This hardcover collects three novelettes about the hedge knight Ser Duncan taking place in the land of Westeros about 100 years before the beginning of Martin’s “Game of Thrones” saga. Dunk, as he calls himself, had been taken from the slums by an older hedge knight, Ser Arlan, as his page. Ser Arlan was well past his prime, but had plenty to teach the boy, who grew into something of a giant in his apprenticeship, nearly seven feet tall and strongly built. Size does not help one in the knightly skill of jousting, however, and when Dunk enters a tournament at Ashford Meadow, he knows he has a tough road to victory. First, he has to sell one of his two horses to get enough money to buy armor, and if he should lose, he will forfeit both armor and horse. It’s a big chance he wants to take.
Dunk is helped more than he expected by the boy Egg who attaches himself to the novice knight as his new squire. Egg is small, slim and bare-headed, but he does seem to know a great deal about knights and the landed families of Westeros. When Dunk lands in hot water at Ashford Meadows, Egg helps him find a way to escape prison and punishment through a trial by combat. And Egg turns out to be much more than the peasant boy he seems.
Two other adventures take Dunk and Egg south as hired sword to an elderly land-owner, Ser Eustace Osgrey, who is in dispute over water rights with his more powerful neighbor. Then Dunk and Egg are enticed into another tournament that is a secret gathering for a group of knights plotting against the king. All three adventures are wonderfully written. Martin seems to have absorbed medieval culture so completely he can write about it as if he lived it. More than that, Martin excels at showing what that culture could really be like when human nature found the cruel side of chivalry. This is not the uplifting tales of King Arthur I grew up on, but it’s much more real, and Dunk and Egg do find some good in the people they meet as well as bad.
I’m not too fond of the cover art seen above, but the art inside the book by my friend Gary Gianni is very much to my liking! Here’s the beautiful endpapers painting by Gary that depicts Ser Dunk’s shield much more correctly for one thing.
Throughout the book are 160 of Gary’s wonderful line drawings that are nearly as important in bringing the story and characters to life as the writing. Gary is the perfect choice for this type of story, especially after eight years on the “Prince Valiant” newspaper strip. Kudos to Martin for bringing Gianni to the project, it makes it all the more excellent.