Malyen Oretsev, commonly known as Mal, is Alina Starkov's childhood best friend, a former soldier of the First Army and a gifted tracker.
Appearance and Personality
Mal has brown hair and blue eyes, and is described as handsome. He is a gifted tracker, able to find just about anything with a heartbeat. In Ruin and Rising he is shown to feature a very prominent tattoo on his back which reads "I am become a blade".
Mal was born in a settlement in Dva Stolba along the southern border with Shu Han and likely lost his family to the Border Wars. He spent most of his childhood in the Orphanage of Keramzin which was led by Duke Keramsov, where he met and befriended Alina Starkov. Mal and Alina have known each other their whole lives and were seemingly inseparable as children having come from the same unnamed village. Since Mal was a child he has shown promise as a tracker, accompanying the men of the Kermazin Orphanage on hunting trips.
After the Grisha's examination which is assumed they did not pass, they end up in the military on a march to Poliznaya.
When their regiment tries to cross the Shadow Fold, their sand skiffs are attacked by Volcra, who almost kill Mal. This activates Alina's latent Grisha power, and the two are separated after it is discovered that Alina is a Sun Summoner.
In the months after, Mal is sent with a regiment of men to Tsibeya and into Fjerda to trag Morozova's Stag for the Darkling. They encounter a patrol of Fjerdans, and Mal is one of the only Ravkan men who survives. Two of his long time friends, Mikhael and Dubrov, are killed. The guilt of surviving eats away at Mal, and the time away from Alina makes him realize how much he truly loves her, and that he can't live without her. He writes her a letter expressing his feelings, but does not send it.
Returning to Os Alta to update the Darkling on their mission to find the Stag, Mal sees Alina at the Little Palace during the display of her powers at the Winter Fete. They reunite, and after a brief conversation, Mal remarks that he is angered by the 'new' Alina she has become, upset that he has not heard from her all this time while he was out there fighting and nearly dying. he is unaware that Genya was preventing Alina's letters from reaching him, and believes her to have left him behind the moment her station was elevated. When they get a moment alone they argue, and ultimately he leaves the Little Palace. However, when he learns that Alina is on the run from the Darkling, he tracks her, and they reunite in order to help Alina find the stag. While tracking the stag, the two confess their love for each other and grow close again.
The Darkling eventually catches them along with the stag, which Mal has tracked successfully, and, using David's abilities as a Durast, succeeds in fixing the stag's antlers about Alina's neck as a collar. He has Mal put in chains as they camp for the night before leaving for Kribirsk.
Mal is locked up in the jail at Kribirsk, and the Darkling allows Alina to visit him the night before he plans to enter the Shadow Fold and execute Mal, despite having initially promised Mal's safety. However, once inside the Fold, the Darkling's plans fail when Alina breaks free from his control and she escapes with Mal. The book ends with Mal and Alina sailing across the sea together to Novyi Zem.
Mal and Alina are on a ship to Novyi Zem, hoping to escape the threat of the Darkling and the Fold. On board the ship, Mal thrives and makes himself at home, forming fast friends among the crew.
When they arrive in the Cofton they stay in a hotel, paying for a shared room with money they earn from the small jobs they have found working at a Jurda factory. However, one day, they both return to their room to discover the Darkling and his Grisha have been waiting for them. They attempt to fight back but are ultimately captured and taken aboard the Darkling's ship. There, Mal agrees to track down another mythological amplifier - the Sea Whip - for the Darkling after the Darkling makes threats towards Alina's life.
After Mal tracks down the Sea Whip, they escape from the Darking's captivity with the handsome privateer Sturmhondand the Shu Heartrender twins Tolya and Tamar, both whom Mal quickly forms a friendship with. Promising to get them back to the mainland so Alina can take her place as head of the Grisha, Sturmhond takes them into the Fold on his flying ship Hummingbird, even though he originally promised to leave them on the coast. Mal is furious about the deception at first, but then sees the potential in using Alina's power to allow them to hunt the volcra in the Shadow Fold. Though they are initially successful, the situation goes awry when Alina suddenly sees a vision of the Darkling and inadvertently drops the protective light, allowing the volcra to attack the ship. Crew members are injured and killed, but Mal escapes alive.
After landing in West Ravka, Sturmhond reveals his true identity as Nikolai Lantsov, Prince of Ravka, Nikolai proposes that Alina marry him and help him unite the First and Second Armies. Mal vehemently objects and threatens Nikolai. Nikolai, Alina and Mal go to Os Alta, where Alina takes control of the Second Army in order to save her people and country.
In Os Alta, him and Alina begin to grow apart. He is concerned about her wanting too much power, as well as Nikolai's advances and intentions with Alina. Additionally, he is not happy in Os Alta, as he feels he has no true use other than being an amusement for the nobility, who use him for his tracking and are entetained by stories of his military days. He wants her to run away from this new life so that they can go back to their old lives, but Alina recognizes her responsibility to fight and protect her country - as well as her own lust for power - and declines. Due to their differences in priorities they break up, and he later spends much of his time either drinking or joining a Grisha fight club in an attempt to reclaim his sense of self-agency. During one of these fights, Alina catches Zoya (Alina's then-rival) kissing Mal, which he reciprocates, which leads to Alina breaking down and crying and another fight between them.
The Darkling attacks Os Alta, and corners Alina, Mal, and the surviving Grisha in the chapel. Alina tells them all to run and goes to the Darkling; tricking him into letting her get close enough to kiss him, Alina uses his powers to bring down the chapel, and ultimately the both of them. She tries to end the chaos with the Darkling once and for all, rather than submitting and letting him win. She almost succeeds, but Mal pulls her from the chapel before she is crushed by the falling roof.
While Alina is recovering from her fight with the Darkling, he begins training her army and also himself. He apologizes and realizes that all he wants to do is make sure Alina has the support she needs and deserves, no matter who she is and what she decides to do. He is there for her. He even decides to step aside and allow her to marry Nikolai if she wants, if that's what's best for Ravka.
While searching for the last amplifier, Mal and Alina find out the truth about Mal's heritage. He is descended from Baghra's sister, making him a great-nephew of the Darkling. It also makes him an amplifier. He accepts this fate, understanding and willing to die for Alina. Later, Alina tells him they were always meant to be together, and asks him not to give his life for her - that they'll find another way.
In the Fold, Mal sacrifices himself to Alina so that she can defeat the Darkling. However, after Mal dies and Alina uses the amplifier, her power is given to many of the soldiers nearby as well as scattered across the continent, and she is left powerless against the Darkling. Tolya and Tamar use their Heartrender skills to bring Mal back, an impossible feat made possible because being an amplifier, he had two lives. With one taken he was left with the life that he was meant to have. In doing so, however, he loses his ability to track.
After the death of the Darkling, Mal and Alina are presumed dead by most of Ravka. They adopt Misha, take new names for themselves, and are married. They journey back to the ruins of Keramzin, their childhood orphanage, and rebuild it with a bit of help from King Nikolai. They go on to live under aliases and running the orphanage for the rest of their lives. They are visited during the first winter by Genya, David, and Zoya, some of the only people who know who they truly are.
- "No fainting in the middle of the road," – p. 10
- "I see. I can shove you under a cart if that would help." – p 11
- "I'm not afraid to die, Alina," he said in that cold, steady voice that seemed so alien to me. "But I'd like to give us a fighting change. We have to go after the stag." ‒ p. 268
- "Don't tell me we don't belong together." ‒ p. 298
- "I'm sorry it took me so long to see you, Alina. But I see you now." ‒ p. 298
- "I missed you every hour. And you know what the worst part was? It caught me completely by surprise. I love you, Alina, even the part of you that loved him." ‒ p. 331
- "We'll find a way out of this, Alina. We always do." - p. 60
- "I am become a blade." – p. 113
- "I wasn't afraid of you, Alina. I was afraid of losing you. The girl you were becoming didn't need me anymore, but she's who you were always meant to be."
- "I would have been different too, without you. Weaker, reckless." He smiled slightly. "Afraid of the dark." He brushed the tears from my cheeks. I wasn't sure when they'd started. "But no matter who or what I was, I would have been yours."
- "You are all I have ever wanted. You are the whole of my heart." – p. 236