There are just so many fantastic, richly-developed fantasy worlds out there to explore! I couldn’t actually pick an absolute favourite, I don’t think; if I had to, the world of Warhammer Fantasy would definitely be in contention, though! It’s a veritable gold mine of lore, background and fully-fleshed out civilisations and races. Of course, all this detail comes from thirty years of input through multiple the table top wargames set in the universe; a few role-playing games; and, most recently, some pretty successful video – all of which gives the world a very immersive feel to it. Oh, and don’t forget the many, many, MANY novels set in the universe too that have been published by the Black Library – the whole reason you’re reading this!
But with so many books and series, getting started can be a bit bewildering. Where do I start? Which series do I follow? Why should I read this or that series? Well, have no fear! I am here to help with this handy guide. I’ve tried to be pretty objective here and get books for all of the ‘main’ factions here.
Trollslayer – William King
Faction: Dwarfs and Empire
What it’s about: In a moment of drunken frustration, disgraced student and poet, Felix Jaegar, swears to record the death of the dwarf Gotrex Gurnisson. In the sobering light of day, he realises the gravity of what he has done for Gotrex is not only a dwarf – notorious for their stubborn sense of honour and the seriousness with which they take vows – but even worse, he is a Slayer: a dwarf sworn to find his death in battle against the enemies of his people to atone for past crimes. From here, he is thrown into a wild series of adventures across the breadth of the Old World against mutant trolls, cultists of the dark gods and goblin raiders.
Why you should read it: These are, quite simply, classic Warhammer Fantasy. There are many, many Gotrex and Felix novels for a good reason, plus you get a taste of two of the major factions in the Warhammer world with the dwarfs and the Empire of Man. Plus, if you read later books in the series, you’ll get to meet most of the ‘evil’ factions too – and especially the evil rat-men known as the Skaven.
Additional reading: At least all the rest of the Gotrex and Felix novels by William King. The series was carried on by other authors after the first seven books – and I am not saying those aren’t good – but the William King ones are my favourites.
The Legend of Sigmar – Graham McNeill
What it’s about: The tribes of man are scattered and divided amongst the dark forests and towering mountains of the Old World; they eek out a hard life of constant battle against tribes of orcs, goblins and beastmen as they squabble amongst each other for power. But one young warrior-prince, Sigmar Heldenhammer, sees a greater potential and brighter future for mankind: one united under a single banner.
Why you should read it: You know the game is called Warhammer, right? Well the weapon that the title eludes to is none other than the one wielded by Sigmar, founder and human-risen-to-deity of The Empire of Man. This book is the story of the creation and founding of the central faction in Warhammer. A huge amount of the focus of this universe is placed around The Empire and the Church of Sigmar, so, you will understand the setting a lot more after reading this.
Plus, technically, this is three books that have been combined into one!
Additional reading: There are plenty of other books about the Empire. Any of them really. I like The Black Plague trilogy a lot, but the story isn’t directly linked to this book/three novels) based on which format you buy it in).
The Vampire Wars – Steven Savile
Faction: Vampire Counts
What it’s about: Vampires curse each corner of the Old World, eternal creatures of dark magic and the night that haunt forgotten crypts and hide amongst the nobility as they prey upon the cattle of mankind. The most infamous of their kind are the Vampire Counts of Sylvania – the Von Carsteins – who seek to bring the entire Empire of Man under their iron rule… And if mankind won’t submit willingly, they will crush them under the weight of their undying legions.
Why you should read it: The undead are a big problem in the Warhammer universe, and a pretty cool faction, in my opinion. Now, many people will say, but if you want to highlight the undead faction, then the Nagash books are the obvious ones! And to you, I say, “The Vampire Counts are far cooler.” Warhammer vampires are vampires in the old school Dracula style; proper undead monsters fled with dark sorcery and, quite honestly, they are my favourite portrayal of vampires in fantasy.
Additional reading: The Rise of Nagash books cover the creation of necromancy and the curse of vampirism pretty well. They’re a natural place to look next, though they’re less gothic-horror and more Egyptian-themed people who have taken their veneration for the dead too far.
Archaon: Everchosen – Rob Sanders
What it’s about: The forces of darkness gather in the far northern wastes, ready to sweep all life from the earth. Countless hordes of daemons, beastmen, mutant monstrosities and savage men who have pledged their souls to the dark gods for power rally behind one warrior: Archaon the Everchosen. But he was not always so; once he was a champion of light, a Templar of the warrior-God Sigmar. How did he come to abandon his faith? What caused his fall and to pledge his soul to the dark gods of Chaos?
Why you should read it: Chaos are the big bad guys. The four dark gods who seek to corrupt and scour all life from the planet. And Archaon is their chosen instrument. This book chronicles his early life and how he began his rise to power under the patronage of the ruinous powers. So, you are literally getting the back story for the biggest of baddies in the setting.
Additional reading: Archaon: Lord of Chaos is the second book in the duology, so it’s naturally the next thing to read!
The Daemon’s Curse– Dan Abnett and Mike Lee
Faction: Dark Elves
What it’s about: The Dark Elves are a cold and ruthless people where only the strong prosper. From dread cities in the frozen lands of Naggaroth, they raid the lands of other races, carrying them away as slaves for their mines, farming and industry. Malus Darkblade is a young and ambitious noble who has learnt of a powerful artefact and sets out to claim it. In the Chaos Wastes he finds more than he bargained for and is possessed by a daemon and must now battle for his very soul.
Why you should read it: Like Trollslayer, this book – and the others in the Malus Darkblade series – are classic Warhammer Fantasy novels and widely considered some of the best out there.
Additional reading: The rest of the Malus Darkblade series. Or, alternatively, get the series in graphic novel form – which is something relatively unique with Warhammer. If you want to know more about the Dark Elves, or their less spiky and evil cousins, the High Elves, then The Sundering novels by Gav Thorpe are out there (though I found them a more mixed bag).
So, there you have it, my beginner’s guide to reading novels set in the world of Warhammer Fantasy! I hope you enjoyed it and maybe even want to pick up some of these books!
Now, I know some people might be saying, “But Jack, not all the civilisations are in here!” and to you I say sorry. My own armies are Wood Elves and Bretonnians (they’re very Arthurian Grail Knight) but they are very much side characters to the setting, so for beginners to world, I think you can skip them. The same is true with Ogre Kingdoms, Tomb Kings and Lizardmen. Though there are great books out there for all of these factions too!
Anyway, enough rambling! Stay safe everyone!