A century before the epic battle for the throne, there were two young men who met by chance in Westeros. In The Hedge Knight, Martin introduces readers to Dunk, who has buried his knight and master and wishes to attend a jousting competition in his honour. While travelling to Ashford, Dunk meets young Egg, who has a keen interest in tagging along and wishes to be once Dunk’s squire. While at the competition, Dunk engages in a fight with Aerion Targaryen, maiming the prince. After his arrest, Dunk chooses a trial by combat, but Targaryen seeks to turn the tables on him and insists it be a Trial of Seven, where both sides will choose six others and let the gods decide innocence on a battlefield. Egg release some interesting information and Dunk finds men to fight alongside him, in hopes of showing that he is innocent of any wrongdoing. The story not only explores the Targaryen background, but forges an alliance between Dunk and Egg, which serves the second story well. In The Sworn Sword, Dunk and Egg find themselves in the service of Ser Eustace. While surveying the lands that are being plagued by drought, Egg notices that a stream has dried up in a few short hours. Dunk and one of the other knights go to investigate and stumble upon a dam erected by Lady Rohanne Webber. Returning to Ser Eustace, plans for an attack begin to take form, though Dunk and Egg convince the liege lord to allow them to go as emissaries. They encounter Lady Webber and learn much about Ser Eustace, including many of the lies he’s been telling. After a brief battle between Eustace and Lady Webber’s men, Dunk and Egg leave the company of their liege lord and make peace with Webber, before choosing to continue their own adventures northward, headed to the Wall. Dunk and Egg begin to forge a stronger friendship and sense of unity, while also struggling to better understand those around them, whose interests are self-serving. In The Mystery Knight, Dunk and Egg begin a journey northward as they seek to join Lord Beron Stark, who seeks men to help with a battle. Along the way, they encounter some knights who speak of an upcoming wedding and jousting celebration, which interests both Dunk and Egg. As they make their way to the wedding, Dunk learns that there are spies all over the place, looking to find those who may speak ill of the local lords. Full of confidence, Dunk enters the jousting competition under a mysterious name, not wanting his name to shape his personality to his fellow knights. While he has high expectations, Dunk is removed in the first match and almost killed. Egg learns that there may have been a plot to see Dunk killed and passes this information along to the hedge knight. Dunk investigates and discovers that the act was fuelled by a strong sense of jealousy and is able to extricate himself from the area, alongside Egg, before too much more can happen to either of them. However, both Dunk and Egg know they have more enemies after this experience, forcing them to be more careful in the months to come. While each short story plays nicely on its own, the collection shows an ongoing connection between Dunk and Egg, even if they do not always see eye to eye.
Since commencing Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series just before it made its way to television, I have been hooked and curious about the show’s progress. Admittedly, this falls outside the genre I tend to read, making me more of a periphery reader and thereby unable to offer as strong a comparison with those books of a similar nature. However, with such a strong like for the aforementioned series, I felt capable of offering some sentiments about this small collection of novellas. While the name of familiar families make their way onto the page, characters are new (or old) and therefore must stand on their own. Martin is able not only to capture the fantasy flavour common to the main series, but also the sense of playing right in the larger setting and some loose plots that may have been referenced in the novels. Martin’s development of both Dunk and Egg characters is effective, as is the set of adventures they undertake. The dialogue and narrative parallels that from the main series, but can also be easily comprehended by a reader new to the series or genre. Martin keeps the reader enthralled throughout, hinting and many happenings that may leave the attentive reader to flip through the five main novels to check for references. One cannot forget the key illustrations in the published collection, which bring to life some of the key happenings in the stories and help support the strong story. A wonderful collection that keeps itself open for more novellas, in the not too distant future.
Kudos, Mr. Martin for this lovely collection of novellas. While I am highly impressed, I am sure not to be alone in being more impressed if you could focus on the novels and complete the series so HBO does not derail all your literary efforts.