Now that you have a good grasp on the WH40k universe because of our handy-dandy guide (If you haven’t read any WH40k books, stop! Go check out the guide!), you may be wondering where to jump into the Horus Heresy. There are more than 50 books in the HH series, so it can be a daunting task.
Why do I recommend reading the Heresy books after WH40k? Because the world of the Horus Heresy is intrinsically different from that of 40k. It’s a time of hope, of prosperity, and of unknown evils. There is a great deal of dramatic irony that is lost upon the reader without a firm grip on what has been lost.
Horus Rising – Dan Abnett
Faction: Luna Wolves (aka Sons of Horus, aka The Black Legion)
What it’s about: This is the book that starts it all. Horus has just been declared Warmaster by the Emperor.
Why you should read it: It’s an outstanding book, first and foremost. You get to see the space marines at a time when everyone is friendly, they have more robust personalities, and are utterly clueless about the warp’s dangers. You get to see so many legendary faces, and see a true glimpse at how different the world of 30k really was.
Flight of the Eisenstein – James Swallow
Faction: Death Guard (mostly)
What it’s about: Takes place just after the events of Istvaan III, featuring a Death Guard group that remains loyal to the Emperor. They must get to Terra to warn of the coming rebellion.
Why you should read it: This is where the events of the Horus Heresy books get really interesting, watching legions fracture amongst themselves as some stay loyal, and some turn traitor. It’s profoundly sad to watch space marines wrestle with the horrors that are starting, and to not know who to trust.
The First Heretic – Aaron Dembski-Bowden
Faction: The Word Bearers
What it’s about: After creating a religion that worships the Emperor as a God, Lorgar is publicly shamed by his father. As he licks his wounds, his adopted father Kor Phaeron and Erebus have answers to his questions.
Why you should read it: This is the book that starts the entire heresy, despite being the 18th book published. The book is thick with dramatic irony, and beautiful descriptions of Lorgar’s descent into madness and Chaos. It’s the book that will have you saying “$#%^-ing Lorgar.”
Descent of Angels – Mitchel Scanlon
Faction: Dark Angels
What it’s about: Events of the impending Heresy are juxtaposed with Lion El’Johnson’s life on Caliban, from his arrival to ascension to planetary hero.
Why you should read it: The Dark Angels are a complicated bunch. This book shows that the foundation for their distrust and questionable actions was laid at the very beginning.
Legion – Dan Abnett
Faction: The Alpha Legion
What it’s about: Two years before the heresy begins, the Alpha Legion meets a mysterious group called The Cabal. They have information that may help them determine the correct path in the horrible days to come.
Why you should read it: The mysterious Alpha Legion has rarely been looked at in either the WH40k or HH series, so it’s a fun look at a fun chapter. Alpharius Omegon is a complicated primarch with a complicated loyalty.
Thousand Sons – Graham McNeill
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Faction: The Thousand Sons
What it’s about: Taking place before and during the heresy, Magnus the Red struggles to give up his dabbling in sorcery, despite warning from the Emperor.
Why you should read it: There is an undeniable tragedy to Magnus’s actions and his legion. It’s depressing to see a son wanting to help his sons and his father. Did Magnus do anything wrong? Yes, literally everything. Is it understandable why he did wrong things? Absolutely, after this book.
Committing to the Heresy
Prospero Burns – Dan Abnett
Faction: Space Wolves
What it’s about: The events of Prospero Burns take place before and during the heresy, told mostly through the eyes of a rembrancer who has a secret. Leman Russ marches to Prospero to put his brother in his place.
Why you should read it: This book is as fun as it is horribly tragic. You get to see both the Space Wolves and Leman Russ from the point of view of an outsider, which cements their legacy as Space Vikings. Most importantly, you get to see how soul-crushing this pivotal moment in history was for both involved.
Angel Exterminatus – Graham McNeill
Faction: Iron Warriors
What it’s about: In the wake of the Heresy, Perturabo doesn’t know who to trust. As he travels with his brother Fulgrim, he learns their legions are more different than he first imagined.
Why you should read it: Perturabo is a fascinating primarch because of his insight, and his valid complaints with his father’s treatment of him. It’s a wonderful view into how bitterness can cloud judgment. Also prominently featured in this book is Fabius Bile and Fulgrim’s ascent to daemonhood.
Betrayer – Aaron Dembski-Bowden
Faction: World Eaters
What it’s about: As legions begin to fall, Angron’s bloody, rage-fueled tendencies provide concern for his sons and opportunity for his brothers.
Why you should read it: Angron’s and the World Eaters’ descent to traitor legion is told largely through the eyes of Kharn, who is still regarded as a rational, cooler head among his legion. This book also features one of the most badass female characters in the entire Black Libary.