Just to come clean at the beginning of this review, I am a bit biased in my opinion towards Malekith (as one might expect of a High Elf player). That being said, I have finished the first book in The Sundering trilogy and I have to admit that it is very different from what I expected.
From everything that I have read before, I received the impression that Malekith was constantly scheming to take the Phoenix Throne, but the book paints a different picture.
The book starts with a brief history of Malekith being the son of Aenarion and Morathi. After Aenarion’s death, the throne of the Phoenix King was vacant and it was time for a successor to be named. Believing Malekith’s half-siblings(Aenarion and the Everqueen’s children) to be dead, Morathi assumed that the rule would pass to Malekith.
It turns out that Malekith’s half-brother was alive, but did not make a claim for the throne. Fearing the taint that might be on Malekith due to Aenarion’s use of the Sword of Khaine, and his upbringing in Nagarythe, the elven princes chose to elect one of their number to the Phoenix Throne instead, Bel Shanaar.
Morathi did not take this well, but Malekith was the first to bend his knee to the new king. Frustrated with the selection and having the finest army in Ulthuan, Malekith decides to take his army out fighting.
The first half of the book details how Malekith travels around establishing the elven colonies and also the meeting of the Dwarfs. Malekith encounters the Dwarfs during his journeys and sensing that the relationship with them might be beneficial, sets about fostering good relations.
Acting as Bel Shanaar’s ambassador, Malekith ends up negotiating a trade agreement with the Dwarfs and becoming good friends with the Dwarf King, going on hunting trips together and even running across primitive (pre-technology) man.
Eventually, the Dwarf King dies of old age, and Malekith hangs out in the colonies. He grows a bit bored and plans another expedition, into the northern Chaos Wastes. Morathi arrives right before he leaves and gifts him with some really big boats (dragon ships) and Malekith sets out.
His voyage takes him by the isle where the Sword of Khaine rests. Malekith disembarks, hoping to return the bones of Aenarion and Indraugnir (his dragon) to Ulthuan. He doesn’t find the bones, but he does find The Sword. He resists its calling, sends his mother home and continues on his journey. The first half of the book concludes with Malekith finding the Circlet of Iron in an ancient ruin. This artifact greatly enhances his magical abilities and with this, he finally decides to return to Ulthuan.
Upon Malekith’s return, it turns out that Ulthuan has been infested by cults to the darker elven gods. The cults are attracting more followers and this is quickly becoming a problem. Bel Shanaar and the princes gather and decide that they need to appoint somebody to bring an end to the cults. None of the princes are willing to lead the force… until Malekith arrives and agrees to do it.
Malekith starts in his homeland, Nagarythe. After destroying many cultists and taking others as prisoners, he discovers that his mother, Morathi is at the heart of the cults. There is a brief magic duel between mother and son, where Morathi ends up on the winning side as she flies off (Steed of Shadows anyone?) with Malekith crumpled up on the ground in pain.
A much larger force is gathered, and Malekith employs some trickery to lay siege to Tor Anlec, the major fortress in Nagarythe. The siege is rather interesting one (introducing many of the dark elf units) and I will not try to describe everything that happens here. As one might expect, it culminates with another encounter between mother and son. This time, the magical duel is more drawn out and eventually ends with Malekith taking his mother as prisoner.
I will briefly stop with my review right here, because this was sort of a problem area for me. I had a problem with the Malekith character at this point. He had been so dead set of exterminating the cults, but in this brief encounter his mother basically convinces him to allow the cults to exist ans use them as his tool. It makes sense in the grand story, but the character change was a bit too swift for me. Anyway, back to the review
Morathi is taken back to Bel Shanaar and held as a prisoner. Over the years, Malekith visits his mother frequently and grows more frustrated with Bel Shanaar. After Bel Shanaar being on the throne for almost 1700 years, Malekith kicks into motion a plan for him to take the crown.
The cults rise up again (how convenient). Malekith convinces Bel Shanaar to hold a council of the princes at the Temple of Asuryan to form up against the threat. Malekith poisons Bel Shanaar and uses evidence that Morathi and gang had planted many years ago that Bel Shanaar was involved with the cults.
All but two of the princes (Caledor and his cousin) convene at the Temple and are awaiting the arrival of Bel Shanaar. Eventually Malekith shows up and explains to the that Bel Shanaar was involved in the cults and took poison to avoid the embarrassment of being exposed and put on trial.
Malekith tries to convince the princes to choose him as king, but when that doesn’t go so well, he ends up killing them. Then, as his father did before him, he stepped into the Flame of Asuryan without any of the protections used when Bel Shanaar passed through them. We are left with Malekith throwing himself out of the flames, but his body is still burning.
Overall, a very good book. I wasn’t expecting Malekith to be so “good” for most of the book. Admittedly, he has ambition, but nowhere near the evil I expected, which seems to really come from his mother. I am looking forward to the next two books, where the civil war culminates, though I will be sad with the amount of elves that will die.
My biggest complaint about the book has to do with the maps included, or lack thereof. The only map included is “present day” Ulthuan. However, the entirety of this book takes place before The Sundering (where part of Ulthuan falls into the sea) so it is not an accurate representation of the world at the time of the book. The second complaint about the maps is that a large portion of the book focuses on the Elven colonies and Nagarythe. There is no map for the colonies, although I think that you can use present day Bretonnia to get an idea of where the cities might have been established, since I recall that the Bretonnians built some of their castles on elven ruins. I assume that you could probably get maps for the Dwarfen areas from the Dwarf army book, but am not sure. A zoomed in map of Nagarythe would also have been handy. In the end, these are not necessary, but would have been a nice touch.