In all of Naggaroth there is no Dark Elf more devious and cunning than Malus Darkblade. Cursed by the ancient and malicious Daemon Tz'arkan, the Drinker of Worlds, Malus has a year to collect five mystical artefacts spread across the Land of Chill. Malus is promised release if all are brought to the Daemon's temple in a year, and oblivion should he fail.
This was the very first fantasy series that I ever bought, im a big Dark Eldar fan but alas they are heavily under-appreciated by Games Workshop and Black Library, but when I saw the cover of the first omnibus I decided that even if I didn't enjoy the fantasy I could still enjoy the Dark Elves.
I was very happily proven wrong and right respectively. The fantasy setting was excellent, not just a typical fantasy with humans, elves and dwarfs. And the Dark Elves were amazing, a culture based around the flesh-trade of slaves and a ritual based around ritual sacrifice and war. Mike Lee has done a fantastic job of creating the world of the Druchii, the Land of Chill Naggaroth and its dark cities Hag Graef, Karond Kar and the Black Arks to name a few.
The characters themselves are each unique and fascinating. The protagonist Malus Darkblade, the bastard son of the Vaulkhar of Hag Graef and a Druchii Seeress, Malus is despised by his family and treated like an outcast. Indeed his name is a testament to this, as to the Druchii a Darkblade is a broken and useless weapon. Yet this does not deter him as he pursues his own glory and power, he cares little for what people think of him and is willing to manipulate people and play long games to achieve his ends, of course he usually makes it up as he goes along but it works out. One of the most interesting things about Malus is, as Dan Abnett put it, he is not the strongest, the smartest or the most powerful. But what makes Malus's greatest asset is that he will never give up, no matter the odds against him, no matter the threat, Malus will always find a way to fight back.
A cast of supporting characters are also present alongside Malus. First of these is his trusty, yet irritable, Nauglir mount Spite. However Spite is much more then just a mere mount in the story, he is the only constant companion, or at least the only welcome one, in Malus's quest. He may not talk but he is no dumb brute, and is likely the best ally Malus could ever have, from ferrying him across the Land of Chill to fighting by his side and even saving Malus's life a few times Spite is a hell of character.
One of the primary characters is Tz'arkan, Drinker of Worlds. The ancient Daemon who possesses Malus in the first novel Tz'arkan is a very well-written character. While at first he can seem like the typical Daemon, cunning, sadistic and manipulative, which he is in strides, Tz'arkan is shown to be wise and like Malus can play long games to achieve his ends, although their definitions of long are quite different.
The action in the novel is very well done. Malus himself is not a master swordsman but he can fight hard and does against a variety of foes in the novel. Be they Druchii, High Elf, Beastmen, Daemons or even plague-ridden pirates there is no foe that Malus will not fight with every ounce of skill he has. From ravenous hordes to conspiracies and ancient prophecies the action in Darkblade is varied and well-written.
The pace of the series is depicted differently in each book. In the series time is against Malus, with only a year to complete his quest at the start he is more free with that time, he knows the clock is ticking but spends little time thinking about it, preferring to stay in the present. However as the series progresses Malus starts to think more and more about the time left until the fifth book where only a few weeks remain, and the desperation that both Malus and Tz'arkan show reflects just how perilously close they are to failure and the urgency that they show in the hunt for the final relics.
The ending of the book was smashing. Abnett and Lee successfully wrap up the first part of Malus's saga and at the same time set the stage for the next part. I originally finished the first omnibus rather quickly but put off reading the second omnibus as I didn't want the series to end, but fortunately I now know that the Chronicles of Malus Darkblade are far from over.
In conclusion the Chronicles of Malus Darkblade is a series that must be read. It is truly a staple of Black Library, and in my view quite possibly the finest fantasy series they have ever released. (Only the Thanquol and Boneripper trilogy is a match for it in my view.) Congratulations and thanks to Dan Abnett for creating Malus Darkblade, Tz'arkan and his infernal quest to recover the five artefacts. And to Mike Lee for creating the world around Malus, his allies and enemies and for bringing life to Malus as more then a one-dimensional comic character. And to Kevin Hopgood for the artwork that gives a glimpse into the world of Malus, and that so eloquently shows the climatic moments of each novel. I give Malus Darkblade a 9/10 as a whole, it has some flaws as every novel does but dont let these detract from the series.
Should you buy this book?. The answer is a resounding Yes!. But this is just the end of the beginning, and as Malus himself put it, our journey is over.. now the hunt begins!.