A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms - Review

Man, this book is fun.

I just want to get that out of the way early on. It's true, as a story set in Westeros, that there's still violence, the occasional swearing and corrupt political machinations, but overall A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is a thoroughly enjoyable, delightful, really bloody fun book. Well, it's actually three thoroughly enjoyable, delightful, really bloody fun novellas put together into one book, but you get the idea.

Set over a century before A Game of Thrones, the story follows the exploits of hedge knight Duncan - nicknamed Dunk - and his young squire Egg. They're basically walking the earth, offering their services to whomever needs them and meeting an interesting cross-section of Westerosi inhabitants both noble and nefarious. The only thing is that Egg is actually Aegon Targaryen, future King of Westeros and child of the country's most powerful House, who follows Dunk around as a way of learning more about the world that he'll one day rule.

That's the frame within which the three novellas are constructed, and it makes for a much more light-hearted and, dare I say, positive take on the Seven Kingdoms than we've ever seen. As I said, the DNA of the later A Song of Ice and Fire books is strongly present - especially the political machinations between the Targaryens and every other House within spitting distance, foreshadowing the eventual downfall of the dragons - but feels muted, and far less depressing than the instalments that'll follow it. If it weren't for the occasional, incongruous swear word or gory death scene in each story's climactic battle, you could be forgiven for mistaking the backdrop of Knight as being in a far rosier, lovelier (if slightly droughty) fantasy realm. It's not quite Tolkien-esque, but it's heading in that direction.

The drastic change in form does mean the book loses one of Song's greatest strengths: multiple POVs. The story is told exclusively from Dunk's perspective, and while he's an engaging protagonist - and one whose eyes I don't mind seeing the world through - it does limit what the story can and cannot say at times. Dunk's lack of political knowledge means that a lot of the great scheming and political motivation that made up chapters told from the perspectives of Song characters like Cersei, Victarion, Daenerys and others isn't present. Dunk's is a more simple (but not simplistic) story; he's a knight offering his services to whomever will feed and pay him, and he tries to see the world as a much less crapsack place than the following books will later emphasise. It's almost heartbreaking at times, watching Dunk interact with powerful politicians and House scions who, unbeknownst to him, we know will most likely do their best to screw him over despite his earnestness.

But taking this unique look at Westeros through only one character works particularly well when that character is something of a Pollyanna. Despite a number of setbacks and screw-ups, Dunk still remains positive, and he seems to enjoy trekking around with Egg and seeing what Westeros has to offer. If he started to get depressed after those setbacks - like, say, Jon Snow or any of the other Song characters who constantly get the short end of the stick - it'd be wearying to read. The opposite means I was never bored reading about how Dunk interacts with the world alongside Egg.

The prose is written much like the later Song novels, largely relying on simple writing, period-relevant language and descriptions of truly sumptuous meals (seriously, George R. R. Martin manages to make shoe-leather-beef sound palatable - stop making me hungry, GRRM, I'm trying to read). There are a few call-forwards to the full Song series, but thankfully Knight isn't bogged down by excessive foreshadowing or emphasis on important things. This is Dunk and Egg's story, not a prequel to the later saga of incest and excessive violence that the series later spirals into.

For anyone on the fence about reading A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, keep this in mind: it is entirely possible to love this book with or without knowledge of what comes after it. I could easily hand this to someone entirely unfamiliar with Game of Thrones and they'd probably really enjoy it, whilst the opposite works for those who are series veterans. Martin's struck a real nice balance between servicing old-hand readers and the newly initiated, which is admirable considering how easy it would've been to make this the Song of Ice and Fire version of the Battlestar Galactica: Razor TV movie.

Go on, spend some time with Dunk and Egg. But make sure you've got a steady supply of food nearby for the hungry bits.

- Chris

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is available in bookstores now.

Review copy supplied to Geek of Oz by HarperCollins Australia.


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