been so tempted to clobber someone before in my life!

Then it occured to me, we must have 40K players, (potentialy quite good ones) who still have not read the Eisenhorn Trilogy. I must say this worries me greatly, back when I started, I was sold of copy of each book before I’d even purchased a rulebook or any minis. The idea being that I would read the books, realise how awesome the story of 40K was and want to get stuck in.

Eisenhorn Trilogy Omnibus Cover

So, I asked some questions came up with some alarming results. 63% of people I asked that have started the hobby in the last 5 years hadn’t read a single black library book! (35% of the remaining people had read the Eisenhorn Trilogy, I don’t know what the other 2% have been reading). That’s 63% of my local hobbiests missing out on a massive section of the hobby!

The books the Black Library produce create a rich, vibrant enviroment for us to play out our bttles and create our armies in. Without these books, 40K as we know it wouldn’t exist. Therefore, I thought I would create a list of books that, I believe, were instrumental in creating the 40K universe we play in today.

At Number One: The Eisenhorn Trilogy by Dan Abnett
As one of the earliest released 40K series, Xenos, Malleus and Hereticus shaped the early years of the 40K universe. Gregors adventures gave us snapshots of worlds and systems far away from the centralised Imperium and the characters showed us the richness of the cultures on these distant worlds. The books also created probably the single most interesting group of the Emperor servants, the Inquisition! These books are pretty much the reason I started this hobby and I think every hobbyist should sit down and read them–if they can get hold of them! If not, buy the omnibus here:


Malleus Front Cover

At Number Two: The Sabbat World Books by Dan Abnett
Probably the longest running series of novels within this umbrella are the Gaunts Ghosts. The sabbat world crusade shows the imperial war machine in all its convoluted glory, backstabbing, career building, lies, shadows and heroism. They give us a massive insight into full scale warfare waged across an entire star system and with every book we learn more of how warfare is fought not by the generals or tacticians, but by Joe and Bill down on the front line. Anything from the sabbat worlds is well worth a read.

At Number Three: Space Marine
First published in 1993 at atime when the background to the Warhammer 40,000 universe was still in a state of flux the author Ian Watson was given free rein to do as hepleased and, possibly by mistake, created the backbone of what we know about the space marines of the Imperium. Everything you’ve read about augmentations, black carapace and marks of power armour came from this book. Though it may be old, this novel possibly more than any other, created the 40K universe. After all, what says 40K more than a space marine?

Space Marine Cover


At Number Four: Inquisition War by Graham McNiel
This series of books gave readers an in depth look into the murkydepths of the inquisition and the lengths the agents will go to to back each other into making a costly error, regardless of the wider consequences for the Imperium. It’s one of the few books that makes the reader question the whole ideal on which the Imperium is founded, perhaps those chaos bloke have a point (and they almost definitely have a better dental plan!)

Finally At Number Five: Harlequin
Now, this book was really really odd, (it actually gave me nightmares when Iwas younger). The story followed a troop of harlequins as they danced their dance of death telling the story of the great fall and the birth of Slannesh. The realism and sorrow within this book are astonishing and, if you can ever find a copy, buy it and read it, then lend it to as many people as possible. I must say I am suprised BL haven’t re-released the novel as it is the only account of the fall in any detail. For this, and the shear brilliance of the writing, it is a must for all 40K fans.

So there we have it, the  books that, in my opinion, shaped the 40K universe into the wonderfully diverse (if a bit odd) playground we have today. If you have read these books, then I hope you enjoyed them as much as I have and if you haven’t, then run, run to the nearest books store or log on to amazon and get hold of them asap! These books really will enrich your view of the hobby and more importantly, they are simply brilliant to read.




12 comments on “Xenos, Malleus, Hereticus, So We May Never Forget

  1. Hmm… The Inquisition War is also by Ian Watson, and came out originally around the same time as Space Marine. Assuming that’s the one you mean. I’m not aware of any Inquisitor books written by Graham MacNeil.

    Personally, I have enjoyed some Black Library books and been incredibly bored and frustrated by others. Whether they’re a good way to introduce people to the game depends a lot on what sort of books they like reading. Each to their own, and I firmly believe their is room for catering to all sorts of tastes, but I personally think that most of the Black Library writing is pretty bad. Even the best, while okay, is not exactly great literature.

    If you can get hold of the original Rogue Trader rulebook, I’d highly recommend doing so and reading all the box-outs, flavour text, short stories and (quite extensive) background information. Much of the background has changed and developed over time, but it is a fantastic and inspiring piece of work. Alone it creates all you need to inspire you to play games in the setting, even if you don’t read any of the novels.

    Of the books on your list… I have got a borrowed copy of Eisenhorn on my shelf (unread, as yet), got the recently re-released Inquisition War by Ian Watson (I read the first book in the trilogy maybe 15 years ago and don’t remember much about it) – I have yet to read the whole thing. I definitely read Space Marine (about 15 years ago) and don’t remember a whole lot, although I have some vague impressions. Funnily enough, I suspect I’d enjoy it a lot more now, as my tastes have matured and I’m less interested in ‘pew, pew’ space laser battles than I was when I first read it.

    I would love to read Harlequin, but haven’t and don’t have a copy. It sounds very interesting.

    I have never read and Sabbat worlds books besides a short story, which I thought was written pretty badly. I wonder if Abnett has become a much better writer over time, as I’ve enjoyed the books he’s written recently – particularly Horus Rising. It might be worth me ploughing through his early Sabbat Worlds books to get to the better-written later ones. Sadly, I don’t have the time!

    Still – very interesting article, Tom! It’d be interesting to know what other books people think should be on the list of ‘top books to introduce the setting’.

    • Fair enough, i have to say i am a huge Abnett fan, especial the gauts ghots stuff, though everyone is different.

      It would be great to hear from other people about the books they think made/are making 40K.

      Your point on the inquisition war book is correct, the books were written by Ian Watson, i was writting another blog at the time detailing McNiels work.

      Also, your point on the rogue trader book is very true, for a rulebook it has soooo much background in it it’s untrue!

      • As I say, I haven’t read any Ian Watson in a long time, but of those I have read (mostly people who’ve written for the Horus Heresy series) I think Abnett is by far the best. I haven’t yet read Prospero Burns, but I thought Horus Rising and Legion were both very good. Not brilliant compared with non-genre fiction writers, but still good. Even compared with ‘real’ writers I think he compares pretty well. Perhaps it’s just his earlier stuff I didn’t like.

        By the way, I don’t mean ‘real’ writers to sound as elitist as it does! I mean no disrespect to genre writers (if they do it well), but it was a short way of saying ‘literary fiction’ or ‘books by writers that might appear on an English A-level course’, etc.

      • I knew what you meant, and sadly have to agree. Most of the current BL authors are pretty terrible, lead by Gav Thorpe, possibly the worst writter to ever defile the english language.

        However, Abnett’s stuff really is worth a read, the ghosts novels plus his two inquisitor trilogies are amazing as well as a lot of his non BL stuff. I thikn that’s what makes him soo much better, the fact that he writes outside the GW backgrounds as well as within it.

        PS, nice to hear from someone who is interested in the litriture of the 40k universe.

      • Well, I hope you’ll hear a bit more soon. I’ve got a handwritten review of ‘Nemesis’ ready to be typed up for submitting to this blog for publishing. I’m standing for election tomorrow and when that’s over and I (almost certainly) won’t have been elected, I can get cracking with actually writing up a few things for the internet…

      • We have local elections tomorrow, and I’m standing as a candidate for the Liberal Democrats (a centrist part currently going through a period of existential angst) for a place on the district council.

        I’ve also been campaigning hard for a change to the voting system – we have a referendum the same day.

        It’s not likely to be a good day, sadly!

      • Thanks! I’ll let you know how I do. Suffice to say, I’m not likely to be making the international news whatever happens…

    • Too true. The little fluff quotes throughout the Rogue Trader (and 2nd
      edition books) were so thematic and inspiring. My favorite quotes are the
      interrogation of an Eldar ranger in Codex: Eldar: “…that weakling seer you
      call ‘Emperor’…” and from the 2nd ed. Codex:Chaos where it talks about
      greater demons of Nurgle humming along to noise marines…

  2. Excellent post – I have to say I’m a huge fan of the fiction; it started with the original Realms of Chaos/Slaves to Darkness/Rogue Trader books – the art, the macabre feel, everything about it drew me in and I’ve never really left. The original Deathwing books were deeply imaginative, but I definitely think Abnett took the universe to a new level. Hands down, the Horus Heresy books and Tarik Torgaddon are my favorites of his; after that I’m torn between Eisenhorn and Ravenor – both are simply deeply enjoyable.

  3. Excellent post – I have to say I’m a huge fan of the fiction; it started with the original Realms of Chaos/Slaves to Darkness/Rogue Trader books – the art, the macabre feel, everything about it drew me in and I’ve never really left. The original Deathwing books were deeply imaginative, but I definitely think Abnett took the universe to a new level. Hands down, the Horus Heresy books and Tarik Torgaddon are my favorites of his; after that I’m torn between Eisenhorn and Ravenor – both are simply deeply enjoyable.

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