Our author who art in progress hallowed be his name…or cursed depending on which side you fall. I still love GRRM even though he just recently announced The Winds of Winter will not be completed before the 6th season of Game of Thrones comes out. Even though I’m a nobody writer and he’s an epic sensation, I still have penned a few (unpublished) novels, and what you plan and what occurs are almost always two different things. I can use my WIP The Broken Rose as an example. I thought it was only going to be 10k words; it’s currently almost 160k and set to take over Northern Lights in word count. Martin is writing a seven book epic with over a thousand characters and intricate plot twists. He is juggling more balls than you’d find in a ball pit.
So I don’t begrudge him his time as many people seem to do. I’ve heard a lot of “Stop doing all the things and write!” Yeah…as a writer you can’t always do that. Life gets in the way. While I wish I could just write all the time, I have other responsibilities, and even though GRRM doesn’t have the day job I do, I’m sure he still has other obligations to fulfill. You also can’t just write anywhere at anytime (contrary to popular belief). If he’s doing a convention or some other contractual obligation, he can’t necessarily write on his downtime. Most writers have a procedure and/or mindset they need to be in, and he’s actually spoken of his quite often. Even then sometimes the writing comes good and sometimes the writing comes nonexistent.
ANYWAY…this is not meant to be a defense of George R R Martin (I defend enough characters, lord knows…), but rather the introduction to my review of A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, the first three part of the adventures of Dunk and Egg featuring the prequel novellas to A Song of Ice and Fire: The Hedge Knight, The Sworn Sword, and The Mystery Knight all in the same volume.
I’d had my eye on this for a while, but was unable to readily locate each volume separately in an easy manner. They are actually graphic novels so my Kindle wouldn’t really serve, and all attempts to purchase online were thwarted by either unavailability or high price so I was overjoyed when AKOTSK was released in this manner, and it was a refreshing new journey back to the still brutal, hundred years prior Seven Kingdoms that I still love.
The story follows the fore mentioned Dunk and Egg on their travels through an older but still tumultuous Westeros. Though each story leads from the other, they each have their own main plot so I will be reviewing each novella separately and spoilers will be marked.
The Hedge Knight
The story opens with death. Dunk, a young squire turned hedge knight, is burying his deceased master Ser Arlan of Pennytree who died of a chill on their way to the tourney at Ashford Meadow. Dunk is originally from the Flea Bottom slums of King’s Landing where he was found by Ser Arlan after the death of his nephew Roger made it necessary for the old knight to acquire a new squire. Dunk decides to take up Ser Arlan’s arms and continue on to Ashford Meadow to compete in the tourney since he really has no other recourse. He in incredibly tall being near to seven feet though he doesn’t believe he’s yet reached his 17th name day. Since he was an orphan in Flea Bottom, Dunk has no memory of parents and no idea how old he is.
On the way to Ashford Meadow, Dunk stops to rest at an inn where he meets a feisty stable boy with a clean shaved head. He is also accosted by a drunk who tells the young knight that he dreamt of him with dragons. The stable boy begs Dunk to take him to Ashford as his squire, but Dunk refuses not that it matters as the youth follows him anyway. The knight finds out that his name is Egg, which goes well with the shape of his bald head, and Dunk reluctantly allows him to be his squire.
When he arrives at Ashford, Dunk runs into a major problem. Without the recognition that he’s a knight he won’t be able to compete. Almost serendipitously , he walks into a discussion among the powerful and Prince Baelor “Breakspear” Targaryen vouches for him, but he’s told that he much change the device on his shield as Ser Arlan was not his kin; therefore, he cannot bear his sigil. Dunk finds a puppeteer girl who is called Tanselle Too Tall, (though he thinks later “she would not be too tall for me”) who agrees to repaint his shield with an elm tree and shooting star.
But then later that night Egg comes running to inform the young knight that the puppeteer is being beaten by Prince Aerion “Brightflame” Targaryen for daring to show the dragon defeated in their show. Dunk rushes to her defense, striking Aerion in the face and knocking out a few of his teeth.
Dunk is still arrested, and the next day, when he’s (thankfully) taken before Prince Baelor, he is accused of not only striking a prince of the blood, but also of kidnapping Aegon by the little prince’s father who in his embarrassment at having one son (Aegon) slip away and the other son (Daeron who told Dunk of his dreams in the inn) be a drunkard, thought to save face in the accusation. Baelor is at odds as he is a just man, knows what Aerion is like, and admits to Dunk that he would’ve done the same himself, but…Baelor is a Targaryen prince and Dunk is a commoner who struck royal blood. The knight is given the choice of losing a foot or trial by combat, and of course he chooses the latter since he’s sure of his prowess with a sword. Dunk, though, still has no luck for Aerion demands that the combat be a Trial by Seven, which is much harder to facilitate as the accused must then find six other men to fight for him. Dunk barely knows anyone at Ashford Meadow and had a hard enough time securing his place in the tourney as a knight, but if he doesn’t find six other men, he is guilty by forfeit.
Dunk first finds Steffon Fossaway, a squire, who promises to bring the big knight more allies as does his cousin for whom he’s squiring, Raymun Fossaway. Egg, too, vows to bring champions to Dunk’s cause. Together they gather Sers Humfrey Hardyng and Humfrey Beesbury, good-brothers seeking revenge for the grievance Prince Aerion committed against Hardyng by purposely killing his horse, which cause the knight to break his leg. Ser Humfrey H obviously can’t stand, but he can still sit astride. Egg finds Ser Robin Rhysling and Ser Lyonel Baratheon (the Laughing Storm). Then Steffon returns as a turncloak, saying he’s decided to fight for the accusers in return for a lordship. His squire Raymun is beside himself with wrath for this treachery and begs to be knighted to fight in his false cousin’s place, but Dunk is still short one man even after this and beseeches the crowd for help. Though he has gained a lot of their love fore being a “true knight,” his pleas go unanswered. Then Prince Baelor announces he will champion Dunk as his seventh though three of the accusers are Targaryens and three are his father’s kingsguard. This is actually an advantage as the latter will not touch a prince of the blood and the former would not risk being kinslayers.
The battle ends with Aerion withdrawing his accusation though not without tragedy. In the aftermath Prince Maekar offers Dunk a position in his household guard to train Aegon, but the hedge knight refuses. He wishes to travel and offers to take Egg with him to teach him to be a knight and a better man than Aerion (not that that would be difficult). Maekar agrees after ensuring that Dunk will uphold the illusion that Aegon is merely Egg, the squire. The knight vows he will and he and Aegon turned Egg head for Dorne.
What I found so interesting was that Westeros a hundred years in the past is pretty much the same as Westeros now. Nothing has really changed. If we consider what a hundred years ago was like in our world, it is quite different (at least in some appearances. Many thought patterns are sadly still the same, but that’s beyond the scope of this review). What ASOIAF shows with the nobles and high lords AKOTSK does with the small folk, landed knights, and petty lords. Just like ASOIAF, Knight occurs in the aftermath of a rebellion that took place 16-17 years ago, the Blackfyre Rebellion as compared to Robert’s, but where Robert’s succeeded, the Blackfyre’s failed. It is interesting to note that both conflicts concerned the Targaryens. I’ll have more things to discuss about this in my reviews of the other two stories, but there is an ominous thread that ties the past and the future together.
Dunk is an extremely likable character. His self-deprecation only serves to elevate him as the unlikely hero. Though he is technically not a knight (Ser Arlan never did the deed before he died), he truly is and that’s all that matters. He’s the far less cynical and jaded Hound who does the right thing because his ideals have not yet been smashed by reality. Though he does rush into situations often without thinking, it’s only because he’s so keen on doing the right thing if not necessarily the thing that will foster his self-preservation.
Egg is adorable and feisty, and his tongue betrays the fact that he’s more than a squire. He is the common “hidden prince” motif as Dunk is the “orphan turned hero,” but neither tropes come off as trite. There is some pretty horrifying implications of the abuse Egg suffered from Aerion that makes me wonder if more is not being said (there’s a video about Aeron [interesting name similarity] Greyjoy having a comparable experience with his brother Euron.) So I can understand Egg’s desire to not return to Summerhall
Martin delivers another beautifully written story in this first installment. He has a way of pulling you into the visceral world of Song despite how brutal and desperate it might be. We see Westeros through the eyes of two very young and in many ways naive characters though one is a commoner and the other a prince. They each have knowledge to impart to each other that neither could know alone. Dunk has more years and experience in survival, and Egg knows the intricacies of noble courts, information Dunk never thought he would need.
After the battle in the wake of *spoiler* Prince Baelor’s death *end spoiler* Dunk is left questioning his own existence and fate as Martin puts this to the reader. The world of Song makes no compunctions about overtly showing that some lives are considered worth more than others, and those on the highest rung have no issue enforcing this. Prince Aerion tortured Tanselle the puppeteer believing there would be no reprisals for his actions, and when they occurred, his princely rage at being struck by a commoner *spoiler* ended in his uncle’s death*end spoiler*. After this many questioned the validity of one life over the other. Is the one left behind worthy of the gift a potentially better man lost? The worst part is *spoiler* the catalyst of the entire disaster, Prince Aerion, escapes free of culpability. He loses neither life, nor limb, nor princely status, and is merely reprimanded by being sent across the Narrow Sea for some time. Brief exile is a coin those dead would be glad to pay. *end spoiler*
Next up will be my review of The Sworn Sword. I’ll be withholding my rating for the set until then.