BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A squire named Dunk carries on the tradition of his dead master and enters a jousting tournament to begin his career as a knight.
PROS: Exceptional storytelling; excellent pencil work and coloring.
CONS: Too many characters, houses, and relationships to keep track of.
BOTTOM LINE: A fine introduction to A Song of Ice and Fire.
One of my readerly sins is not having read any of George R.R. Martin’s well regarded A Song of Ice and Fire series. I’ve hedged because fantasy is not usually my cup of tea and the books are quite daunting. (I have commitment issues.) As with many a series (like Kage Baker’s Company series or Allen Steele’s Coyote sequence) I am often introduced to it not through the first book in the series, but rather a short story set in the same world. This was my intention with Martin’s work, whose 1998 novella, “The Hedge Knight”, originally appeared as part of Robert Silverberg’s Legends anthology. But then I happened across the graphic novel adaptation of that story and read that first.
The Marvel Enterprises graphic novel of The Hedge Knight, released in 2006 in collaboration with original publishers Dabel Brothers Productions, is adapted from Martin’s novella of the same name. It collects all six issues of the 2004 graphic novels and includes two pieces of beautiful cover artwork for each of them. Also included is the vignette “The Battle of the Redgrass Field” taken from Martin’s other A Song of Ice and Fire novella, “The Sworn Sword”. The Marvel book comes in a nice sturdy hardcover that reveals excellent artwork.
What of the story? The events take place about one hundred years before the events of A Game of Thrones and concern a squire named Dunk. Before the story’s opening, Dunk’s master, Sir Arlan, takes ill and passes away. Dunk picks up his sword and shield, intending to carry on his master’s noble ways. Hedge knights are not indentured to any liege and thus, in their eyes, serve a nobler goal than the Kingsguard. Along the way, a persistent youth named Egg enlists himself as Dunk’s squire. To prove his mettle, Dunk enters a jousting tournament where he might not yet be quite ready to hold his own.
But the promised jousting is seemingly not to be in Dunk’s future when he is hard-pressed to find a sponsor for the tournament. This is where we meet the main protagonist in this story, Prince Aerion Targaryen. Aerion forces Dunk to, as all good knights should, come to the defense of an innocent. In doing so, Dunk attacks Aerion, setting up the story’s main conflict. Dunk chooses to take trial by combat and Aerion insists on a Trial of Seven; if Dunk does not find six other knights to fight by his side, he will forfeit and be found guilty.
The power of Martin’s story (he also wrote this graphic adaptation) is not in the plot – although that plot is indeed a strong one – it’s in the storytelling. Besides a nice handful of effective and dramatic scenes, there are plenty of surprises that await Dunk and Egg as they try to fulfill their respective roles. Is Dunk up to the task? Will he overcome his self-doubt? Can he prove himself worthy enough that others would come to his aid? The characterizations are wonderfully detailed given the relatively short space that the graphic novel format provides. It’s hard not to like the good guys and hate the bad guys when you see, short and to-the-point, what makes them so appealing (or appalling). One caveat: What would have been extremely helpful was a family tree to keep track of all the characters, houses and relationships. I found myself frequently going back to look up who was who. (I hear the novels have the same issue.)
Visually, this book is stunning. The artwork is just plain gorgeous. Mike S. Miller’s wonderfully detailed pencil work is accentuated by Mike Crowell’s equally beautiful coloring. Together, they show a depth of detail that makes you want to linger on almost every panel.
All told, I think this was a fine introduction to the series, made very entertaining thanks to Martin’s storytelling prowess and excellent artwork.