All Sorts of Weird Stuff: Books

All Sorts of Weird Stuff offers news and information about George R.R. Martin, in particular about his A Song of Ice and Fire series.

"When I was young, I read all sorts of stuff. One week it would be Lovecraft, the next Vance. It was all imaginative literature, or as my dad called it 'Weird Stuff.' It was all 'Weird Stuff.'"

George R.R. Martin

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Legends II: "The Sworn Sword"

Legends II: "The Sworn Sword"

The second in GRRM’s "Dunk & Egg" series, "The Sworn Sword", is really equaled only by Neil Gaiman’s entry in the Legends II anthology, "The Monarch of the Glen". Following Dunk and Egg on their progression through life, the story opens a year and a half after the events of "The Hedge Knight" (also reviewed here) and finds the two in the midst of a terrible Summer drought in the Reach (which itself followed the Great Spring Sickness, which slaughtered tens of thousands in Westeros, including King Daeron the Good and his two most immediate heirs). Dunk has sworn his sword to Ser Eustace Osgrey, an old, done knight who dwells on the dual-losses of his family and its ancient honors. Gnawing at the bones of faded glory, Ser Eustace draws Dunk and Egg into a potentially-fatal conflict.

This story is fundamentally different than its predecessor, in that it no longer deals with pagentary and tournaments, but rather focuses on the difficult path of chivalry when taking part in petty feuds and casual injustices are part-and-parcel of what it means to be a sworn man in feudal Westeros. As if to highlight the "low fantasy" quotient, the story opens with Duncan and Egg returning to Standfast—an ancient, humble seat of the Osgreys—from a wine purchasing mission when they come across the rotting, fly-covered bodies of a pair of men hanging in a crow cage. Egg, his head filled with stories of gallant bandits, wonders who they were, and Dunk supposes they might be rapers or murderers,  or merely poachers or men who were caught stealing a crust of bread as they and their families starved during the long, hard drought. "There are lords and lords… Some dont need much reason to put a man to death," Dunk tells Egg, before they move on. But when they meet with Ser Eustace’s other sworn sword—a cruel, unpleasant hedge knight called Ser Bennis of the Brown Shield—Dunk comes to learn that the local stream has suddenly dried up while he’s gone. Suspicious, and unheeding of Ser Bennis’s warning to leave it alone, he goes to investigate ... and sets into motion the outbreak of a long-simmering feud.

There’s a parallel story here, as Dunk shuttles between Ser Eustace and the Red Widow of House Webber, a woman who’s sparked a number of unpleasant rumors. Beneath the feud lies an older, much bloodier conflict: the Blackfyre Rebellion, now some dozen years in the past, but whose ghosts still haunt the present day. As the feud unfolds, so too does the tale of Daemon Blackfyre, a legitimized bastard of a King Aegon IV, gifted with a great sword and legendary prowess, who challenged his half-brother for the Iron Throne. The tale culminates with the last battle of that war, the Redgrass Field, named for the tens of thousands who shed their blood there. Between it all, there’s a more subtle thread which is a hint, perhaps, of things to come, as it’s revealed that all is not well in King’s Landing where Lord Bloodraven—another legitimized bastard of Aegon IV—is Hand of the King. It will be interesting to see whether the next story in the series develops this further.

These several different narrative threads are skillfully handled by Martin, using the shadows of past events to influence the present, and setting up a parallel between Ser Eustace and Ser Duncan as two men who must make a choice when their desire for honor conflicts with their sworn duties. Martin’s portrayal of Ser Eustace is pitch-perfect, as the old man blusters and dreams, struggling to carry the weight of his griefs and his losses.  Other new characters develop well enough—particularly the surprising Red Widow, who teaches Dunk a lesson or two about what it means to rule in Westeros when one is a woman and ones peers think little of you based on your sex—but it’s sad Ser Eustace and the detestable Ser Bennis who shine best. There’s humor to be had, as well, and suffice it to say there’ll be blood shed before all’s said and done—all hallmarks, it seems, of what we can expect from future Dunk & Egg stories.