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Before the ‘Thrones’

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms
by George R R Martin (Voyager, $44.99)
Reviewed by Logan Angel

Knight_CoverA Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is a spinoff of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the fantasy books whose first volume was A Game of Thrones. With the sixth season of the TV series of the same name right around the corner, fans may feel they want to freshen up on the Martin’s world with this collection of three novellas. The stories feature Dunk and Egg, two figures that loom in the background of A Song of Ice and Fire’s fictional history.

The first story, “The Hedge Knight”, acts as an introduction to the two main characters, Ser Duncan the Tall, a poor knight who lends his aid to the noble cause, and his mysterious squire, the young Egg, who is far more than he appears. At a tourney, Duncan, better known as Dunk, becomes embroiled in a conflict when he defends a puppeteer from the wrathful Prince Aerion. Overall, the first story serves as a decent primer to two characters that are mentioned frequently in the setting’s history. Fans will likely appreciate the strong presence of the Targaryen family, the ruling dynasty of the continent, whose members are often mentioned but rarely seen in the main series.

Compared to the first story, the second, “The Sworn Sword”, places Dunk and Egg into supporting roles to the greater conflict. Dunk has sworn himself to Eustace Osgrey, an old knight. He must act on Osgrey’s behalf to help settle a conflict with the old man and his neighbour Lady Rohanne Webber. I found this story to be a curious direction for Martin to take, since it takes place following the Blackfyre Rebellion, an infamous conflict within the setting’s backstory. I have a feeling that fans of the series would have liked to see the Rebellion from the perspective of Dunk and Egg.

The final tale, “The Mystery Knight”, bears some similarity to the first, with Dunk entering a joust that is being held in honour of the wedding of Lord Ambrose Butterwell to a member of House Frey. Conflict arises when the prize of the joust, a dragon egg, is stolen. Of all the stories presented within the collection, this one most closely resembles the main series, with twist-reveals, escalating conflicts, and more than enough character death to capture the grim nature of the setting. Out of all the stories, this one was the strongest.

For those unfamiliar with the book series or its TV adaptation, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms may not be the best place to start. While there aren’t too many names dropped in these stories, they’re far more enjoyable to read with the foreknowledge that the main series provides. Martin does not ease the reader into the story with setup, but dives straight into the plot, and that alone may be overwhelming to those not already familiar with this world’s history.

Compared to the large conflict of A Song of Ice and Fire, these three tales scale down the story to fewer characters, fewer twists, and far less drama. This is all relatively speaking. If the main saga is a medieval low fantasy with political intrigue, then A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is a modern take on chivalric romance. Where the former is one great, interconnected tale split between multiple novels, the latter is a collection of three connected, yet separate tales in a single volume. Even then, this book is much shorter than any of the novels that it is a prequel to. A dedicated reader could finish this in a weekend.

Another difference to note is the lack of magical presence. This is unsurprising to any fan, since magic does not reawaken until the end of A Game of Thrones. But it is part of a bigger problem with A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, which lacks the meat of its parent series. The stories are more episodic in nature, and they lack the significance of A Song of Ice and Fire. I expect only the most diehard R.R. Martin fans will find much value here.