Normally, I wouldn’t review a short story all by itself but as I’ve read this in the Legends anthology and bought the graphic novel (loved the Dabel Brothers), I thought this deserves an entire post devoted to it. It also happens to be awesome!
art by: Mike S. Miller
published: Dabel Brothers, 2005 (1998)
copy: paperback, hardcover
series: Dunk & Egg #1
my rating: 9,5/10
first sentence: The spring rains had softened the ground, so Dunk had no trouble digging the grave.
A century before the events of George R. R. Martin’s epic series, A Song of Ice and Fire, a squire named Dunk picks up the sword and shield of his dead master and enters a tournament to begin his career as a knight. But “Ser Duncan” has much to learn about this world of knights and nobles, and as he attempts to find a sponsor who will allow him to enter the tournament, he makes friends and enemies readily. Dunk is a capable fighter and has a strong sense of honor, but is that enough for him to become a true knight in the eyes of the others, or is he just a young man living a delusion and putting those he knows in grave danger?
I would say it takes about two pages, in the novella and the comic book alike, to fall in love with this story. It starts with Dunk burying his old master, a knight, and remembering how he became his squire. Taking up shield and sword and pretending to be a knight, calling himself Ser Duncan, no less, may be dangerous. But Dunk feels it’s the right thing to do and desperately hopes to prove himself in the upcoming tournament. Good thing he picks up young Egg on the way, who is not only adorable and slightly mysterious, but also helps Dunk find his way in the world of sers and ladies.
The story is pretty straight forward and shouldn’t be as gripping as it was. But George R.R. Martin just blew me away with his writing. While set in Westeros (200 years before the events in A Game of Thrones) and very true to his style, the writing here is more poetic and, in some scenes, so beautiful it made me want to be a writer. Now that’s a sure clue for good writing. I still remember that one scene where Dunk slept outside, not having a tent like all the other lords and knights, and seeing a shooting star. That scene is as vivid in my memory as it was touching when I first read it.
Plus, we get to meet a former generation of Targaryens and it’s a lot of fun making connections about the history of Westeros. You don’t have to read these to enjoy the main series or vice versa but, let’s be honest, who can really resist more Westeros when there is more Westeros?
I love how George R.R. Martin mixes an element of mystery into his knight’s tale and just the teeniest hint of romance. The climax was fantastically done and while the story definitely leaves certain things open to explore later on, it is a well rounded tale that can be read as a standalone.
The graphic novel:
Add to all of the above the most beautiful artwork I’ve seen in a long time. It’s hard to review comic books because the drawing style and coloring are a huge matter of taste and everybody likes different things. This, however, is my thing. I like that the characters’ faces are clearly defined and don’t all look alike. Sure, most everyone is surprisingly beautiful and well-built, but I’ll forgive that.
This comic book does what the medium is supposed to. It adds a layer to an already great story, giving it texture and emotion by using colors and drawings. I actually prefer this adaptation to the original, simply because it captured all the spirit of the novella but it gave me so much more. Dunk has a face, Egg is just perfect and the scenery is amazing.
Overall, I would recommend this most warmly to any Song of Ice and Fire fan who hasn’t read it yet and especially to those who find the size of the series daunting and aren’t sure if they’ll like it. Try this story here – novella or graphic novel, whatever suits you better – and you’ll get a good taste of what George R.R. Martin can do (and you will probably need Neil Gaiman to remind you every once in a while that GRRM is not our bitch). If you don’t like this alternate universe, the history and culture and religion in the story, you probably won’t enjoy A Song of Ice and Fire either. But if you do like this, then you’ve got about 5000 pages of pure pleasure ahead of you. And I envy you.
THE GOOD: Wonderful characters, beautiful language and some of the most emotional scenes ever. The artwork is award-worthy and both novella and comic book are very much re-readable.
THE BAD: Nothing bad in the comic book. Some slowish passages in the novella, but really, I’m just looking for stuff to say here…
THE VERDICT: Highly recommended to fans and not-yet-fans of George R.R. Martin’s. A short, poignant and poetically told tale of a knight and his squire just trying to be good guys.
RATING (novella): 9/10 Nine almost impeccable knights.
RATING (graphic novel): 10/10 Perfection!
- The Hedge Knight
- The Sworn Sword
- The Mystery Knight