NOTE: The Hedge Knight was originally published in the Legends I anthology, edited by Robert Silverberg. As the stories/novellas in the collection are set in previously existing fictional universes, and I have only read two of the series in question, I am only reviewing Martin’s novella at this time.
This was really fun and I’m kind of mad at myself as a Martin fan for not checking it out sooner. If you like A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones at all, you should do yourself a favor and read the The Hedge Knight and its two (soon to be three) sequels.
The Hedge Knight is a hundred-ish page novella that takes place in Westeros (the same world as ASOIAF), approximately ninety years before the events of A Game of Thrones. It is the first in a series of novellas that follow the adventures of Ser Duncan the Tall (Dunk) and his squire Egg (short for Aegon) as they roam across Westeros looking for places and people to serve. There isn’t as much roaming in this one, of course, because it’s the first in the series and is mostly concerned with beginnings: how Dunk came to be a knight, how he met Egg, and the story of his first tournament (events all tied up with one another).
Dunk is seventeen when we meet him, and almost seven feet tall. He was a pauper born in Flea Bottom (a slum), picked by chance by a lowly hedge knight (one not sworn to any particular family or house) named Ser Arlan of Pennytree. Arlan fed him, clothed him, and taught him. But now Arlan is dead, and Dunk is as green as knights come. He decides to take a chance and enter the tourney at Ashford, knowing if he enters the lists and loses, he will likely lose everything he has, but if he wins, the fame and connections he makes could set him up for life. He picks up a squire at an inn on the way (rather reluctantly, if I may note). Actually, it’s more like Egg picks him, having decided that squiring for his brother is no longer in his best interest. Egg lets Dunk believe he is a poor commoner, but Egg is in actuality the fourth son of the fourth son of the king of Westeros, and blood of the dragon. (ASOIAF fans will know him as Aegon Targaryen, the future Aegon V, king of Westeros, and the brother of Maester Aemon).
This novella works on several levels. The story of how Dunk became a knight is a compelling one. He steadfastly overcomes every obstacle thrown his way in entering the lists, and impresses several important people with his strength of character that when things go wrong later in the story, they are willing to stand with him. He’s also rather naive to take such a chance with his only possessions. He knows if he challenges a champion at the tourney and loses they have the rights to his horse and armor, and he can only get them back by ransom (which he does not have). He has never been in real combat, either, so the chances of him beating seasoned knights of the realm are extremely slim. But he’s a good man, and people instinctually trust him. What he lacks in cleverness (he calls himself Dunk the Lunk in his head), he makes up for in dependability and strength of character. In this way, Egg is a perfect complement to him. Egg is well-connected and very clever, and he is also kind of heart. I wouldn’t even have minded if Dunk had entered the tournament and won somehow (cliched as that would have been) because I was enjoying the characters and the world so much. But luckily, Martin takes a side-trip halfway through, and the story has a satisfying ending (if a bit of a bittersweet one).
The story stands on its own, certainly, but there was an added pleasure in experiencing the Westeros of the past, and one not torn by war and conflict heading into winter. It was also fun to meet all these famous men we heard about only in passing in the other books, particularly Dunk and Egg themselves. I will also confess I got added pleasure from knowing that Dunk’s likely descendant, Brienne of Tarth, would carry on his legacy so well in coming years.
I’ve got the anthologies containing the sequels on reserve at my library, and they should come in in a couple of days. I’m very happily looking forward to reading them.