Huzzah! Martin (The Ice Dragon, 2014, etc.) delivers just what fans have been waiting for: stirring tales of the founding of the Targaryen line.
Duncan—Dunk for short—has his hapless moments. He’s big, nearly gigantic, “hugely tall for his age, a shambling, shaggy, big-boned boy of sixteen or seventeen.” Uncertain of himself, clumsy, and alone in the world, he has every one of the makings of a hero, if only events will turn in that direction. They do, courtesy of a tiny boy who steals into the “hedge knight” Dunk’s life and eventually reveals a name to match that of Ser Duncan the Tall—an altogether better name, at that, than Duncan of Flea Bottom would have been. Egg, as the squire calls himself, has a strange light about him, as if he will be destined to go on to better things, as indeed he will. Reminiscent of a simpler Arthur Rackham, the illustrations capture that light, as they do the growing friendship between Dunk and Egg—think Manute Bol and Muggsy Bogues, if your knowledge of basketball matches your interest in fantasy. This being Martin, that friendship will not be without its fraught moments, its dangers and double crosses and knightly politics. There are plenty of goopily violent episodes as well, from jousts (“this time Lord Leo Tyrell aimed his point so expertly he ripped the Grey Lion’s helm cleanly off his head”) to medieval torture (“Egg…used the hat to fan away the flies. There were hundreds crawling on the dead men, and more drifting lazily through the still, hot air.”). Throughout, Martin delivers thoughtful foreshadowing of the themes and lineages that will populate his Ice and Fire series, in which Egg, it turns out, is much less fragile than he seems.
As Tolkien had his Silmarillion, so Martin has this trilogy of foundational tales. They succeed on their own, but in addition, they succeed in making fans want more—and with luck, Martin will oblige them with more of these early yarns.