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Literature / Malus Darkblade

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A series of Warhammer books written by Dan Abnett and Mike Lee and following the character of the same name. It was initially a comic strip released by Black Library which follows the same general plot but differs in a few areas. The books are mostly set in the distant land of Naggaroth, where the dark elves rule city-states under the fearsome Witch-King.

The series consists of five books, as well as a prequel short story Blood Price included in the Malus Darkblade Chronicles: Volume 1, Omnibus Edition.

  • The Daemon's Curse (May 2005)
  • Bloodstorm (December 2005)
  • Reaper of Souls (July 2006)
  • Warpsword (February 2007)
  • Lord of Ruin (September 2007)

The plot of the series seems at first to be a standard fantasy cliche: the protagonist must collect five Plot Coupons to save his own soul from a powerful demon that uses the name T'zarkan. The monster is inhabiting his body, but has made a deal with Malus: Collect the five relics needed to loose T'zarkan on the world, and Malus will be free.

It's clear early on, however, that their relationship isn't that simple, and Malus is no standard fantasy hero. For one, he's not actually a hero at all, but a ruthless Villain Protagonist: Throughout the series, nearly everyone Darkblade meets will eventually be betrayed by him. Though, admittedly, among the dark elves known as druchii, often it's a race to see who betrays whom first. Even his own family. Especially his own family.

Malus Darkblade is not the strongest, smartest, or most skilled of his race, or even of his siblings — but what he is is the most hateful SOB this side of the Chaos Wastes, and he almost never gives up, even when there's no plausible path to success.

"The Shadow & The Blade" DLC added Malus to Total War: Warhammer II as a legendary lord.

The series uses the following tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: Malus' father, Lurhan, has been covertly trying to get him killed since childhood; only being discreet for fear of Malus' mother, the hag-sorceress Eldire. The sorceress herself clearly loves Malus but still uses him as an Unwitting Pawn; risking his life and soul for the sake of an ancient prophecy.
  • Abhorrent Admirer: Urial, to Yasmir. Until she undergoes some Sanity Slippage and becomes the Bride, anyway.
  • Affably Evil: Hauclir is more or less the only druchii in the series it is possible to identify with. In a cast full of bloodthirsty madmen and unrepentant sadists (which includes the main protagonist), his snarky, impertinent yet loyal and surprisingly likable persona is quite a relief. His mercenaries in the fifth book, petty crooks and cutthroats each, are also a lot of fun.
  • Alien Blood:
    • Malus's blood turns black when he uses T'zarkan's power.
    • Nagaira's blood is also black, revealing her nature as a daemonhost.
  • Always a Bigger Fish: In Bloodstorm, while fighting aboard a Skinrider ship, Malus ends up being throttled by a daemon-possessed sorcerer who tells Malus "Look on the face of a daemon and despair!". Malus replies "As you wish" and invites T'zarkan to show himself. The Nurgle daemon recoils in terror as it realises just how badly it's outclassed by T'zarkan, who proceeds to rip its host apart and banish the lesser daemon.
  • And the Adventure Continues: Lord of Ruin ends with Malus saddling up to hunt down Tz'arkan, who has escaped his prison with Malus' soul in tow.
  • Angsty Surviving Twin: Ahashara, after her brother is killed by Malus.
  • Anti-Anti-Christ: Malus himself. T'Zarkan's manipulations makes him the cornerstone figure of an apocalyptic prophecy of the Temple of Khaine: He's supposed to become the Scourge of Khaine and the Lord of Ruin, wield the Warpsword of Khaine, consort with the Bride of Khaine and usher in the Time of Blood — a genocidal global conquest that will bring about The End of the World as We Know It. Aside from the Warpsword, Malus has zero interest in his Bride (his now-batshit-crazy sister Yasmir) and has more urgent things to do, namely save his hide and soul, than to usher in any sort of apocalypse.
  • Anti-Magic: The Octagram of Praan, one of the artifacts needed to free T'zarkan, absorbs magic and protects the wearer from spells.
  • Artifact of Doom: T'zarkan is adamant that the Warpsword of Khaine will eventually consume its wielder, and Malus is briefly possessed by the Warpsword in one scene. There's also the fact that the wielder of the Warpsword is destined to bring about The End of the World as We Know It.
  • Ax-Crazy: Most of the characters from all factions, but followers of Khaine have Ax-Crazy-ness as their religion.
  • Back for the Finale: Hauclir and Lhunara in Lord of Ruin.
  • Back from the Dead: In Lord of Ruin, Lhunara returns as an undead champion of Chaos. Malus is understandably horrified.
  • Bastard Bastard: Malus is the illegitimate son of Lurhan, Vaulkhar of Hag Graef, and the hag-sorceress Eldire.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Invoked in Bloodstorm: before departing to find the Tower of Eradorious through a sorcerous portal, Malus advises Hauclir that if he fails to return before the rampaging Nurgle Daemon Prince pursuing them reaches their position, in Hauclir's position he'd jump off the nearest cliff and take his chances with the sharks. When Hauclir asks if Malus believes he could swim to the corsair ships below, Malus replies that he actually meant jump in the water and hope the sharks kill him before the daemon does.
  • Big Bad: While most of the series is just Malus dealing with several individual ordeals, a few books feature overall antagonists.
    • The Skinrider chieftain in Bloodstorm.
    • Nagaira in Reaper of Souls.
    • Urial in Warpsword.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: Nagaira and T'zarkan in Lord of Ruin.
  • Big Bad Wannabe: Feurlan in Reaper of Souls. He's an incompetent, half-mad Smug Snake who thinks he's in charge of the campaign against Hag Graef, when the real mastermind is clearly Nagaira.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Hauclir and his mercenaries rescue Malus from Nagaira's camp towards the end of Lord of Ruin. Malus is under T'zarkan's control at the time, but Haulclir is clever enough to bring along the Warpsword of Khaine and trick the daemon into grabbing it.
  • Bittersweet Ending:
    • In Reaper of Souls, Nagaira's scheme is thwarted and the Dagger of Torxus is now in Malus' possession, leaving only two artifacts to collect. However, Hag Graef is in ruins, and Malus is now an outlaw for killing Vaulkhar Lurhan and leading the campaign against his city; losing his wealth, his power and his subordinates as a result.
    • In Lord of Ruin, Nagaira is dead, T'zarkan's prophecy has been undone, and Malus is finally free of the daemon's influence. However, the daemon was still freed from its prison, and managed to escape with Malus' soul. As he departs the ruined temple, Malus vows to track T'zarkan down and reclaim his soul, no matter what it takes.
  • Black Eyes of Evil: Malus, again while channeling T'zarkan. Same with Nagaira, after The Reveal.
  • Black Magic:
    • The magic the dark elves use is highly destructive, uses rather gruesome reagents, and it definitely corrupts.
    • Chaos magic is all that, and worse.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Malus and pretty much every one of his half-brothers and sisters has intentions toward/is having an affair with one of their siblings.
    • Burglir and Yasmir.
    • Urial is also infatuated with Yasmir, though unfortunately she considers him to be an Abhorrent Admirer. After Yasmir loses her mind over the course of Bloodstorm, it is revealed that she is destined to become the bride of the Scourge; the prophesied wielder of the Warpsword of Khaine. Urial, who hopes to fulfill the prophecy himself, is naturally delighted. Unfortunately for him, it turns out the prophecy is actually about Malus Darkblade. He doesn't seem terribly invested in the arrangement, though.
    • Nagaira has evidently had intimate relations with Malus before, though the sorceries she weaves into her body sometimes make it a less-than-pleasurable experience...
  • Catchphrase: "With hate, all things are possible..."
  • Create Your Own Villain: When he is first possessed by T'zarkan, Malus murders all of the retainers he brought with him on the expedition to the temple, including Lhunara. Unfortunately, Lhunara's sheer fury at the betrayal allows her to posthumously make a pact with the Chaos Gods, coming back to life as a Revenant Zombie.
  • Cruel Mercy:
    • The reason Ahashara chooses to leave Malus alone at the end of Reaper of Souls, believing that letting him live with his failure, dishonor and defeat is crueler than ending his torment.
      Ahashara: "From this point forward you walk alone, Malus of Hag Graef. I see know how much has been taken from you. You have lost your name and your honor. Your dreams lie in the dust. There is nothing left for you in this life but loneliness, fear and pain."
      Malus: "So you will not kill me after all?"
      Ahashara: "No. You deserve no such mercy."
    • At one point Malus encounters a lone Khaine worshipper fighting a mob. In need of some information, Malus saves him... only to be instantly attacked by him in turn. He incapacitates the zealot, but realises that threatening to torture or kill him is pointless, because the zealot welcomes death. In desperation Malus instead threatens to... leave him alive and treat his wounds. This works perfectly - the Khainite is horrified that a fellow druchii would sink that low, and immediately lays out everything Malus wanted to know, in exchange for the promise to kill him afterwards.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Almost every druchii in the entire series, including Malus. They make and betray alliances whenever it's convenient, necessary, or profitable. The entire second book is essentially the build-up to a massive Unfriendly Fire climax where Malus, three of his siblings, and a couple Wild Cards are all just waiting for the right moment to kill nearly everyone else.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Malus fights dirty, he uses the scenery when necessary, and will sacrifice his own soldiers' lives if it means potentially getting the upper hand.
  • Cool Sword: The Warpsword of Khaine, one of the relics T'zarkan requires. Not only is it a powerful weapon, it allows Malus to resist the daemon's influence while wielding it.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • One reason Hauclir is such a popular character is that his dry sense of humour is one readers can identify with. Though to be fair, this sort of humour does seem to be a Dark Elf thing, so maybe it's not all bad.
      Malus: Where were you?
      Hauclir: Apologies, my lord. Part of the wall collapsed on me and I shamefully thought to free myself first.
    • "I'm fine," snarled Malus. "These jagged rocks managed to break my fall."
  • Decadent Court: All druchii cities are ruled by one of these. They even have rules for how close you're allowed to stand to someone else, measured in swordlengths, because the highborn nobles are so prone to killing each other.
  • Demonic Possession:
    • T'zarkan is gradually turning Malus into a daemonhost in the hopes of using his body to fulfill prophesies he wrote himself millenia before . Subverted in that the demon T'zarkan is using Malus's body to try and escape a crystal prison, but he is limited in that Malus has to ask for demonic power for him to spread his influence in a bid to take over his body entirely. As a result, Malus remains mostly free-willed through most of the series. Later played straight after Malus uses the demon's power a few too many times...
    • In the climax of Reaper of Souls, Nagaira is revealed to be a Willing Channeler for Chaos.
    • There are several other instances of daemons taking over mortal bodies, and it's never pleasant.
  • Determinator:
  • Embarrassing Nickname: "Darkblade" may sound cool, but for the druchii it's a derogatory alias, meaning 'a flawed thing', and Malus hates it.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas:
    • Insofar as he's capable of loving anyone at all, Malus clearly respects his mother Eldire.
    • A mercenary in the fifth book briefly mourns the loss of his mother's keepsake.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones:
    • Malus' half-brother Urial is deeply infatuated with their sister, Yasmir (though this probably has more to do with the prophecy he hopes to fulfill).
    • Yasmir herself is in a relationship with her brother Burglir, who is in turn loved by his second-in-command, Tanithra.
    • Lhunara had fallen in love with Malus while she was alive, but never told him before he suddenly betrayed and killed her. As a Revenant Zombie, her single-minded obsession with killing him stems from this.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • For all his depravity, some displays of cruelty disturb even Malus; such as the way the forest-dwelling autarii mutilate their druchii slaves (cut off their ears, pluck out their eyes and cut out their vocal cords). Don't get him wrong, torturing people horribly is fun, but you're supposed to kill them afterwards, damn it, not force them to drag out such wretched existence!
    • Played with in the comic. After murdering a whole party of dark elves in cold blood for an artifact, Malus reveals that one of them was his father. Cue T'zarkan's mocking disbelief upon finding out: "...Sometimes, Malus Darkblade, you scare even me. And I'm a demon.".
  • Evil Cripple: Malus' half-brother Urial, who was born weak and malformed. Because of this, he was going to be sacrificed to Khaine, but the cauldron of boiling blood he was to die in mysteriously broke apart, and the child survived. Taking it as an omen, the Temple of Khaine took Urial in and trained him as an acolyte.
  • Evil Is Visceral: All over the place. Torture and violence is the druchii way of life, and they can be very creative with it.
    • The state religion of Naggaroth is the worship of Khaela Mensha Khaine; the bloody-handed god of war and murder. The centre of this religion, Har Ganeth, is often called The City of Executioners.
    • Chaos is just as bad, with the addition of demon worship.
  • Evil Has a Bad Sense of Humor : The dark elf race as a whole finds torture and murder highly entertaining, fitting into Type 2.
  • Evil Sorceress:
    • Malus' mother Eldire, and his half-sister Nagaira. Especially after the latter is revealed to be a follower of Chaos.
    • In Lord of Ruin, we meet Morathi — mother of Malekith the Witch-King — who happens to be one of the most powerful druchii sorceresses in the world.
  • A Father to His Men: Surprisingly enough, Malus develops certain qualities of this kind near the end of his journey; taking genuine concern for the needs of his subordinates, giving awesome motivational speeches and even risking his own agendas to avoid excessive casualties.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Yasmir, as the Bride, fights completely in the nude.
  • Genre Savvy: In his quest, Malus collects five extremely powerful relics, including two terrible magic weapons and amulets that protect one from all harm... and he almost never uses them because he knows that he ends up getting captured or knocked out several times per book; nearly every person he meets would rob him blind if they knew what he possessed. He usually keeps them in a saddlebag on his mount, Spite, under the belief that nobody wants to risk getting their arm bitten off by a surly giant lizard.
  • Genuine Human Hide: Or dwarven; or elven; all perfectly legitimate materials for tailoring. The Skinriders flay their victims and wear their hides to cover their mutated, rotting bodies.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: T'zarkan is the overall driving villain of the series, possessing Malus and forcing him to recover the keys needed to unseal his Can. He becomes the end-all Big Bad in Lord of Ruin.
  • Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: "Heroic" part aside, yes, even though Malus is nothing if not pragmatic to the core and nearly constantly wears armor, he hates helmets, because they limit his vision, and he sees it as a larger threat in battle than the prospect of receiving a head wound.
  • Hero Antagonist: The high elves in the prequel short Blood Price and the Bretonian border patrol in Sea of Blood.
  • Horny Vikings: The Chaos-worshipping marauders who raid Naggaroth from island strongholds on its northern sea. So horrifyingly brutal that even the druchii think they're crazy - which, if you know anything about dark elves in general, means quite a bit. Worst among these raiders are the Skinriders: Followers of the plague-god Nurgle who skin their victims and wear the hides as clothing.
  • I'm Having Soul Pains: It gradually gets worse whenever Malus draws from T'zarkan's power.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: With a dark twist, of course. The Endless, the Praetorian Guard of Malekith the Witch-King, are all indoctrinated into unwavering loyalty to their overlord and stripped of all traces of personal ambition. Malus concludes with a mixture of dismay and revulsion that they are completely impossible to negotiate with.
  • It's All About Me: For the most part of the narrative Malus Darkblade doesn't give a shit about anything not called Malus Darkblade. He slightly grows out of it by the very end, when he reasons that if his life and soul are most likely forfeight anyway, he could at least hold to his honor.
    "The loss in ships and men did not concern Malus. He would've gladly ground continents into dust if that meant bringing him closer to his goal."
  • Karma Houdini: Averted. While Malus generally survives his adventures, the prices he pays are staggering: He loses his status, riches, and authority; even his very soul is at risk. Any time it looks like he's going to get away with something unforgivable, it's only so that he can play a role in somebody else's scheme.
  • Kill the Ones You Love: In Lord of Ruin, Malus kills Lhunara yet again.
  • Literal Genie: T'zarkan, being a daemon, has a tendency towards this sort of behavior.
  • Must Make Amends: In the last book, Lord of Ruin, Malus realizes that his ex-retainer Hauclir, the closest thing he's had to a real friend in a year, is going to die. Malus is home free as long as he keeps the Warpsword of Khaine close, as it prevents T'zarkan from controlling his actions, but his blood has healing properties when T'zarkan is in control. He puts down the sword and bleeds on Hauclir's wounds; he saves Hauclir's life but loses control of his body, allowing T'zarkan to proceed with his endgame.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast:
    • Malus means "evil" or "wicked" in Latin. Overlaps with Meaningful Name.
    • His nauglir mount is named Spite.
    • T'Zarkan's title is "Drinker of Worlds".
  • Pet the Dog: Despite being a truly awful person, Malus has quite a bit of affection for his giant lizard mount, Spite. His treatment of Hauclir also counts, to the point where Malus chooses to save his life at the cost of his own freedom.
  • Powers via Possession: Malus's main trump card is that he can ask T'zarkan for demonic powers, which usually takes the form of supernatural healing, strength, and speed (though sometimes T'zarkan is a Literal Genie and answers his requests in the most disturbing way possible). The problem is that, every time Malus does this, the daemon gains more control of his soul and body.
  • Smug Snake: That "not the strongest, smartest, or most skilled of his race, or even of his siblings" part? Malus spends quite some time aknowledging it, during which he reguralry makes some rather stupid and costly mistakes. For instance, he challenges the Beastman shaman to a duell for possession of the Anti-Magic amulet he's already wearing and doesn't bother to stipulate the rule against using magic, because, hey, he's immune to it! It doesn't occur to Malus that the shaman might use magic to buff himself, which he does, nearly killing the druchii.
  • Supernatural Gold Eyes: Among the Druchii, golden eyes are regarded as a sign of particular blessing from Khaine.
  • Superpowered Evil Side: T'zarkan is effectively this to Malus, practically turning him into a demon right there so he can use nasty claws and supernatural strength and speed to fight his way out of a tough situation. He can barely control himself when he's like this. Of course, since Malus was evil in the first place, there might not be a lot of difference...
  • The Power of Hate: Druchii culture as a whole seems to run on this concept. Malus himself provides the page quote:
    Malus: "With hate, all things are possible. And my hate is strong!"
  • The Unfavorite: Malus, for being the bastard offspring of Vaulkhar Lurhan and Eldire the sorceress. It really says something when even your physically-deformed step-brother is regarded more highly than you.
  • Uriah Gambit: There are a number of these, particularly in Bloodstorm. See Chronic Backstabbing Disorder above. In the prequel short story Blood Price, Lurhan bribes the captain responsible for Malus' hakseer-cruise in an attempt to ensure the young highborn never survives his first raiding mission.
  • Villainous Lineage: Malus's family is chalk full of bastards, heretics, and murderers... which practically makes them model citizens of dark elf society.
  • Villain Protagonist: Malus Darkblade is a deeply unpleasant man, but he's the protagonist and it's even possible to root for him simply because all the other characters are just as bad or worse than he is.
  • The Worf Effect: In Lord of Ruin, the Octogram of Praan, an artifact meant to protect its owner from all magical harm, starts to melt after negating a single attack from Tz'arkan.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy:
    • Numerous times, Malus runs into situations where one of the artifacts he's collected on his quest would have protected him from harm or allowed him to fight an otherwise unstoppable enemy, but he left it back with his mount to keep it safe.
    • Because he miraculously survived being dropped into a cauldron of boiling blood as an infant, Urial believes he is The Chosen One destined to wield the Warpsword of Khaine and bring about The End of the World as We Know It. He isn't. The Warpsword he takes from the Temple of Khaine is actually a replica, and the original artifact is later found by the real chosen one — Malus Darkblade.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Both T'zarkan and Eldire are Chessmasters of extreme skill, playing a Scry vs. Scry game centuries or possibly millenia in the making.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Malus is allowed to gather and keep the artifacts he needs to release T'Zarkan. Everything else that goes even slightly in his favor is promptly taken away or otherwise nullified.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: A rather bizzare version. As another sign of him growing some semblance of a consicence by the end, when Malus learns second-hand that Hauclir had been calling him a hero to his mates, he actually feels bad about it — not because he dislikes Hauclir, but because he doesn't think he deserves the praise.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Malus is given one year to find all of T'zarkan's artifacts, or else he loses his soul forever.
  • You Have Failed Me: For her failure to defeat the armies of Naggaroth in the name of the Chaos Gods, Nagaira's sorcerous powers turn against her, destroying her completely.