The Hedge Knight by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars
The first in a series of novellas set almost a century before the beginning of A Game of Thrones, Martin introduces the readers to two individuals, the titular hedge knight Ser Duncan “Dunk” the Tall and his squire Prince Aegon “Egg” Targaryan. The story begins with Dunk burying his mentor Ser Arlen Pennytree before taking his arms and horses to the Tourney at Ashford Meadow in an attempt to win a place in a lord’s house by winning a tilt and becoming a champion if only for a little while.
Unfortunately Dunk finds himself broiled in a family feud, but this family happens to be the dynasty of the dragonkings–the Targaryans. Not only does Dunk find his temporary squire to be a Prince, but he punches and kicks Egg’s older (cruel) brother Aerion which could either leave him dead or maimed. Dunk’s fate comes down to a unique form of trial by combat, which has ramifications not only for him but knightly families and the realm itself.
Martin writes a tight story in which the reader doesn’t need to have read any books of the A Song of Ice and Fire series to enjoy, while also giving tidbits of family histories to fans of his main series. Written at around the same time of A Clash of Kings and published a month before, The Hedge Knight starts giving a background to the series and introducing two seemingly unimportant individuals who’ll cast long important shadows on events many years later.