Malyen Oretsev, commonly known as Mal, is Alina Starkov's childhood best friend, a former soldier of the First Army and a gifted tracker.
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 Keramzin 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.
Shadow and Bone
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 track Morozova's Stag for the Darkling. They encounter a patrol of Fjerdans, and Mal is one of the only Ravkan men who survive. 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.
Siege and Storm
Mal and Alina are on a ship to Novyi Zem, hoping to escape the threat of the Darkling and the Fold. Onboard 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, he 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 entertained 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.
Ruin and Rising
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 and 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.
Rule of Wolves
The Darkling having returned to life in the body of Yuri, demanded to see Alina again. A meeting is arranged between them at an abandoned sanatorium, and Mal is there to accompany Alina. During the meeting, the Darkling unexpectedly jumped between Mal and Alina who had been holding hands at that moment, and drove a piece of thorn wood he had kept hidden in his clothes through their hands. He needed the blood of the person who had killed him and a person who was related to him by blood in order to gain his powers back. He then managed to escape.
Zoya then suggested they placed guards at the orphanage or moved them to a safer location because the Darkling might go after them. Alina and Mal refused and left to go back to Keramzin with Misha, and Oncat.
Mal was present at Zoya's coronation, as he was invited along with Alina.
Personality and traits
Mal is confident, snarky, and at times cocky. Although Mal has his faults, he is loyal, willing to walk to great lengths just to get to Alina and remain by her side. Throughout the series, his personality develops, at first he could be whinny and sometimes selfish, but then he was willing to step aside as romantic interest so Alina, the girl he loved, could be with then prince Nikolai to have the power and influence she needed, all the while staying by her side, helping, supporting and defending her no matter if it hurt him.
Mal has brown hair and blue eyes. He is fairly tall and is described as handsome. Due to his training as a soldier, he is well built. He has a tattoo, the intricate design of a compass rose akin to a sun stretches across his back, the points reaching from shoulder to shoulder and down his spine. Letters in ancient Ravkan that read "E'ya sta rezku" (I am become a blade) are worked into the design.
Skills and abilities
He is a well-trained soldier and a gifted tracker, able to find just about anything with a heartbeat.
Mal and Alina were raised together in the orphanage at Keramzin, and ended up serving in the Ravkan army together. Although they were best friends, Alina had always loved Mal but he was oblivious of this fact, constantly flirting with other girls and boasting about his conquests to Alina. After it was discovered Alina was Grisha and had to leave to go to the Little Palace, Mal became cold toward her.
Alina not getting any of Mal's letters begins to develop feelings for the Darkling as they both share a bond due to being one of a kind Grisha. Later on, Alina realizes the Darkling had ulterior motives and her feelings dissolve. After finding a way to each other again, Alina and Mal's relationship further deteriorates, and another contender to Alina's heart enters the scene: Nikolai Lantsov, the then Prince of Ravka, who offers Alina his hand in marriage after they meet in the search for one of Morozova's three amplifiers.
Ultimately, though, Mal and Alina end up together. The pair were thought to be dead by most of Ravka, this allows them to find a semblance of peace and privacy. They get married and run the old orphanage where they grew up in.
- Shadow and Bone (first appearance)
- The Tailor (mentioned only)
- Siege and Storm
- Ruin and Rising
- Rule of Wolves