"Stories may meander, but they all end the same. I have seen the authors. They are terrible."
- – Magnus the Red
The Black Library is the book publishing arm of Games Workshop, responsible for releasing fiction set in the Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000 universes (and, until FFG took over, the corresponding RPGs). It shares its name with the Black Library within the 40K setting, which has more to do with forbidden Eldar lore than dodgy novels. The quality of BL output tends to be quite variable; they've put out many books worth reading (such as those that give us a glimpse into backstories-HH books, for example) but also many that are quite terrible (eg something that is supposed to be a major event for the characters but is otherwise ignored).
While the Black Library has published good books from good authors, some works are of dubious adherence to canon. There exists a certain controversy among the readers as to whether the works of BL can be considered canon, and its employees are not helping the case, either. Marc Gascoigne, former publisher and editor for the Black Library says on the matter:
- "Keep in mind Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 are worlds where half truths, lies, propaganda, politics, legends and myths exist. The absolute truth which is implied when you talk about "canonical background" will never be known because of this. Everything we know about these worlds is from the viewpoints of people in them which are as a result incomplete and even sometimes incorrect. The truth is mutable, debatable and lost as the victors write the history...
- Here's our standard line: Yes it's all official, but remember that we're reporting back from a time where stories aren't always true, or at least 100% accurate. if it has the 40K logo on it, it exists in the 40K universe. Or it was a legend that may well have happened. Or a rumour that may or may not have any truth behind it.
- Let's put it another way: anything with a 40K logo on it is as official as any Codex... and at least as crammed full of rumours, distorted legends and half-truths."
George Mann, the current head of the Black Library, has elaborated further in interviews:
- "In further conversation, George emphasized that Black Library’s main objective was to 'tell good stories'. He agreed that some points in certain novels could, perhaps, have benefited from the editor’s red pen (a certain multilaser was mentioned) but was at pains to explain that, just as each hobbyist tends to interpret the background and facts of the Warhammer and 40K worlds differently, so does each author. In essence, each author represents an “alternative” version of the respective worlds. After pressing him further, he explained that only the Studio material (rulebooks, codices, army books and suchlike) was canonical in that it HAD to be adhered-to in the plots and background of the novels. There was no obligation on authors to adhere to facts and events as spelled out in Black Library work."
They have a regular submissions window so you can submit your
fanfiction work and get a job as a freelance writer. Like any business, they prefer to hire staff with an established track record, so the commissions tend to go to existing tie-in writers or ex-GW staff, but anyone can apply for the job. Fa/tg/uys have, as yet, been unsuccessful, leading to hilarious Nerdrage, as they have yet to realise that they will never get the job.
The Quality Issue
As mentioned above BL books sometimes suffer from a quality issue but this is not doing it justice. Part of the problem is the mix of talent. Some of the writers are experienced and skilled professional novelists. Others are ex-staff members and friends of GW staff who happened to be in the room at the time. Some of them are both.
While some books are either very well written or perfectly decent reads, others are pure trashy slash and burn books to fill your need to read about beheadings or copious amounts of blood and what little plot is present exists just to satisfy your bloodlust.
Such a state may be perplexing at first but you have to understand the BL often releases books in cooperation with GW army releases. There is a new Eldar update? Better bring out a novel about the Eldar then! GW often have a few army updates planned in advance, plently of time get a new novel rolling in time for the army release. Other books are sometimes bought out to satisfy the needs of fans of one of the more popular factions (space marines for example) for a story about their favourite warriors.
BL understands though that there are fans of just the fluff (such as the people that read this wiki) and so demand a little more then just the normal bloods and guts sort of writing. So they bring in competent writers to draft some stories with actual weight and dignity.
A good way to judge the quality of a read is by the author. Dan Abnett, Graham McNeill and Sandy Mitchell occupy the leading pantheon of great 40k writers and you'd be hard pressed to find anything by them to be half baked. Well, your mileage may vary on McNeill's more recent work. John French, Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Guy Haley and Christ Wraight have ascended to the pantheon in recent years, though AD-B can be very polarising around these parts.
At the other end of the scale you've got C.S.Goto, who writes very compelling toilet paper and Matt Ward who writes tumblr fanfics and then publishes them as Codices.
In Warhammer 40,000
In-universe, the Black Library is the repository of the Eldar Empire's collected knowledge of Chaos. It is guarded by the Harlequins and White Seers and is hidden in the Webway, because that knowledge could be used for great heresy, although now and then, the Harlequins let someone check out a book if it is important that they know something. The only people the Harlequins will allow to enter the Black Library are those who have "conquered the Chaos within them" and have the requisite membership and card, so the list of non-Harlequin members is predictably minuscule. Ahriman has attempted to enter the Library for some time now; unfortunately, he has yet to succeed and stir some shit up. Eldrad keeps denying his library membership application.
Doesn't seem to be guarded that closely, since Inquisitor Jaq Draco could just walk in, steal the Eldar's book of Prophecies and walk away with it. The Harlequins let him in. He just didn't know it then boasted everywhere about it. Listen, you can't just walk into the library in the bad part of town and then parade around saying you've been to the 'black library.' You'll get shot for being a white supremacist, and a stupid one at that.
List of Black Library writers
In no particular order, for very obvious reasons, just ignore the fact that the top 3 write some of the best (Gaunt's Ghosts, various, Ciaphas Cain). Note that some of these authors are not employed at BL any more.
- Dan Abnett
- Graham McNeill
- Sandy Mitchell
- Aaron Dembski-Bowden
- Danie Ware
- Ben Counter
- James Swallow
- David Guymer
- John French
- Guy Haley
- Mike Brooks
- Lucien Soulban
- Rob Sanders
- Henry Zou
- Nick Kyme
- William King
- Ian Watson
- Gav Thorpe
- C.S. Goto
- Christian Dunn
- Robbie MacNiven
- Chris Wraight
- Paul Kearney