Top 5 Horus Heresy Novels

Top 5 Horus Heresy Novels

All in all it’s been an exciting couple of weeks for me Horus Heresy-wise. The Black Library Weekender was a brilliant event that highlighted exactly why I love this series of books (I may have mentioned this in my previous blog). It’s not only the weekender though, as I’ve also had the chance to catch up on a number of new Horus Heresy stories. Both the limited edition novella, Brotherhood of the Storm, and the latest novel, Angel Exterminatus (as previewed previously here), have arrived and, I have to say, they have both more than lived up to my expectations.  I won’t say more at this stage, but I’m sure I’ll return to both of these in a future blog.

There have also been a couple of short stories released in the Black Library Weekender anthologies. To be honest, I’m fairly ambivalent about event anthologies in general. On the one hand, it is an opportunity to get more Horus Heresy, which is never a bad thing, and it’s also an opportunity to sample the wider GW fantasy and 40K universe. On the other hand, at £12 for 6 short stories, they’re at little overpriced, especially if (like me) you’re only really after one of the stories. As these event anthology short stories tend not to be essential to the narrative thrust of the series, and it is a near certainty that they will eventually be compiled into a specific Horus Heresy anthology, it is often better (and certainly more cost effective) to wait to get them.

With all that said, I really enjoyed both of the short stories from the Black Library Weekender anthologies. Lost Sons by James Swallow combines the Garro audio story arc with Fear to Tread, dealing with the few Blood Angels left behind to guard their homeworld, Baal, whilst the rest of the entire Blood Angels legion heads into the Signus Cluster under orders from Horus (who at that stage was not known to have turned traitor). We find out a little more about Malcador the Sigillite’s (basically the Emperor’s right hand man within the ruling council of Terra) intentions, and it poses an interesting question of the Blood Angels and what they would do if the rest of their legion was lost.

The Divine Word by Gav Thorpe revisits Marcus Valerius (of audio drama Raven’s Flight fame), a Praefector in the Imperial Guard, and what he is up to after the events of the novel, Deliverance Lost. This brings in elements of the ongoing struggle between the loyalist Raven Guard and traitor Alpha Legion, as well as revisiting the Lectitio Divinatus (the idea of the Emperor of Mankind as a deity).

Top 5 Horus Heresy Novels

I’ve written this blog post in direct response to a question asked by Neil Peckett on twitter. Based upon a couple of book recommendations I had made to Neil, he asked me what my top 5 Horus Heresy books are. Before answering this, I’ll set a single ground rule; only full novels count. I’ve already discussed my favourite short stories, and I am not going to consider any of them, or the anthologies they are contained within, for this blog. I’m also not considering novellas, although if I did the incredible Aurelian would definitely feature in this list, or audio dramas. Full written novels only! All this means that out of 23 books released thus far, after excluding the 3 anthologies, I am picking my top 5 from 20 novels. Easy, right?

Well no, actually! I don’t want to do a ‘Curry’ and pick 8 options for my top 5, but picking only 5 is incredibly difficult. There are a number of worthy contenders, and I am pretty sure that most people would choose something different to me. And that’s absolutely fine. Maybe I’m missing something from The Battle for the Abyss that you have spotted. If so, please drop me some feedback on twitter, it would be great to hear some alternative views. So without further ado, in reverse order…

5. Angel Exterminatus by Graham McNeill

Angel Exterminatus

The latest novel in the Horus Heresy series is an absolute belter. I have never really had a lot of sympathy for the Iron Warriors legion in general, or their Primarch Peturabo specifically, possibly because he has previously been treated almost like a petulant and sulky child. Angel Exterminatus really gives depth to Peturabo, giving him a fully fleshed out character with real depth, which makes it much easier to sympathise with his position and to understand why he made the choices he did. His interaction with, and respect for, some of the other legions was also fascinating. As well as Iron Warriors, we get to see a lot of the Emperor’s Children, and watch their descent into Slaanesh-worshipping debauchery. All the favourites from earlier novels are back, including one very surprising return. McNeill certainly knows how to write for these guys, and the climax of the novel is particularly fulfilling for the Emperor’s Children.


  • A flashback to Peturabo meeting the Emperor, really helping to flesh out the character of Peturabo.
  • The culmination of Fulgrim’s (Primarch of the Emperor’s Children) descent into chaos.
  • A fight between Emperor’s Children Lucius, a master swordsman (Lucius the Eternal from 40K) and Nykona Sharrowkyn, a Raven Guard survivor from Istvaan V.

4. A Thousand Sons by Graham McNeill

A Thousand Sons

A second entry in the top 5 from McNeill. A Thousand Sons is a really complex novel dealing with a number of key events from the early (and pre-) Heresy era. Covering events from Nikea, where the Emperor banned the use of psychic powers, Magnus’ visions of Horus’ treachery, and his warning to the Emperor, this handles the fall of Magnus with a great deal of sympathy. I was left with the profound feeling that Magnus’ fall was so unnecessary. This is brilliantly portrayed in how Magnus handles the arrival of the Space Wolves, and their allied Sisters of Silence (powerful anti-psykers) and Custodes (the Emperor’s bodyguard).


  • The Council of Nikea – seeing the trap set for Magnus, and watching him try to deal with it, is incredibly interesting.
  • Magnus’ utter devastation at the moment he realises he has shattered the Emperor’s great project.
  • A huge Astartes vs Astartes battle across Prospero – utter carnage!

3. Fear to Tread by James Swallow

Fear to Tread

Blood Angels fighting daemons! Sanguinius fighting a Blood Thirster! This novel is breath taking because of the sheer amount of action in it, with an extended close as the Blood Angels fight back against the demonic powers that had looked as though they were going to overwhelm them. However, this novel is more than just action. It deals with the relationship between Sanguinius, Primarch of the Blood Angels, and Horus, Warmaster and Arch-traitor, and beautifully captures the magnitute of his betrayal as Sanguinius finally understands exactly what Horus has done.


  • Horus conspiring to take out Sanguinius – the Chaos powers considered Sanguinius to be the alternative option for their champion, and Horus ruthlessly decides to take Sanguinius out rather than try to convert him.
  • Sanguinius and the Bloodthirster – superhero battles! Twice!!
  • There was a Space Wolves unit attached to the Blood Angels.  Their story, and conclusion, is really interesting.

2. The First Heretic by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

The First Heretic

To date, this is Dembski-Bowden’s only full Horus Heresy novel (Betrayer is the next Heresy novel, due out early in 2013). However, alongside his novellas and audio dramas, this novel marks him as a serious player in the Horus Heresy writers. The First Heretic is an origins novel, charting the Word Bearer’s legion’s decision to turn to Chaos, and showing how they begin to corrupt their brother legions.  It features a number of hints and revelations as the Chaos powers start to subvert Lorgar, Primarch of the Word Bearers, until he and his legion become fully enmeshed in chaos.


  • The anguish of Lorgar, Primarch of the Word Bearers, as he is chastised by the Emperor for worshipping him as a god. The sanction passed on what appears to be a perfectly loyal human world is a brutal reminder of the power of the Astartes and the will of the Emperor.
  • Ever wondered what would happen in a fight between Astartes and Custodian Guards? Well you find out here!
  • The confrontation between Lorgar and Corax, Primarch of the Raven Guard, on Istvaan V during the Dropsite Massacre. A brilliant fight, with an almost certain ending, until the intervention of another character (no spoilers from me).

1. Horus Rising by Dan Abnett

Horus Rising

The opening novel in the Horus Heresy series, written by Dan Abnett, who I might (just might) have idolised in a previous blog. This novel was set before the fall of Horus, before the start of the Heresy, and brilliantly portrayed the optimism of the newly founded Imperium of Man as they crusaded across the stars. Abnett superbly developed the character of Horus, as well as a number of other key players within the series, and left you in no doubt as to why he was held in such high regard and chosen to be the Warmaster.


  • The optimism of a great alliance for the betterment of humanity with the Interex (a powerful human civilisation) shattered at the last moment.
  • War against the Megarachnids on Murder. Space Marines smashing big gribblies – without tyranids in 30K, the Megarachnids are the next best thing.
  • ‘I was there…’ – the opening passage to the novel, which brilliantly foreshadows future events.

So that’s my top 5. I hope you have enjoyed the run down, and I look forward to seeing your top 5 novels instead. I’d also like to take this opportunity to remind you all about the chance to win a signed copy of the Horus Rising audiobook – you can find out why I rate it at number 1 yourself. To find out how to enter the competition, go back to my previous blog post.


If you have any comments about anything I’ve written, please drop me a message on here or on twitter @Marcoos14

All the best,

5 thoughts on “Top 5 Horus Heresy Novels

  • November 13, 2012 at 15:47

    Great work Marcus!  Good timing too as I am just getting back into the series and have started with Fear To Tread.  I think I’ll be going with Angel Exterminatus next

  • November 15, 2012 at 17:20

    Ok, Fear To Tread is now done, Where should I go next?

  • November 15, 2012 at 19:07

    Angel Exterminatus is a good read, but you should definitely have read Fulgrim and the novella Reflection Crack’d (from The Primarchs anthology) first, as it is sequential to both of those. And also to The Crimson Fist novella in Shadows of Treachery anthology.

    If you like Abnett, I’d suggest going back to Know No Fear. Alternatively, give Shadows of Treachery a read.

  • August 19, 2013 at 00:05

    Well this is a good focus
    I have just started to read the Hersey series, I have been into warhammer since I was a kiddo. I remember getting a first edution Warhammer Rulebook and it blew my mind. I resigned to only painting Warhammer Fantasy dwarfs and keeping a lazy eye on 40k. The Horus Hersey books are fantastic. When I first started I was going to pick and choose which ones I read but after finishing ‘Flight of the Eisenstein’ I am ready to read them all.
    Well my top 4 are the first 4 books written in that order, however ‘Flight of the Eisenstein’ was a little tedious because of the extreme detail James Swallow gives the reader.

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