This book contains the first three Dunk and Egg novellas that have been published thus far. I originally read the first one, The Hedge Knight, in 1998. It was part of the Legends anthology edited by Robert Silverberg, which to this day remains what is possibly the very best fantasy anthology ever put together. Oddly enough, George R. R. Martin wasn't a big name back then. There was a buzz surrounding the release of A Game of Thrones, but the author was more renowned for his short fiction than for his novel length material. As hard as it is to believe nearly two decades later, I actually read The Hedge Knight before A Game of Thrones. The second novella, The Sworn Sword, appeared in the Legends II anthology, also edited by Robert Silverberg in 2004. I don't recall exactly why, but even though this one contained short stories from many of my favorite authors, I never bought or read that anthology. The last novella, The Mystery Knight, appeared in Warriors, an anthology edited by Gardner Dozois and George R. R. Martin in 2010, and yes I read that one.
I never reread The Hedge Knight or The Mystery Knight. Over the years, Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire became one of bestselling fantasy series of all time. But back in 1998, there was no indication that the first novella featured two protagonists who would become such important historical figures. Nor did we realize that the period during which those tales take place, in the aftermath of the first Blackfyre Rebellion, would have such grave repercussions on the Targaryen line.
A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms gave me the opportunity to read/reread those novellas in one go. Having read A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, and A Dance With Dragons, as well as The World of Ice and Fire, allowed me to delve deeper into the story and catch all the nuances that I had missed in the past. It also gave me a new appreciation for Martin's short fiction work and made me realize just how brilliant he can be. Not only do these novellas chronicle the adventures of a poor hedge knight and his noble squire, but they also reveal historical details that link the series with its not-so-distant past.
Here's the blurb:
Taking place nearly a century before the events of A Game of Thrones, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms compiles the first three official prequel novellas to George R. R. Martin’s ongoing masterwork, A Song of Ice and Fire. These never-before-collected adventures recount an age when the Targaryen line still holds the Iron Throne, and the memory of the last dragon has not yet passed from living consciousness. Before Tyrion Lannister and Podrick Payne, there was Dunk and Egg. A young, naïve but ultimately courageous hedge knight, Ser Duncan the Tall towers above his rivals—in stature if not experience. Tagging along is his diminutive squire, a boy called Egg—whose true name (hidden from all he and Dunk encounter) is Aegon Targaryen. Though more improbable heroes may not be found in all of Westeros, great destinies lay ahead for these two… as do powerful foes, royal intrigue, and outrageous exploits. Featuring more than 160 all-new illustrations by Gary Gianni, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is a must-have collection that proves chivalry isn’t dead—yet.
The main protagonists are Ser Duncan the Tall, known as Dunk, and Egg, a scrawny squire who is in truth Prince Aegon Targaryen. The boy earned his nickname because he shaves his head to hide the gold-and-silver hair that would reveal his origins. At the beginning of The Hedge Knight, Dunk is burying Ser Arlan of Pennytree, an old hedge knight who had taken him on as a squire. Although this gentle giant's heart is in the right place, Dunk is not the sharpest tool in the shed. "Dunk the lunk, thick as a castle wall," or so it is said. The young man travels to Ashford to compete in the tourney as a hedge knight, hoping to make a name for himself. On the road, he encounters a diminutive boy at an inn who wants to squire for him. Though Dunk refuses, Egg proves to be hard-headed and follows him anyway. At Ashford, Dunk strikes down a nobleman who is beating up a puppeteer girl he liked, only to realize that he just struck down Prince Aerion Targaryen. Egg, the prince's brother, has no choice but to reveal his identity. Dunk wants a trial by combat, but the prince demands a Trial of Seven, the first of its kind in over a century. What will follow will change the course of history for the Targaryen line and all of Westeros. The Sworn Sword takes place over a year later, during a great summer drought all over the Reach. The novella focuses on the difficult path of chivalry, as Dunk has sworn his sword to a local lord. He will learn the hard way that honor has its price and that things are not always as they seem. In The Mystery Knight, Dunk and Egg are traveling north to take up service with Lord Beron Stark, who has sent a call for men to help fend off the Greyjoy raids that plague the coast. On their way, they encounter a party of knights traveling to Whitewalls for a wedding. Since there will also be a tourney there, Dunk and his squire decide to attend the wedding. Of course, our improbable duo find themselves in a heap of trouble when, without realizing it, they end up in the middle of what could become another Blackfyre Rebellion. This novella also feature Brynden Rivers, the Hand of the King known as Lord Bloodraven, one of the most fearsome figures in the history of the Seven Kingdoms.
George R. R. Martin claims that there are six to twelve Dunk and Egg novellas planned. God knows how many of them will actually see the light, but I for one will be happy to read as many as Martin can write. The fourth installment bears the working title The She-Wolves of Winterfell. Many more travels await the pair, as Martin claimed that they would journey from Dorne to the Wall, and across the length and breadth of the Seven Kingdoms. Even across the narrow sea to the Disputed Lands and the cities of Essos. Years later, Ser Duncan the Tall's rise will take him all the way to the rank of Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. As for Egg, he will become King Aegon V, the fifteenth Targaryen to sit the Iron Throne. Known as Aegon the Unlikely, for as a fourth son he was so far down the line of succession, he will ultimately perish with Ser Duncan the Tall during the tragedy of Summerhall.
As mentioned, the historical backdrop for these novellas is the aftermath of the first Blackfyre Rebellion. I'm not going to elaborate in too many details, for doing so would end up being longer than the review itself. Suffice to say that, as always, everything involving the Targaryen line is convoluted. And though the seeds of rebellion were sown over the course of more than two decades, the conflict erupted following the death of King Aegon IV Targaryen. What came to be known as the Blackfyre Rebellion was a civil war fought between the loyalist forces of King Daeron II Targaryen and the rebel troops of his half-brother. Things came to a head when Daemon, a bastard son of the late king, claimed the throne of his older, true born brother, King Daeron II.
Years before, King Aegon IV had knighted his bastard son, Daemon Waters, following the boy's victory at a squire's tourney. The king publicly bestowed Blackfyre, the Valyrian steel sword which belonged to Aegon the Conqueror, and which had been passed on from king to king ever since, on the boy and finally acknowledged him. Following the acquisition of the sword, Daemon took the name "Blackfyre" for himself, and the king's public gift of the legendary sword would eventually engender the first whispers that Daemon should be the next king after the death of his father. Daeron II, the rightful sovereign, was a cultured and scholary man. In an attempt to clear his court of the corruption that characterized Aegon IV's reign, he deprived his lords of several privileges and positions. Understandably, it was something that did not sit well with many people across the realm. In the meantime, Daemon Blackfyre had become a great warrior and according to some he had come to resemble Aegon the Conqueror himself. As discontent grew at court, more and more councillors and supporters urged him to rebel, and many warriors started to seek him out.
When the Blackfyre Rebellion finally broke out, it lasted for almost a year. Daemon reversed the colors of House Targaryen, taking for his own sigil a black dragon on a red field. He came to be known as the "black dragon" and the rightful king was the "red dragon." The final battle which sealed the fate of the first Blackfyre Rebellion became known as the Battle of the Redgrass Field. The casualities were high, with ten thousand men dying, and many more injured during the battle. Daemon Blackfyre was slain, as was his heir Aegon and his twin brother Aemon. King Daeron's punishment of the rebels included the loss of lands, titles or wealth, and all were forced to give hostages. Aegor Rivers managed to recover the sword Blackfyre from the battlefield and he escaped to the Free Cities with Daemon's widow and remaining children. During their years in exile, Daemon Blackfyre's descendants maintained their struggle for the Iron Throne. There would be four more rebellions and one peacefull attempt to claim the throne during the Great Council. Daemon's last male descendant, Maelys, was finally killed during the War of the Ninepenny Kings by Ser Barristan Selmy, thus ending the Blackfyre threat forever. As you can see, using those turbulent times as the historical and political backdrop means that Dunk and Egg's adventures and misadventures are far from over. For those who would like to know more about the Blackfyre Rebellion, follow this link to the Wiki of Ice and Fire.
This edition of A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is beautifully illustrated by Gary Gianni. With over 160 black-and-white illustrations, Gianni's artwork makes the novellas come alive in a magical way. I've included a few samples in this review to give you a taste of the man's talent. Needless to say, this gorgeous book is a must for all ASOIAF fans!
Alas, this is not the eagerly anticipated The Winds of Winter. But for those of you who were not able to track down those aforementioned anthologies, this is a welcome return to Westeros. Within the pages of A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, you'll find the same superb characterization, amazing worldbuilding, and back-stabbing political intrigue that have made A Song of Ice and Fire such an unforgettable read. And for those who, like me, were already familiar with this unlikely duo, rereading such a beautiful edition comprised of past tales of Dunk and Egg makes for an enjoyable reading experience.