First things first: I’m going to be that person.
I first read A Game of Thrones in 1998, and I was primed for the experience. I cut my teeth on Tolkien before devouring all the epic fantasy I could get my teenage hands on. David Eddings, Terry Brooks, Robert Jordan, Tad Williams, Terry Goodkind…..I thought that these series represented what the fantasy genre was. I’d never even heard of Gene Wolfe. I’d never imagined that something like A Game of Thrones could exist.
Which seems woefully quaint, now.
With the success of the HBO series, it’s become almost gauche to not cry about the length of time in between novels of A Song of Ice and Fire. But I’ve never really complained about it – and if I wasn’t whining almost 20 years ago, why would I start now? Martin, as Neil Gaiman would say, is not my bitch. He isn’t a slave to my interests, and is allowed to do other things. This book, a collection of previously published novelettes set in the universe of A Song of Ice and Fire, is one such diversion of his.
And I am incredibly thankful for it.
A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms follows the characters of Dunk, a hedge knight, and Egg, his squire. Set 100 years before A Game of Thrones, these stories both set up the events of the latter series, and are wholly apart in terms of scope and narrative.
In A Game of Thrones, Martin sought to do all that he had been unable to do in television (where he had been working, previously). He wanted a large cast of characters; he wanted lavish costumes and bloody combat, and complex plots. He didn’t want to be stymied by the limitations of the medium. Ironic, then, that television has breathed new life into his series. The tales of Dunk and Egg, by contrast, are small stories set in a big world. There aren’t really broad themes, as there are in the novels. This is almost serialized fiction; each novelette is a self-contained adventure where the two characters get into some kind of trouble, and end up having to find a way out while not compromising their overarching desire to grow up and learn about the world.
But their simplicity in no way makes them uninteresting or irrelevant. They are nice additions to the world that Martin has created, and are fine companions to the grander novels that he’s still working on. This book isn’t just for the completionist, and its not just a way for Martin to get more money out of his creation. This is a good book, and a must read for any fan of the series.