Trollwood Reviews A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R. R. Martin Posted on 21 Nov 22:30 , 1 comment
A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is beautifully written high fantasy from the nib of a master storyteller.
Bringing together for the first time in one volume three novellas written by Martin over the course of a decade, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms documents the adventures of Dunk (“Ser Duncan the Tall”), a knight of the hedgerows, and his bald-headed squire Egg (who will grow up to become King Aegon V). Set one hundred years before the events of A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF), during the twilight years of Targaryen rule, The Hedge Knight (1998), Sworn Sword (2003) and The Mystery Knight (2010) are filled with all the colour, scheming and stonking good fights we’ve come to expect from Martin.
The Hedge Knight tells the story of Dunk’s first tourney following the death of his master and mentor, Ser Arlan of Pennytree. The way Martin tells it hedge knights have more in common with carny folk or itinerant boxers than the noblemen they aspire to serve. Before he can compete Dunk must first pawn his dead master’s horse to buy armour for the joust and convince the Master of the Lists that he’s a real knight. Dunk does have one advantage though- his enormous size. He is “one inch shy of seven feet” which even his most snobbish adversaries can’t ignore. Dunk is not exactly the sharpest lance on the rack, however, and he quickly finds himself embroiled in the intrigues of Targaryen princelings and playing a far deadlier game.
The Sworn Sword sees Dunk and Egg working for Ser Eustace Osgrey, the scion of an ancient noble house fallen on hard times, during one of the worst droughts in living memory. Dunk is one of only two knights employed by Ser Eustace to defend his lands and castle, a decrepit old tower overrun with fleas and chickens. When rival House Webber dams up the Chequy Water, the Osgrey’s main water source, Dunk and Egg are sent to treat with the notorious Red Widow. What Dunk receives when he gets there is a lesson in history, courtship and treachery. Again Dunk must rely on his brute strength, resourcefulness and a little help from his squire Egg to settle accounts.
In The Mystery Knight Dunk and Egg enter jousts that are being held to celebrate the marriage of two powerful families. All Dunk wants, besides filling his belly with suckling pig and Dornish wine, is to win a ransom or two and a look at the dragon’s egg they’re offering as first prize. At the wedding banquet Dunk meets a motley crew of other hedge knights and noblemen of uncertain extraction, as well as mysterious bard who claims to have seen his future. When Dunk runs afoul of a jousting shark in his first tilt, the dragon egg goes missing and his squire Egg vanishes without a trace, Dunk finally realizes he’s in very deep water and sinking fast.
There’s so much to like about these stories, even for people who are not usually fans of Martin. For one thing the main character Dunk is genuinely likeable. The main characters in ASOIAF are interesting but I can’t think of many who are genuinely likeable (except perhaps for Samwell Tarly). Even Tyrion Lannister, Martin’s obvious favourite, does and says some terrible things. Dunk’s a bit of an oaf, to be sure, but he’s kind to his squire and his fondness for his old master is endearing. Secondly, you don’t have to worry about Dunk dying every time you pick up the book because it’s a matter of recorded history that Dunk becomes Lord Commander of the Kingsguard under Aegon V. Until that happens, you know he’s going to make it. That in itself sets the tales of Dunk and Egg apart from the rest of ASOIAF. Thirdly, the fight scenes are gritty and exciting. More often than not stuff goes wrong (fog of war) and Dunk has rely as much on his street fighting instincts as his formal knightly training to defeat his opponents. Finally although the stories are a lighter read than ASOIAF the world-building is still rich and complex. You get a sense that Dunk is part of something much larger than himself (even at 7 foot tall) and often the situations in which he finds himself are far more complex than he realizes. If you’re into the history and politics of Westeros, there’s plenty in these stories to sink your teeth into. Personally speaking I really appreciated the insight these stories provided into life under the Targaryen Kings, which ASOIAF constantly alludes to but never revisits.
The book itself has been put together with great care. The fine illustrations by Gary Gianni complement the action perfectly and resemble illustrations found in history texts of yore rather comic book art you find in graphic novels. They enhance the experience of reading without displacing the reader’s own imagination. For fans of ASOIAF and the Game of Thrones TV series A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is guaranteed to hit the mark, and scratch that itch between now and the next installment of ASOIAF, whenever that may be.