Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fantasy Fiction Tuesday: The Hedge Knight (1998)

Originally published as part of Robert Silverberg's Legends anthology, The Hedge Knight is a 160-page novella written by George R. R. Martin, set in the land of Westeros and taking place roughly 90 years before the events of his A Song of Ice and Fire series.

The Hedge Knight relates the adventures of Dunk, a young hedge knight who grew up on the streets of King's Landing. After the death of his mentor, Dunk decides to enter a tourney behind held at Ashford. On the way, meets up with a strange boy known simply as "Egg" who later becomes his squire. When he finally arrives at the tourney, Dunk slights a Targaryen prince and must submit to a trial by combat to prove his innocence. However, this is no ordinary trial by combat. Instead of fighting just the prince, Dunk might find six champions to stand by his side. Will he be able to find brave knights to take up his cause, or will he be found guilty of his crime and pay the ultimate price?

I've mentioned before that I have a complicated relationship with George R. R. Martin and his A Song of Ice and Fire series. I love the world that he's created, the interesting characters that inhabited it, and how the plot can keep me on the edge of my seat. However, I feel like Martin is sometimes better at coming up with cool ideas then he is at actually executing them and his writing can be somewhat problematic the less focused it is.

Thankfully, The Hedge Knight's shorter format and smaller focus really allows Martin to shine as a writer. While the story itself is a relatively simple affair, the characters at what makes it really stand out. Like Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister, Dunk is something of an outcast. A former street rat who has lived a hard life, Dunk just wants to be a honorable knight. However, he is constantly seen as a lesser individual by those of nobility and constant examples of those who happen to be true knights acting in very dishonorable ways. While he might not be the brightest individual, he does have a good heart and tries to do the right thing, even if it might end with his possible death. Dunk is incredibly likable and you want to see him succeed.

Like A Song of Ice and Fire, the majority of The Hedge Knight's cast is interesting. Because its set before Robert's Rebellion, we get a chance to see what the Targaryen's were like while they were still in power. Although some of them are similar to the Targaryens we have seen, we also see they weren't all bad. Specifically Prince Baelor is incredibly honorable and Prince Daeron has easily the best line in the book. If you enjoyed the myriad of characters within A Song of Ice and Fire, you will not be disappointed with The Hedge Knight.

I feel like The Hedge Knight would be a perfect starting point for those who are interested in giving Martin's work a try, but don't feel like reading the large tomes that make up his main series. For those who are already fans of A Song of Ice and Fire, The Hedge Knight gives you a different look at Westeros and allows us to see what it was like before the fall of the Targaryens.

While some might criticize the simplistic nature of the story, I found it enjoyable and thought the characters were the main selling point of the novella. Sometimes, you don't need a overtly complicated tale with numerous twists and turns. Sometimes you just want a short, little story about a young man who wants to be a knight.