Thursday, November 12, 2015

George R.R. Martin's “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” May Be the Most Fun In Westeros Yet!

Two months ago, I deemed The Einstein Prophecy by Robert Masello my favorite book of 2015. But after reading George R.R. Martin’s A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, I must say we have a new winner. In fact, this one may rank among my favorite books of all time. Here are a few reasons why.

Unlike A Game of Thrones with its epic scope and myriad of viewpoint characters, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms follows the adventures of Ser Duncan the Tall, sometimes referred to as Dunk the Lunk, and his squire, a bald, scrawny boy of eight curiously named Egg. In fact, before they were compiled into this beautifully illustrated tome, these novellas were known as “The Tales of Dunk and Egg.” Compared to the frequent grimness of A Song of Ice and Fire, this book is a breath of fresh air. My only wish is that it was longer, for I would love to read more of their adventures.

Set a hundred years before A Game of Thrones, the story opens with Dunk burying the hedge knight he served. In Westeros, even a hedge knight has the power to bestow knighthood on another, but it’s never clear whether the old man knighted Dunk or if the lad just took the old man’s sword and horse and set off to seek fame and fortune at the nearest tourney. Along the way, he meets an odd and likeable boy named Egg who wants desperately to become Dunk’s squire. Together, they set out on a series of adventures that will shape the fate of the Seven Kingdoms. And adding a twist to the tale, one of the pair is far more than he appears.

The novel is comprised of three novellas that Martin published between 1998 and 2010. The first story, titled “The Hedge Knight,” is our introduction to Dunk and Egg and the endearing relationship the two share. Without giving too much away, Dunk ends up in trouble with a Targaryen prince while trying to save a smallfolk girl Dunk has grown fond of. Ser Duncan, you see, is a knight true to his vows, but by honoring those vows, he soon finds himself in a trial by combat to save his life. The story involves dreams and prophecies and even hints to events that will transpire in A Song of Ice and Fire, but this is a character-driven tale with a protagonist and his squire you cannot help but love. Of the three novellas, “The Hedge Knight” was my favorite. But believe me, it was a very close call.

The second story, titled “The Sworn Sword,” involves a conflict with the Red Window, a noble lady who may have murdered her last four husbands, and now she’s at odds with the lord to whom Dunk has sworn his sword. This is the first of the three tales that delves into the political history of Westeros and an event called the Blackfyre Rebellion, where a bastard son of the old Targaryen king declared his rights to the Iron Throne. Here we learn of the red dragon – the banner of the Targaryen loyalists – and the black dragon, the banner of the rebel cause. As Dunk often reminds himself, “red or black was a dangerous question, even now.” It reminded me of the War of the Roses – a red rose or a white one – but then again, English history has always been Martin’s inspiration for his tales of Westeros.

Like all three stories, “The Sworn Sword” contains a good plot twist, but it also offers the most intriguing female character of the three tales. I found myself hoping for a happy ending, but then reminded myself this was written by George R.R. Martin. He gave us the Red Wedding, after all.

The third story, titled “The Mystery Knight,” concerns the second Blackfyre Rebellion, another tourney at the lists, and a dragon egg as a prize. There is even a prophecy of a dragon to be born from this conflict, and a hint of the coming of Daenerys’ dragons from A Game of Thrones. Like the first tale, Dunk and Egg find themselves embroiled in another adventure that will shape the fate of the Seven Kingdoms. There are a few more twists in this one than the other two, and it serves as a fitting ending to the book, though it left me wanting more. Fortunately, Martin plans on continuing the adventures of Dunk and Egg. If only he could finish The Winds of Winter and get on with it!

What makes this novel so wonderful is its namesake, Ser Duncan – the Knight of the Seven Kingdoms – and his relationship with the young boy, Egg. It’s different than anything Martin has given us in the world of A Song of Ice and Fire, and as much as I enjoy his epic series, these three little tales were probably the most fun I’ve had in Westeros since I discovered Martin’s works. He’s promised us more of Dunk and Egg and I’m eagerly awaiting their next adventure.


Bill said...

So glad you agree with me about this book, Joe. Great minds and all that.

I think the world of "A Knight" rings true as historical accurate to "Song." The background information on the recent civil war and political situation in Westeros gives me a better understanding of the far longer series of novels. We see many of the same dynastic families of course. I really hope Martin lives long and prospers to finish "The Winds of Winter" and write some more in this earlier timeline. As you say, the books lack some of the grimness, although there's plenty of violence and death.

Joseph Finley said...

Great minds think alike!