I have been miserly rationing out my reading of George R.R. Martin’s books, eking out my pleasure one wee short story at a time, biding my time till his next major oeuvre – The Winds of Winter. Seriously, I’ve become this total Westerosi junkie needing my fix of all these fantastic stories and settings that George R.R.Martin manages to conjure up for me. He is the best writer ever when it comes to hooking his audience, and this is coming from me, someone who is not at all prone to hyperbole.
Anyway, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms contains three longish-short stories (and aren’t those the best kind?) dealing with Daenerys’ ancestor – Aegon the Unlikely, and his adventures as a squire to the Hedge Knight Ser Duncan the Tall. These stories take place about a 100-odd years or so before the events of A Song of Ice and Fire.
The Hedge Knight
In this first of the short stories, we are introduced to both characters – Ser Duncan, a poor hedge knight who hopes to make his mark at a local joust, and Aegon Targaryen – the fourth son of the fourth son of the king who has run away from under his brother’s care.
Most of the story deals with setting up the relationship between the two, and a rather clichéd story progression. Until of course, something unexpected happens and the story abruptly veers off the expected track, and what is a standard jousting affair becomes a thunderous incident that impacts the future of Westeros for decades to come.
The Sworn Sword
This is on the face of it, the least technically important of the three stories. None of the characters are famous, and their actions do not impact history as a whole. What is interesting in this story though is how the Blackfyre rebellion (something that’s often referred to in A Dance with Dragons) is portrayed, and how the internal politics of the Targaryen family are played out, and how the common people fared through these battles.
The Mystery Knight
This story deals with the second Blackfyre rebellion, where a group of Blackfyre supporters gather ostensibly to celebrate a wedding, but in reality to plot to overthrow the Targaryen monarch with Daemon Blackfyre.
Tense and exciting, I loved this story the best. Duncan is really put to the test, and it falls to Aegon to save the day, along with a little help from Bloodraven, who makes a wonderful and unexpected appearance in this story.
I love the glimpses of the Targaryens that I got from reading this book. In A Song of Ice and Fire, they come off badly sounding like inbred nitwits, but in these short stories (and of course in Dangerous Women), they are glorious – crazy at times, but terribly noble at other times – willing to sacrifice their lives in the greater interests of truth and justice.
Reading these stories also gave me a renewed appreciation for some of the plot points in A Dance with Dragons. I don’t want to give too many spoilers but if you are puzzled at some plot points in ADWD that seemed to come out of nowhere, well they didn’t, the seeds of those plots can be seen in these short stories right here, and again I am mind-blown at the amount of control and detail that George R.R.Martin wields over the world he has created. It’s truly spectacular.
That said, these are not stories that will enthrall the casual reader. So, you have seen a couple of episodes of Game of Thrones, picked up a book and didn’t finish, and are now thinking of picking up these short stories? No, don’t do it. These stories offer no value to the casual reader. Instead, read the entire book set of A Song of Ice and Fire, or at least right up till A Storm of Swords and if you’re still interested in this world, then that is the time to pick up A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.