A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R. R. Martin
Illustrated by Gary Gianni
Harper Voyager (2015)
A century before A Game of Thrones, two unlikely heroes wandered Westeros.
I got quite excited about this when I picked it up. It consists of three novellas (The Hedge Knight, The Sworn Sword and The Mystery Knight) about a noble hedge knight, Ser Duncan the Tall, and his young squire Aegon ‘Egg’ Targaryen, whose true identity they must keep hidden. Set in Westeros 100 years before the Song of Ice and Fire series, I was looking forward to learning some backstory. Perhaps it’s too long since I’ve read all the other books, or perhaps I was expecting too much and this is just intended as essentially standalone, but I felt slightly confused by who was whom and how most of those mentioned relate to any character I’m familiar with.
Ser Duncan is young and naive but full of good intent and noble. Egg is mischievous and provides much of the humour, but he is also haughty in a way that only a Targaryen prince could be.
The Hedge Knight: The story of how Dunk and Egg meet, and the disastrous consequences that befall Dunk when he enters a tourney at Ashford Meadow.
The Sworn Sword: Dunk and Egg have travelled many miles over the last two years. Dunk is now a sworn sword for Ser Eustace Osgrey, an aging knight, also referred to as Ser Useless. When the Red Widow diverts his stream in the middle of a drought, it leads to a tense conflict. Can Dunk face down the Red Widow and her men alone? Or does he even want to?
The Mystery Knight: Dunk and Egg are on their way north to Winterfell but detour to the wedding of Lord Ambrose Butterwell to a daughter of House Frey. Dunk hopes to be successful in the jousting to earn some money. However all is not as it seems at this wedding, putting the lives of Dunk and Egg in extreme danger.
It’s classic George R. R. Martin style, with breathtaking scope and detail, from descriptions of armour to meals, to family histories and the interlinking of various houses. It genuinely astounds me that all of this could come from one person. I have heard more than once that Martin is not a great writer, and while I do kind of understand the argument, I can’t say I agree. The sheer imagination it requires is enough to win my vote, rather than any apparent deficit in literary merit. It’s a compelling world that keeps me turning pages. Even if, like these novellas, I couldn’t quite invest. They’re ok, but nothing amazing. I don’t feel it really added anything to my Song of Ice and Fire experience. Taken on their own, I probably wouldn’t have finished all the way to the end.
Gianni’s illustrations are superb and really bring the story to life. The double page illustration deserves a special mention, it’s just amazing.
It was fun to get a fix of the Westeros world though whilst waiting for the next installment. If you’re jonsin’ for that fix, it could be worth it. On the other hand, you could re-read the other titles instead.