Surfing across Reddit one night, as one does, I came across yet another thread bemoaning the Warhammer Adventures line. For those unfamiliar, these are Warhammer books written for a younger audience. A shocking number of Reddit rants, Twitter threads, and Goodreads reviews have been dedicated to why this series sucks. If you fall into this category, I’m here to personally tell you that your opinion is bad, and you should feel bad. Given that we’re all about WH40k in this house and site, this is only addressing the 40,000 variety, not the AoS.
The Warhammer universe is, like, complicated. While I have very strong opinions about how one should get into WH40k, there is no easy way. At some point, newbies have to take the plunge and dive into the deep end. Maybe you spend a lot of time on wikis or Reddit trying to figure out what a Custodes is and why you should care. As adults, we wade in and catch on pretty quickly. This universe is violent, gross, and awesome. We can easily see those shades of gray that tell us yes, the Imperium is fascist, but they have good reason to be. We can look at “evil” chapters like the Night Lords and differentiate that we don’t approve, but we enjoy.
Young kids don’t tend to be that gray. If you look at the Harry Potter books for comparison, those first three books are quite black and white. There are clear heroes and villains. They’re accessible and friendly, while also putting the characters in real danger. The Warhammer Adventures series is clearly seeking to capture that lightning in a bottle but with the WH40k universe. That’s not an easy task.
Zero Entry Pool
Some mad lad at Black Library also realized that the easiest way to explain WH40k is to start with the basics. We have three plucky heroes who are tangentially related to major factions. Mekki is a tech adept, Zelia is the daughter of a rogue trader galactic explorer, and Talen is the son of an Imperial Guardsman. Also, his brother is a spess mahrine. That’s a good, easy foundation to build on and understand. Each book bounces between one of the main characters’ points-of-view to help better explore the views and ideas of the universe.
Okay, we have that foundation, and that’s good. Now let’s start to explore the “bad guys” of WH40k. The first book focuses on the Necrons. While it doesn’t go into great detail, or give you the entire extended history, the Necron are breezily explained. They are dangerous, they are immortal, and you don’t want any part of them. Cool, and very creepy. Hey, speaking of creepy, let’s talk about Genestealers. Now let’s talk about the T’au, and hopefully soon we’ll show you the orks.
It is foundational knowledge presented in a quick-paced, cut-to-the-chase, easy-to-digest manner. Kids tend to have very short attention spans, especially when they’re having to digest all kinds of new information. We tried to start our daughter on some of the lighter WH40k books and her eyes had glazed by chapter 2. The Warhammer Adventures books dive straight into the action, stoking that fire that will let them eventually branch to the adult stuff.
What Warhammer 40,000 is NOT
Surfing Goodreads I found a shocking number of reviews written by fans and non-fans of WH40k that decried the series for not teaching life lessons. Science fiction as a genre has long been the host of heavy-handed parables and allegories. As a die-hard TNG fan, I recognize the lessons in all of my favorite episodes. That new species that looks strange and behaves even stranger? Well, there’s a reason they act that way and we have to learn to accept them and their culture, as they have to accept us.
That is Star Trek’s bread-and-butter, and countless other series’. That is not the game WH40k has ever played. The universe is dark, and dangerous. The Necrons are ohmygod scary when you find yourself on a tomb world. The T’au offer peace and prosperity on one hand, but are also using pheromonal/mind control to get you to comply. They’re an interesting race within the WH40k universe because they talk a good game, and all you have to do is forgo free will. People complain that Warhammer Adventures aren’t teaching life lessons, when in fact, they’re teaching the same life lesson that the WH40k adult books arguably teach. Not everyone can be reasoned with. And sometimes, fighting actual monsters can be exhilarating. Not everything needs to have a moral or a lesson.
Summer Book Projects
Most cleverly of all, Black Library has created a series that kids can read in an official capacity. As the parent of a 6th grader, let me tell you the extreme censorship rules her schools have on what kids read. There are very specific and proscribed rules about violence, nomenclature, and subject matter. My daughter’s school considers Ender’s Game to be “inappropriate,” if you want an example. Needless to say, The Uriel Ventris Chronicles is right out.
Warhammer Adventures get the seal of approval though. Because they’re targeted for kids, and because of the language they use, they are considered appropriate*. So you can bet your ass Secrets of the T’au counted toward a reading project. Which is, ultimately, the way to get kids into your universe. Give them something that is enjoyable and counts for school, and you’ve found the ticket to their imagination. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what this is all about?
*I’m going to be honest and say it’s possible that her teachers have zero idea what a Warhammer is, and that they’re going off the cover. I’ll take it.