Reader’s Recommendation: A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, by George Raymond Richard Martin

Before the widespread popularity of Game of Thrones, there was a short story collection that slipped through the cracks. In a setting known for its extensive cast and expanded materials such as The World of Ice and Fire, the entertainment one gets from reading A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms stems from it being a simple set of tourneys, duels and disputes to read as a short piece of fiction to enjoy for itself, all the vibrancy of Westeros within a compact story that can be taken up and put down quietly for an hour or two.

It is a story set in Westeros, but from the perspective of a warrior class that G.R.R.M writes very well though sparingly in his deconstructive saga. For an author renowned for his realpolitik in fantasy; G.R.R.M’s knights, especially within A Dance with Dragons show as much loyalty and contemplation as his politicians. The stories of Dunk and Egg benefit greatly in being arguably complete, the story not needing a direct conclusion to tie up loose plot threads or address a cliffhanger, much as The Last Wish was a collection of Geralt of Rivia’s adventures that made for a contained narrative and left audiences anticipating more short stories and an epic saga. The warrior’s short story collection is something that stands by itself, providing a good cast, intriguing men and women and self-contained mysteries which don’t need follow up or a sequel-hook to keep you interested.

I’ve never owned a book with this style of illustrations, but it’s superb. Excellent work by G.R.R.M and Gary Gianni. I’ve never seen this kind of illustration in a modern work, but it makes pleasant art to look at and improves the immersion and reading experience for me, personally. It’s reminiscent to me of the classical Victorian illustrations present in many of their books, or the kind of cover imagery you found in tales like The White Company or The Faraway Tree. Some smaller images thread through the text, or cover introductory pages, and even feature as comic style ‘double page spreads:

If you enjoy a concise read, perhaps a warm up, or would like to get into the universe without the daunting size of the main series; A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms provides a fresh faced and self-made knight stumbling into his own legend, forming a friendship with his own haphazard and different squire Egg.

The simplicity offers an advantage in a straightforward protagonist. It’s easier to follow and support Dunk than other fantasy characters one might find, including come to think of it those within Martin’s larger series. This is not an exploration of the nature of a dishonoured knight, a corrupting romance, or the more cynical interpretation of chivalry present in the famous Jamie Lannister and his journey. This work fits smoothly alongside other texts which are less thick with political theory, about knighthood in particular and the adventure, with sex, religion and economics not really present in order to keep a clear focus that doesn’t pass from setting to setting or jump from character to character.

I feel Martin wanted to write knights perhaps due to his comfort with Sir Duncan, that the main series was influenced by the smaller 1998-2010 series collected in 2015 rather than the other way around. I enjoy Brienne more as a non-POV character -feeling she was a little aimless in A Feast for Crows– and Sir Barristan was a good late addition like many POV characters in the packed latter half of A Dance of Dragons, but Sir Duncan outstrips them all. A plain and endearing character less tied in with the stories of others, although amusingly part of his charm is the accidental entanglement in each story the true knight has with conniving politicians.

It is one thing to read about the faded glory days, to have a middle aged or elderly knight exploit their wit and ability in a bleak world in spite of being past their prime. But the appeal of Kingdoms is showing precisely the opposite perspective, from a character of a different temperament. Dunk is poor, simple, honest, and unvarnished by the years and doubts or legacy affecting him, and at this point is a raw adventurer coming into his own success. It may not be a rosy story without a deal of senseless suffering, but the rugged endurance and struggle of the hero is in building an upward trajectory for the audience to enjoy, devoid of the baggage of a very heavy page count.

Each of the three short stories are highly enjoyable, The Hedge Knight serves as an introduction to Dunk, his time, and an exploration of the nature of knighthood and chivalry, The Sworn Sword centred upon local politics and a feud, and The Mystery Knight a slightly larger scale adventure broadening the series into a story of competition, rebellion and ascension. The first story, or even the short story collection could also serve as a less word heavy introduction to the tone and universe of Martin’s universe, being comprehensive and relatively smaller scale, to then lead on well to the wake of Robert’s Rebellion and the main series’ ensemble cast.

Rather than The Dance of Dragons pushed so heavily with book references, a large part of Fire and Blood, and now House of the Dragon; Dunk and Egg is a relatively light-hearted time featuring future legends known for their compassion and bravery, rather than the rather sordid and malignant civil war showing besides a few fantastic fight scenes the unjust and temperamental sides of two Targaryen factions conspiring to destroy their prestige and companions.

I would say that an arching plot of potential relevance to the main series is only really apparent in the last story, although a lot of that ground is set by the middle entry. While I would very much like to see a continuation of both the slice-of-life style and read about Dunk’s later life and last heroic feats at Summerhall, personally I only expect GRRM to finish the second volume of Fire and Blood (another enjoyable book I will review in future), if he finishes more ASOIAF entries at all.

I enjoy A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms every time I read it, and this particular version is one of the few books I have ever seen that I can say I love purely for the sake of its look. It came for under £10 in an illustrated paperback, well worth the value for the additional aesthetics if that is something of interest to you. If you’re for various reasons not so interested in picking up the incomplete main series of novels, or want to read something of the world in addition to those books, these three short stories provide conflict, sympathetic characters, and succinct stories pulling you into the world of a great knight.

Martin, G.R.R. A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms. HarperCollinsPublishers, London. 2015.
Photographs taken by J.W.H Hobbs, of illustrations by Gary Gianni.

All A Song of Ice and Fire material is the intellectual property of GRRM and Gary Gianni. I do not own the rights or have any association to the property and literature, and only make this article and recommendation as an individual consumer. Photographs taken are of my personal copy, if interested I would recommend your own purchase of the same.

Leave a Reply