Martin Has a Heart: A Review of “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”

Nick Alimonos I am here with my friend and partner in crime, David Pasco, to discuss George R.R. Martin’s new book, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms. Now I think it’s safe to say that David and I have a slightly different outlook on Martin. While I don’t technically dislike the Game of Thrones series, or as it was known before the show, A Song of Ice and Fire, I tend to find it a bit long-winded and cynical. David, on the other hand . . . well, I’ll let you answer that.

David PascoI’m a huge fan. I totally got into the TV show before the books, but I enjoyed it so much I read the books literally because I was having such GoT withdrawals that I was willing to take whatever scraps of new information I could get (which turned out to be a feast in and of itself). I’ll admit it’s dark, but that doesn’t bother me much. I think war is dark in general. As far as your criticism that it’s long winded, I will concede to that. Sometimes it’s worse than others, but Martin is rarely succinct.

Nick Alimonos Right. Martin’s world is fascinating in its complexity, and he gets kudos from me for world building, what is probably the biggest and most complete world in the fantasy or any other genre. My two main gripes with him, specifically, are that he doesn’t seem to end things, and so many of his characters are unlikable. I mean, I loved Ned Stark like everyone else, because he was honorable and just. But then Martin cuts his head off, and we’re stuck reading about a lot of less than savory characters. I often thought, if he’d just stick to the Stark kids, John Snow or Robb or Arya (my favorite), I’d like it better. This is why I decided to pick up A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms after giving up halfway through A Storm of Swords. Since the novel takes place 100 years before GoT, I figured we might have an ending. Also, the main character, a knight named Dunk, is genuinely likable. And you follow his adventure throughout. So I was really satisfied with both of those things.

David PascoI think his Song of Ice and Fire novels are meant more in the same vein as movies with two parts than self collected volumes. I suspect when the final novel is written, we’ll have an end. I disagree about the likability of his characters though. I think the Stark kids are all quite likable, as are Tyrion, Brienne of Tarth, Ser Barristan, Jorah Mormont, etc. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but there are even some unlikable characters that you’ll end up rooting for even more than some of the ones I just mentioned. People change, and that’s the most enduring message of hope that one can give, in my opinion. That being said, I agree with your opinion of Dunk. I also like seeing Westeros in a post war period of relative peace, instead of in the middle of a war.

Nick Alimonos For whatever reason, Tyrion comes off better in the TV show. Maybe the actor, Peter Dinklage, brought something to the role. But I suppose if I’d stick it out, I’d learn to like Brienne and some of the others. I guess I just really like the heroes. This book focuses entirely on Dunk, which is short for Duncan, and he is a knight with a true sense of honor. I also liked his squire, Egg. They seem to have a genuine caring relationship, father-son or older brother-younger brother, that really touched me, proving, I guess, that Martin does indeed have a heart!

David PascoI agree with your assessment of Dunk and Egg. I think one thing that really impressed me with this book was seeing the history of two almost mythic characters. In GoT they refer to Egg a lot as the last good king the Seven Kingdoms had (he was father to The Mad King). Dunk, we know, will grow up to be the Lord Commander of Egg’s Kingsguard, and will end up being something of a legend even among Lord Commanders, and a personal hero of sorts to Barristan Selmy (one of my favorite characters) and Jamie Lannister. It’s kind of fun to see someone so larger than life (pardon the pun) losing every joust he enters and thinking of himself as a generally inept individual. It’s quite humanizing.

Nick Alimonos  Yes, this is why I wanted to get your take on the book, because it really feeds into the GoT lore, and a has a lot to offer the hardcore fans. I did find myself wondering who Dunk and Egg were related to. I am happy to know Egg (or Aegon) grows up to be a good king. Again, I think Martin is showing his soft side, in that Egg turns out the way he does despite his Targaryen background. I imagine hanging out with a decent human being (Dunk) did the trick.

David PascoWell, to be fair to the Targaryen dynasty, they’re not all evil. There are a lot of great Targaryens. Unfortunately, madness runs in the lineage, most likely from all the inbreeding. Viserys and the Mad King both suffer from this, as does Aerion. He will eventually become king, and die because he drank wildfire believing it would transform him into a dragon. That being said, I think Egg’s father was well aware of the lack of prospect in his other sons, and had Egg squire with Duncan for exactly that reason. To his credit, it seemed to work great, and their friendship literally continues until the day the two perish, together I might add. Egg even names his first born son and heir after Dunk. Another interesting side note is that Brienne of Tarth is almost certainly a descendant of Duncan the Tall. Aside from having his size and strength, there is an old shield in the armory of Tarth bearing Dunk’s coat of arms, which Brienne used to visit often when she was a girl and would imagine being a knight. Jamie even asks Brienne once if she is “thick as a castle wall” when he is trying to apologize to her.

Nick Alimonos See, I think you liked it more because of your knowledge of the world. But even if you know nothing about Westeros, you can enjoy the adventure that it is. In fact, the book consists of three mini-stories, each of which have a satisfying conclusion, which gives me confidence that Martin can wrap all this (his saga) up.

David PascoI agree. I love things that can be read on multiple levels. If you have no idea who Martin is, and you look up this book, there are three great stories about two genuinely likable characters, and the rich world they live in. If you’re a somewhat rabid GoT fan, you’ll get that, but also hints into the rich tapestry of the history of Westeros. I think life is an awful lot like that, which is why I enjoy it when fiction follows suit.

Nick Alimonos Now, sometimes I feel Martin tends to pigeonhole himself. He isn’t the most inventive or imaginative writer. His world resembles mostly medieval Northern Europe (and yes, I remember some of his Oriental excursions, like Qarth). That being said, he really owns that time period. His description of knight life (pun unintended) and jousting is just unparalleled. It’s both thrilling and, from my studies of history, very accurate.

David PascoI think there are very few truly original ideas. Martin keeps me guessing, and he’s a compelling writer, so I’ll keep coming back for more. I think I’m going to hit the library up for The World of Ice and Fire next, which is basically a Westeros history book. That level of interest says a lot about the compelling world he has created.

Nick Alimonos This is true, regarding original ideas. I have written a lot about cliches, and how a cliche is only that to those who are familiar with it. If you read a lot about zombies, you might get sick of it, and start to view it as an overused cliche. For many, I am sure, Martin is quite original. While he tends to dabble in many tried and true literary devices, he often does new things with them, and expands on them in ways we’ve never seen before. That being said, do you have any complaints, about this book specifically?

David PascoVery minor ones. I wish there was slightly more character development. Dunk and Egg are almost the same people by the end of the book as they are in the beginning, you know what I mean? Also, while I loved the illustrations more than I ever expected to, the way they drew Egg bothered me. They made him much too effeminate in my opinion, and almost like a pixie. It takes away from the overall mood. What about you?

Nick Alimonos I loved the artwork. It made me insanely jealous. And I know how incredibly expensive that can get. It seems almost as if Martin wanted to make up for the “clip-art” covers from his earlier books. But in all reality, I suspect the publishers wanted a spin-off to GoT and figured they couldn’t charge $30 for a 150 page novel. The artwork, which is showcased on almost every other page, greatly extends its length. And given the popularity of the franchise, there’s no way a publisher was going to lose out on that investment. I really like the way Egg was drawn, like a very young, frail kid, who needed protection from this very strong, very big guy. It provided a nice contrast between them. I agree there wasn’t much of a character arc, but that didn’t bother me. Not every story needs one. It felt like Martin was going for a pulp-fiction, serial adventure feel, something along the lines of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and you know how I am a big fan of that stuff.

David PascoIt definitely has a more pulp fiction vibe. As you know, my favorite author writes a lot of pulp fiction type stuff, but even in that, there seems to be more character development. Overall, though, these are VERY minor complaints.

Nick Alimonos Do you have a favorite scene or part in the book?

David PascoThe Trial of the Seven. Baelor Breakspear was so likable, and I loved seeing everyone band together for Dunk. It was such an inspirational scene, even if it ended poorly, and it gave Dunk an almost Spiderman like quality afterwards. What about you?

Nick Alimonos That was great stuff. There was even a bit of humor in it. I loved the part where the guy with the apple sigil (of House Fossoway) sides with Dunk in the joust against his Fossaway uncle, and just paints his apples green instead of red, to differentiate himself. Also, in classic Martin fashion, one of the knight’s brain falls out after he removes his helmet! He’d been killed in the joust and didn’t even know it!

David PascoI really love the level of import Martin puts on a family’s coat-of-arms. He manages to convey so much through that.

Nick Alimonos I agree. Although I kept getting confused as to who was who. Even in this, much shorter and simpler book, I needed a chart just to keep track of everyone.

David PascoI agree with you there. It takes some doing, especially in the third story. I think Martin can be quite confusing in that regard.

Nick Alimonos I guess it gives it more of a real world feel, because, just like in life, we don’t fully comprehend everything going on around us.

David PascoTrue. I think the end result is worth the investment of energy, too.

Nick Alimonos OK, so, I rate books on a scale of one to four. How do you want to call it?

David PascoI’d give it four stars easily. None of the problems I have are anywhere near bad enough to make it three or even three and a half stars. You?

Nick Alimonos So, four stars being the highest possible rating you could rate a book, you’d give it a four?

David PascoTo be fair, I think a four star rating system makes for a limited variance in grading. If you scaled it up, it might be lower, but so would many books. You know what I mean?

Nick Alimonos I give room for half stars. Want to give it a half star less?

David PascoI think I’m going to stick with four. My problems with the book were so minor, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. What more can you ask for?

Nick Alimonos Yeah, I tend to be a tougher critic. I give it a solid three.

David Pasco What were your problems with it?

Nick Alimonos I didn’t have any, really. I like to judge things more on the positives and focus less on the negatives. So, while the story didn’t necessarily do anything wrong, there is a lot it could have done that it didn’t. For instance, I wasn’t really moved emotionally, nor did it make me think too much. Not that every book needs to do those things.

David Pasco I can see your point. Aside from the trial I described, I didn’t feel much either.

Nick Alimonos Well, I think that pretty much wraps things up! Thanks for talking to me today!

David Pasco Thanks for suggesting I read this book.

 

 

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