Every week, Fantasy Review Barn runs a feature where they seek out examples of fantasy tropes. Other bloggers are welcome to join in, finding their own books to match the given topic.
This weeks topic is Knights:
Um. Noble rich people on horseback. Come on, you people know what knights are. (Topic provided by Miriam)
I found it easy to think of warriors, and nobles, and people on horseback. I found it hard to think of knights. “Knight”, to me, implies more than simply being good at fighting. There are confused ideas of chivalry and fealty and so forth, which don’t always mesh with the physical descriptor of noble guy on a horse in armour.
Yes, there are countless obvious examples, but I didn’t want to go with the expected default, or with anything too obvious. Therefore, despite all of Arthur’s knights springing to mind, they don’t feature on this list. Instead, I thought of three who are hopefully a bit less likely to crop up on everybody else’s list.
1. John Ross – Terry Brooks, Running with the Demon and sequels
John Ross is the crippled servant of the Word, charged with traveling the world in its service. He never gets to rest, never gets to plan or understand the bigger picture. All he has is a staff and a purpose.
Constantly, he is plagued by both dreams and demons, reminders of what can and will happen if he stops to rest, if he ever fails. He’s quite a tragic figure, always tired and broken, yet pushing himself onwards because it is the right thing to do.
He doesn’t have a sword or a horse, but he comes close to that fictional knightly ideal – someone who fought not for gain, but for justice and honour. Plus, though I can’t quite remember, I think his full title is “Knight of the Word”.
2. Sparhawk – David Eddings, The Diamond Throne and sequels
Don’t tell me that David Eddings is trashy. I don’t care. He’s hugely entertaining, filled with snappy dialogue and awesome moments. You get to cheer for the goodies all the way through, and boo the bad guy.
Sparhawk is actually a knight – he serves his queen tirelessly, he has a suit of armour and a squire. He quests all over the world for his queen, and follows (almost) all the rules: very knightly.
Throughout at least three books, he is sent after increasingly dangerous objectives, forced to leave his queen in peril in order to prevent greater evil. The most cathartic and knightly sections of the books though, are when he comes back.
Sparhawk is not a cultured man. He spends most of his time in armour, shouting at enemies. Whenever he comes back to court, he causes havoc, beheading perverts and restoring justice and order to a corrupt kingdom. No queen could ask for a better knight.
3. Paksenarrion – Elizabeth Moon, Sheepfarmer’s Daughter and sequels
Paksenarrion is more properly a paladin than a knight, but I think she broadly counts. She has a horse and a sword and goes questing. She takes service with various feudal lords. That, surely, qualifies her.
The Deed of Paksenarrion is not a great series – it’s very clearly based on a DnD campaign, and the structure is all over the place. The entire over-arching plot only really appears in the very final sections of the third book. However, Moon does something with the series that is quite rare in fantasy, and something I’m rather partial to.
Paksenarrion grows, throughout the books, from a peasant girl to an envoy of the gods themselves. Most fantasy books involve character growth (both personality and skills) but they tend not to show it in much detail. The actual growth is glossed over in almost all series – they spar while on the road, or the next chapter takes place after two terms at magic school, when they’ve already learned it.
I like detail, for this. I want to see every part of the training, see how the character develops and struggles. I want in-depth descriptions of the countless hours spent practicing archery, descriptions of the callouses formed by hours wielding practice swords. The Deed of Parksenarrion doesn’t skip anything; we get to see the entire training process, the years of mercenary service, before the character becomes the champion of justice. Compare that to The Wheel of Time, in which Rand goes from a confused shepherd to fighting Satan in the sky with a sword of fire within a few hundred pages. It doesn’t feel real if they get to skip the pain.
The reader gets to grow up with her, and understand what makes her into the paladin she eventually becomes – you see all the ups and downs of trying to follow a noble purpose in a world that isn’t really set up for that. It’s a much more human take than normal on the chosen hero idea.
That’s all from me this week – I’m writing in a hurry, and trying to think of knights who aren’t just obvious is surprisingly taxing.
The post on Fantasy Review Barn is here, and in addition to that list, there are links there to many other bloggers with their own take on the idea. Next week’s topic is Chessmasters.