Lord of the Night reviews the long-awaited conclusion to the epic Chronicles of Malus Darkblade, Deathblade by C.L Werner.
"A novel that while standing as a great book of the ongoing End Times, sadly fails to capture much of Darkblade's original spirit and falls short of Darkblade's previous adventures. Deathblade is a novel that any fan of Malus Darkblade will enjoy, but unfortunately it cannot be called the greatest of his adventures." - Lord of the Night @ Talk Wargaming
Malus Darkblade has always held a special place in my reading heart, as his adventures were the very first fantasy novels that I ever read. The epic adventure of the anti-hero Dark Elf and his Daemonic patron/archenemy Tz'arkan was and still is one of my favourite series of novels, and for a long time I had hoped that the further chronicles of Malus would be penned. Deathblade, while not quite what I had expected, was still something to be pleased about, and without a doubt it was a good book. But sadly as I finished the book I found myself thinking that while Deathblade was an enjoyable story about the End Times, and is definitely something that should be read alongside The Curse of Khaine by Gav Thorpe as it provides a more in-depth look at the early stages of events in Warhammer: Khaine, sadly the book was only passable as a Malus Darkblade adventure, lacking the dark humour, strong and enjoyable characters and sense of adventure that made Malus's original adventures so fun to read.
The End Times are upon the world. As Naggaroth, ancient land of exile for the Dark Elves, falls under the most brutal siege of it's existence by the hordes of the Blood God, the Witch King Malekith makes the choice that will decide the fate of the Elves, to abandon Naggaroth and lay siege to Ulthuan for the final time. Leading the invasion is Malus Darkblade, once the bastard child of the Vaulkhar of Hag Graef, now the Drachau of the Crag and General of the Witch King's armies. Malus has finally achieved everything that he wanted, but there is always more to covet and as Malus plots to steal the throne of the Druchii from the Witch King, he finds himself thrown into the thickest of the fighting. As the Chronicles of Malus Darkblade draw to a close, Malus faces his greatest challenge yet; to survive the final battle for Ulthuan, resist the Daemon Tz'arkan's endless attempts to usurp control of their shared body, and finally to take his deserved destiny as the undisputed lord of all the Dark Elves.
I looked at the story in Deathblade through two different angles. As a story of the End Times the novel is very enjoyable, putting the reader right into the thickest of the fighting for Ulthuan in the early stages of the campaign and containing all of the in-depth detail that The Curse of Khaine lacked due to that novel's larger scope, Deathblade uses a smaller scope and for that becomes a better and less cluttered story. The novel featured many epic events from Warhammer: Khaine and Werner handled them quite well, adding personal touches and details to the events of the lorebook that make these events feel real, more than just information being relayed through a guide. After reading Deathblade I am convinced that it would have been better for The Curse of Khaine to have been only one of the Elven End Times books, perhaps more are even on the way as I type, we can only hope. However as a Malus Darkblade adventure I found Deathblade lacking in several areas, story-wise it was the feeling and themes of the books. The Chronicles felt like an epic adventure, one driven by Malus Darkblade as a character, but Deathblade felt more like a war novel where Malus is reduced to a general, where it's the size of his army rather than his character that drives events. Granted this is not due to Werner but rather whomever wrote Malus's fate into Warhammer: Khaine, this book is a re-telling of those events as the Chronicles are a re-telling of the original Darkblade comics, but the novels were given much much greater reign to expand on events, while Werner is clearly limited by the much more detailed events in Warhammer: Khaine. By the end Deathblade felt more like an End Times book featuring Malus Darkblade than a true Malus Darkblade novel.
The characters are another area of division. From the End Times angle, things are well played. We see many famous Elf characters such as Tullaris Dreadbringer, Drusala the Sorceress, the Blood Coven, Tyrion of Cothique and of course Malekith the Witch King. Malus Darkblade himself was very well written, however it's clear that the years have changed him from a more laid-back renegade into a tyrannical despot that even the Druchii fear, a change that I did not care for personally as a lot of what made Malus into a likeable character despite his cruelty, self-absorption and penchant for undeserved backstabbing has not survived the years, turning Malus from an anti-hero into a full on villain that it becomes hard to root for. We do get to see some familiar faces as well such as the ever-loyal Silar Thornblood and the mercenary Dolthaic who further linked Deathblade to the original chronicles, and new characters in Malus's entourage were also quite enjoyable such as Malus's lover Vincirix and the sadistic Kunor. However when viewed as a Malus Darkblade novel the changes to the character aspect are clear, the chronicles were about Malus Darkblade, first and foremost, they were about him as a character and what events he caused around him. Deathblade is the opposite, Malus is one of many characters here and he is not the central focus, rather the battle for Ulthuan is the focus, which makes the novel suffer in comparison to previous adventures, since it doesn't feel like Malus is the focus of his own story anymore. One other aspect that I missed was the relationship between Malus and Tz'arkan, in the original chronicles these two were often played against each other verbally, leading to many interesting conversations about the Warhammer world, the Dark Elves, Chaos and the nature of both characters, and Tz'arkan's snide commentary on both Malus and the events of his life. But in Deathblade this is absent entirely, Tz'arkan only piping up to offer the standard promises of unholy and eternal power and Malus responding ninety-nine percent of the time with "shut up," which I felt lessened the novel in comparison to Darkblade's original epic.
The action in the book is on a much bigger scale than most of Malus's previous adventures, only Lord of Ruin coming close to the same level of destruction. The book focuses on the early campaign in Warhammer: Khaine which includes the Landing at Tiranoc, the Siege of Eagle Gate and the Battle of Reaver's Mark. Werner handles these climactic battles very well, showing that Malus has truly grown as a commander of warriors, though his brutality has also grown, and that Malus truly does deserve the right to command the armies of the Druchii. The battles between the Asur and Druchii were all very well written with clear environment details, deployment information and unit identities to help the reader picture the battle as they read, and the narrative keeps the flow of the battle nicely ordered even when things go to hell so that the reader is never bewildered by events. One aspect that I found well done was the ever-confusing numbers of the Elves, Werner keeps the numbers of both armies at reasonable amounts and the casualties are kept at a reasonable rate, no hundreds of thousands of losses that to the numbers of a "dying race" would constitute a near extinction event. However the larger scale of events further separates the novel from Malus's previous adventures, taking the focus away from Malus and putting them on the Battle of Ulthuan, of which Malus is just one of many players, only an early battle scene on the Eternal Malediction and Malus's personal attacks into the Eagle Gate felt like they still had the "feel" of Malus's previous adventures rather than the pre-determined outcome of the bigger battles.
The pacing of the book is nicely ordered, the novel is divided into three sections; section one covering the lead-up to the battle of Ulthuan and the events that see Malus put into the unfortunate position he finds himself in later, section two covers the battle for Eagle Gate and is the largest of the book, while section three covers the climactic battle of Reaver's Mark and serves as the final scene of the Chronicles of Malus Darkblade. Despite my issues with the rest of the book I found the pacing to be nice and easy, I never felt bored during the book or felt like events were dragging beyond what they needed to be. Only one scene in the book truly did confuse me, in section three Malus has an important moment with one of his underlings, but I did not understand why this occurred and what Malus's motive actually was for that act, some more explanation there would have been helpful as it clearly refers to the original chronicles.
My favourite quote, sadly does not come from Malus himself but it was definitely the most epic quote of the novel;
The ending of the novel and Malus Darkblade as a series was both surprising and not surprising. Anyone who read Warhammer: Khaine, as I did, knows how Malus's story comes to a close, but even if I had not read that it would have been surprising, for the story of such an important character in Warhammer ending the way it did, and not surprising because... well could it really have ended any other way for everyone's favourite Dark Elf?? From the viewpoint as an End Times book the ending to Deathblade serves as a great way to close off what can be considered the first third of the overall story for the Elves in the End Times, it shows the fate of several important characters and sets up the scene for the next third of the story, which we can only hope will receive it's own novelization. As a Malus Darkblade book the ending is... acceptable. It may not be the ending everyone had hoped for Darkblade, but it is the ending that he as a character and we as readers got, and while we can dislike it or like it as we choose, I cannot say it is a bad or a good ending. It simply is what it is and it is up to each and every reader to decide whether or not the conclusion to the Chronicles of Malus Darkblade is what they wanted for Malus as a character or it is not.
Due to my mixed feelings on this novel I have decided to give it two scores, one score for what I feel it deserves as a book of the End Times, and a second score for what I feel it deserves as a Malus Darkblade book. As an End Times book with an enjoyable story that provides much detail that was lacking in previous releases and very well written battle scenes that nicely conveyed the scale and importance of the End Times, I give Deathblade a score of 8.3/10. But as a Malus Darkblade novel I must give Deathblade a score of 6.2/10, an above average score for me, due to the lack of focus on Malus, the pre-determined details of events, and the changes in the style of both story and characters from the original chronicles, all of which were at least 8/10s for me. This is a novel that End Times fans will definitely enjoy as it takes a more detailed look at part of the Khaine story rather than trying to condense the entire campaign into one novel, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who found The Curse of Khaine lacking. To fans of Malus Darkblade's original adventures I would still suggest reading it as it does reveal the ultimate fate of Darkblade, but I would not suggest that you expect a story or characters in the same vein as the original series.
That's it for this review, thank you very much for reading. Until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!