George R. R. Martin – The Hedge Knight / The Sworn Sword
You can find “The Hedge Knight” in Legends and “The Sworn Sword” in Legends II, both edited by Robert Silverberg. “The Hedge Knight” is also in the GRRM collection Dreamsongs.
Length: 76 & 84 pages
Genre: Fantasy; Short Stories
Started / Finished: 02-05 June 2012 (The Hedge Knight); 07-08 June 2012 (The Sworn Sword)
Where did they come from? Bought the collections.
Why do I have it? I was in the mood for some epic fantasy, especially once the second season of “Game of Thrones” ended.
In a kingdom of
scheming nobles, what can one
honest hedge knight do?
Summary: These novellas are set in Westeros approximately ninety years before the A Song of Ice and Fire series, when the Targaryens still held the Iron Throne. Dunk was a street boy who had been picked up and trained as a squire by a hedge knight – a knight not from or sworn to any noble family. In “The Hedge Knight”, when his mentor dies, Dunk takes his arms and becomes a knight, but must compete in a tourney if he is to have any chance of earning enough money to continue on his path. On his way, he picks up an urchin boy known as Egg as his squire, but they are both soon to find out how much trouble can be found by mixing with the nobility.
“The Sworn Sword” takes place about a year later, and finds Dunk and Egg sworn in service to a landed knight, Ser Eustace Osgrey. Ser Eustace only has a minor holding, but when Dunk discovers that its water supply has been cut off by a dam built upstream by the much more sizable Coldmoat castle, he is honor-bound to report it and attempt to sort out the consequences. But when he encounters the Red Widow, the formidable mistress of Coldmoat, and she tells him some unpleasant truths about Ser Eustace, it will fall to Dunk to determine how much his sworn word is worth, and where exactly the path of honor truly lies.
Review: “The Hedge Knight” was by far my favorite out of all of the stories in the entire Dreamsongs collection, and I liked it just as much on a re-read. Dunk and Egg are both fantastic characters. After spending so much time in the ASoIaF universe, where no one is entirely good or entirely bad, it’s a refreshing change to have a protagonist who holds to the true spirit of knighthood — and who is tempered by the quick-witted Egg. Is the plot super-original? Not really, although it does pull off a couple of good surprises. But it reads with the rhythm of a good legend, and is enjoyable even when it skirts a little close to cliche. When I originally read it, it had been years since I’d read any of the Song of Ice and Fire books, so I recognized some of the names, but missed a lot of the subtleties, and how this story tied in the main books. I caught a lot more of them the second time around – like who Aemon Targaryen (who does not show up on screen, but gets mentioned) grew up to be, and the outcome of the family argument of the Fossoways.
“The Sworn Sword” is just as good as “The Hedge Knight”, and provides an interesting look into the more day-to-day lives of people of lower station than the POV characters of ASoIaF. It contains a few good twists – nothing like the shocks near the end of “The Hedge Knight”, but I’m so used to GRRM’s characters having a baseline level of deviousness (except poor, dumb, doomed Ned), that it’s interesting to have characters actually acting out of motivations other than pure self-interest. We also get more of a look into the history of Westeros, particularly the Blackfyre Rebellion and its aftermath, which was fascinating, but I had to look up the Targaryen family tree in the middle of the story and kept referring back to it, since their dynastic naming system means that I have a really, really hard time keeping all of the branches straight.
Recommendation: These stories should be enjoyable fans who like medieval fantasy in general, and obviously for fans of ASoIaF in specific. I think reading the main books is not essential for understanding the stories, nor vice versa, but they really do enhance each other.
Other Reviews: Have you reviewed these stories? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.
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