Published between A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings, The Hedge Knight is the first novella in the A Song of Ice and Fire canon, and the first of the Tales of Dunk and Egg. Set approximately 100 years before the events of A Game of Thrones (according to Wikipedia, 89 years exactly), we are presented with a world at relative peace, the Seven Kingdoms ruled by the Targaryens.
The Hedge Knight begins with a hedge knight (sort of like a freelancer) named Dunk burying the man that he had squired for, and heading towards a tournament in the hopes of legitimising himself as a knight. Along the way he picks up his own squire, Egg, and is given an opportunity to prove his worth that he may not have wished upon himself.
The Hedge Knight is everything that the main body of A Song of Ice and Fire is not: it is short, it canters in a straight line towards the finish, and nothing hugely terrible occurs within its pages. This makes it a refreshing change of pace from the increasingly heavy world that Martin normally plays in, and it makes for a fun and easy read.
Dunk is a simple character who is too acutely aware of this fact, and his lack of self-esteem punctuates the pages. He wants someone to squire for him but finds Egg’s knowledge and competence slightly off putting. Dunk is open and honest, sometimes to his detriment, and this length of story is just right for him. Everything is very neat, I will openly admit, but this is acceptable in a story set in peace time.
Martin makes the most of the pages allocated to him and builds up several pleasant or at least memorable characters, using shorthand without being lazy about it to bring these people to life. While it’s strange to read a story where the Lannisters are just people rather than objects of hatred, and the Targaryens are a collection of various personalities rather than one distinct characteristic, this is welcome. The smaller touches are what get me, too; in the larger body there were passages that caught me, and one of them is given its genesis here. At last I know the difference between green apple and red apple Fossoways!
The Hedge Knight is not a challenging work, but it’s the good basis for a series of novellas about characters setting themselves up before they become important in the series’ history. I’d tell you why Egg is significant … but that’s a tale for another time.