Okay, let me start by apologizing for the fact that this is not a review of The Winds of Winter – what will someday be book six of A Song of Ice and Fire – God and George R.R. Martin willing. Some may view reading this compilation of previous released material as a betrayal to the true heart and soul of the Game of Thrones fandom, but I’m here to try to convince you otherwise.
This book, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, contains three novellas, The Hedge Knight, The Sworn Sword, and The Mystery Knight. The events take place in Westeros about a hundred years before A Game of Thrones. Together, the novellas tell three separate but consecutive stories of the adventures of Dunk and Egg. Dunk is a common hedge knight… almost. Technically he was squire to a minor knight who rescued Dunk from Flea Bottom, the slums of King’s Landing. At the start of the first tale, the knight dies rather unceremoniously of a bad cold. Dunk buries him with a view of the sunset and, although his master never officially conveyed knighthood upon him, Dunk decides to take up his cause and arms. On his way to his first tourney, where Dunk hopes to win some silver in the jousting matches and perhaps find service to a lord, he meets Egg. Egg is… well, we’ll leave his identity a surprise, but suffice it to say he is a young lad who with a persistence that outlasts Dunk’s discouragement becomes his squire.
The Hedge Knight is the story that unfolds at this tournament. The Sworn Sword relates an event a year or so after the tournament, when Dunk and Egg are in the service of a minor lord in an area that seems to be somewhere in The Reach. The land is currently experiencing a drought and Dunk’s sworn lord, Ser Eustace, is battling a neighbor for waters rights to a nearby river. The Mystery Knight recounts tales of intrigue at a wedding of one of the Frey clan that Dunk and Egg attend while travelling north to see The Wall.
There are a number of elements that make this collection not a mere stall tactic before the release of book six, but rather a worthy edition to the GOT canon. One such element is the novel viewpoint from which we get to see Westeros relative to the main books. No longer are we watching the machinations of the kingdom’s rulers as they struggle for the upper hand of power; now we are seeing through the eyes of a commoner. Through this oblique perspective, we can see the “game of thrones” in its dualistic role of distant backdrop to ordinary lives but also extending to the foundation of these lives. As the game shifts, so does this foundation crack and sway, resulting in much upheaval for all before equilibrium reestablishes. Because the events take place a century prior to A Game of Thrones, what we get to watch are the fascinating initial unravelings of the dragons of House Targaryen.
Omnipresent in the novellas is the incomparable storytelling capabilities of George R.R. Martin. Have we just been introduced to another host of characters and story lines that may never be resolved but left as loose ends? Perhaps yes, and maybe even almost certainly yes. But this is actually something I love about Martin. He writes like life actually is. Nowhere is life dictated to wrap up a plot neatly within the 30 minutes allotted to a sitcom, 2 hours allocated to a movie, or the roughly 400-page maximum of a book. People wander in and out of scenes, things are left unsaid, undone, and incomplete, pivotal and important characters die prematurely, and there is never a final triumph or deft conclusion. The art and beauty of these stories are in individual moments and the path of the journey.
Finally, I would like to pay homage to a key feature of this collection that sets it apart from the individual novellas themselves. A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms has been beautifully illustrated by Gary Gianni, who is best known for his work on the syndicated comic strip Prince Valiant. Most lifelong bibliophiles began their love affair with books as a child with picture books, often a favorite illustrated compilation of fairy tales. Gianni’s artwork brings back the magic of childhood story time and completes the enchantment woven from Martin’s enthralling tales.