A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R. R. Martin
So…yeah, this book is, like last year’s A World of Ice and Fire, basically A Song of Ice and Fire methadrone. I mean, sure it takes the edge off, but it still isn’t exactly the full deal. A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms collects together George R. R. Martin’s three ‘Dunk and Egg’ novellas, which take place 100 years before A Game of Thrones, when House Targaryen still ruled Westeros.
Ser Duncan the Tall may have later become Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, but early in his life he was simply Dunk, an uncommonly large hedge knight of no renown. Aegon the Unlikely was considered by many to be the last truly great King of Westeros, but as a child he was Egg, serving as a humble squire to Dunk. A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms collects together The Hedge Knight, The Sworn Sword and The Mystery Knight. The Hedge Knight tells of how Dunk and Egg met and how a Prince of the Realm ended up squiring for a lowly hedge knight. The Sword Sword takes place in the Reach and concerns an old feud between two minor houses. The final, The Mystery Knight, takes place at a tourney where strange conspiracies are afoot. In the background of all three is the relatively recent Blackfyre Rebellion of 15 years before, which saw Westeros torn between the Red and Black Dragons. Although the conflict had ended many years before, the scars are still fresh.
These novellas are generally much more straightforward the main novels in A Song of Ice and Fire, focusing purely on the character of Dunk. The strongest stories are the first and a the third. The Hedge Knight is the closest thing that Martin has ever come to a genuinely courtly scene, although obviously some serious darkness does lurk in the background. It is a simple, charming story which introduces you well to the world of Westeros 100 years before we know it. The second, The Sworn Sword, isn’t quite so good with a core story which isn’t really that interesting and difficult to become invested in. The best part is some insight into what post-Blackfyre rebellion Westeros was, with some interesting parallels to the War of the Roses and the English Civil War. The symbolism of the Targaryen red dragon and the Blackfyre black dragon certainly mirrors the Red Rose of Lancaster and the White Rose of York. The final story, The Mystery Knight, is easily the most complex, containing more of the scheming and plotting we expect from Martin. It deals moreso than the others with significant events in Westeros and begins to plot the path towards Dunk’s eventual ascension to Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. It is difficult to review these stories without thinking of The Winds of Winter, the book we all really want and I wonder if these stories would be easier appreciated if released after the series has concluded.
Although I may not have loved the stories as much as I had hoped, Martin’s prose is certainly not to blame. As frustrating as it is waiting for the next book, his work is so finely plotted and beautifully written it’s no surprise. A Knight from the Seven Kingdoms shows a more straightforward writing style, but one that suits well these more straightforward stories.
He brings humanity to his characters better than anyone else in the business and we’ve never really seen a character like Dunk before. He’s a sort of cross between Ned Stark and Brienne of Tarth and it’s a bit of a novelty to follow a character as fundamentally good as Dunk. I would have liked to get to know Egg a bit more; the idea of a Targaryen King who learnt compassion by actually meeting the common folk is an interesting one, but we don’t see enough of this fish out of water narrative. It would have been interesting if Martin had gone for a dual POV for these stories, alternating between Dunk and Egg. The supporting cast are filled with the utter bastards and creeps we’re used to, but don’t have the room to develop as well as we may like.
A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms simply isn’t going to scratch that Winds of Winter itch, but it’s a nice enough read regardless. I’m aware that this all sounds a bit negative and perhaps I’m being a little unfair; if Brandon Sanderson released a collection of Mistborn prequels I’d probably be all over it, but I’d be secure in the knowledge that the next Stormlight Archive book isn’t too far away. That simply isn’t the case for Martin and these had to be something exceptional to really get me in and they’re not. They’re good, at times great, but this is from an author that I think is the best in the business.