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.
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Over the weekend, during my usual trip to my local Barnes and Noble, I picked up a copy of George R.R. Martin’s latest book—no, not that one—A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, a collection of three interrelated stories set in Westeros that had previously appeared as novellas, in other books, and as part of graphic novels. Having read these stories separately before, I was interested to see them put together as one whole piece, where Martin’s penchant for excellent storytelling could flow freely from one chapter to the next, without having to wait for a new novella’s release.
A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms takes place nearly a century before the events of A Game of Thrones, so it’s a prequel of sorts. In this story, the Targaryen Kings still sit the Iron Throne, and according to Martin’s own website, “the memory of the last dragon has not yet passed from living consciousness.” In fact, there are several mentions of the Targaryen dragons in A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, with some of the older men—the greybeards—remembering the stunted and withered last dragon that lay suffering at the foot of the Iron Throne. In fact, there is even mention that Aegon III Targaryen, known as Dragonbane, poisoned the last dragon because he saw his own mother devoured by his uncle Aegon II’s dragon Sunfyre the Golden.
Knight starts with our hero burying his mentor. It’s here where we first see the honor that was instilled in him as a squire by the old man, Ser Arlan of Pennytree. This is the introduction of Dunk, the squire turned Hedge Knight who would become Ser Duncan the Tall, and the protagonist of our tale. Dunk faces quite the quandary in the first part of the story: does he take the old man’s gear and sell it and his horses, and live on the earnings for a while, or does he continue to Ashford for the tournament, which is where Ser Arlan was headed before his death? Dunk’s honor allows for no other choice but to continue the trek to Ashford.
However, at the age of 17 or 18, Dunk is nearly seven feet tall, and the old man’s armor does not fit him, so he must find a way to get new armor. On the road to Ashford, Dunk meets a small, bald-headed boy with quite the wisecracking mouth on him. The boy is tiny compared to Dunk, and while their first interaction is brief, the reader is left thinking that there is way more to the diminutive boy than has been revealed.
Here’s where the artwork of Gary Gianni really pays off. As I read through A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, I could not help but compare the beautiful illustrations to something from my childhood, something that struck familiar chord and brought back feelings of what made me love medieval fantasy in the first place…and then I read Mr. Gianni’s artistic credits, and it hit me. Gary Gianni is credited for illustrating Prince Valiant, one of my most favorite Sunday morning comic strips, from my childhood.
The illustrations in Knight are a wonderful callback to that magical time when knights rode huge warhorses barded with the heraldry of their House or master, a time when fair maidens would give their favor to tournament champions who would defend their honor, and where even an unheard of castle like Ashford looked as grand as the Red Keep in King’s Landing. Gary Gianni captures this perfectly with his artwork.
I won’t go into every detail from A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, because I want you to enjoy the story for yourself, but I do want to mention that this story is less about the other noble Houses of Westeros, and more about the eventual decline of House Targaryen, which starts in this time period. A Song of Ice and Fire fans should recognize the character of Egg, and even show-only fans will remember Maester Aemon (who is actually mentioned in the book) muttering this heartbreaking line before his death in Season 5: “Egg, I dreamedthat I was old.”
Even if you have read these stories separately, I highly suggest you get a copy of A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms. The artwork is fantastic, and the stories really are some of George R.R. Martin’s best. And hey, it’s a great way to bridge that long wait until Game of Thrones Season 6, or The Winds of Winter, whichever comes first…let’s all hope and pray to all the gods that it’s the latter.
This Book review is written by by David (Razor) Harris and published in Winter is Coming.