The Chronicles of Malus Darkblade – Volume I by Dan Abnett & Mike Lee
|Book Name:||The Chronicles of Malus Darkblade - Volume I|
|Author:||Dan Abnett & Mike Lee|
|Publisher(s):||Games Workshop (US) The Black Library (UK)|
|Genre(s):||Dark Fantasy / Warhammer|
|Release Date:||September 9, 2008 (US) August 4, 2008 (UK)|
For Malus Darkblade a feat of heroism involves raiding a coastal village for plunder and slaves, butchering his enemies and successfully bringing back his spoils without being thwarted or assassinated by one of his siblings. It’s not your typical fantasy story.
Born of the bloodthirsty Druchii race, Malus’ actions aren’t condemned, in fact they’re rather tame by some standards. As the youngest and least favourite son of a powerful warlord, he has a hard time getting noticed. After an attempt to seize a powerful magic goes wrong, Malus finds himself in the clutches of a powerful demon, one who will claim his soul unless he recovers five artefacts within a single year. The Chronicles of Malus Darkblade covers the first three stories in the saga, following Malus as he attempts to complete this nigh-impossible task.
Pressed for time, Malus drives the story onwards as he lurches from one deadly situation to another. His ruthless cunning is matched only by his reckless arrogance, making Malus a great character to read and root for as his circumstances grow ever more dire. Beset from all sides and put down as the runt of the family it’s actually surprisingly easy to feel empathy for the character and the reader quickly takes his side as the book progresses. At once Malus is portrayed as both a monster and a victim, driven by the mocking voice of the demon lurking inside his head to ever more desperate acts as he pits his scheming family against each other and racks up a horrific body count in order to save himself.
The story is filled with intrigue and plotting, betrayal and manipulation are rife as Malus uses every tool at his disposal to stay alive. There are great expeditions across land and sea, hunts for treasure and power, vicious politics and epic battles that all weave together in a thrilling adventure story with a beautifully dark tone. New threats emerge from every page with hideous monsters, plague ridden demons and his fellow Druchii all vying for a piece of our anti-hero. The reader gets drawn into Malus’ plots like a conspirator as he confides in his diminishing number of allies, watching with eager anticipation to see if things work out or if another catastrophe strikes. There is a good pace to the story that creates a sense of momentum but still provides enough time to watch the schemes unfold.
A wide supporting cast of enemies and the occasional ally serve to bring colour to the narrative. The book does a good job of instilling a feeling of paranoia that no one can be trusted as everyone Malus meets seems to have their own purposes. Malus’ family are the worst of the bunch, including a father who despises him, a crippled temple fanatic, a deadly corsair captain and a pair of sisters with mysterious abilities. Watching Malus play them off against each other is one of the high points of the novel. Malus’ slim list of allies include a few sworn retainers and servants, characters of dubious morals even for Druchii. My favourite has to be the former guardsmen Hauclir, his sarcasm and dark humour inject some great moments of levity into the bleakest situations. The demon Tz’arkan is also a constant presence, whispering into our protagonist’s ear with promises of power, the banter between the two of them always provides a spot of fun.
The world of the story is skilfully crafted, drawing on the rich history of Warhammer, the cold lands of Naggaroth make for a harsh backdrop for the story, letting long-time fans see the home of the Druchii, but just as accessible to new readers. The world is rich in lore and history that bleeds through the narrative, hints of culture and etiquette give a sense of weight to the word without bogging down the story. Vivid descriptions of the great cities like the slave port of Karond Kar or the tunnels of the Black Ark mean I can’t wait till Malus reaches the others that have been mentioned.
The writing flows well and the action scenes are particularly well done, one of the most exciting moments in the book has Malus being chased across rooftops by the vengeful city guard, causing havoc as he goes. The language paints a great picture of the world, filled with subtle details and coloured with Malus’ inner monologue, sometimes interrupted by a side note from the demon. The writing is very well grounded in the character, and riddled with attitude.
I’d definitely recommend this book to any reader of fantasy, but particularly those who like different and well written characters. The story is a warped take on the traditional quest and throws a slew of twists and turns at the reader. There are few characters that can match Malus for uniqueness and I can’t wait to see what he does next.