Tough Travels is a meme hosted by Fantasy Review Barn. Each Thursday, inspired by ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ we have in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.
Um. Noble rich people on horseback. Come on, you people know what knights are. (Topic provided by Miriam)
Knights. They’re everywhere in fantasy: killing dragons a la St. George; fighting for right and justice, or just for their king and country; winning the fair maiden’s hand. Here’s a selection of some of my favorites over the years. (Warning: minor spoilers.)
Keladry of Mindelan, from the Protector of the Small Quartet by Tamora Pierce. Not only does this series have one of the best female knights I have ever come across (sorry, Alanna!), it has the best descriptions of knightly training I’ve ever read. From initial weapons work with wooden practice weapons to jousting against a fully-armored knight, these books breathe realism despite the fantasy setting; you can feel the bruises. And Kel is awesome – especially since she’s not magical or Chosen or anything like that. Kel succeeds because she’s determined and tenacious, even in the face of prejudice and bullying by those who want her to quit.
Faramir, from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Boromir may be the stronger, more skilled, more charismatic knight (and make no mistake, though they fight on foot, the sons of Denethor are essentially knights.) But Faramir lives up to the true ideals of knighthood, particularly when he lets Frodo and Sam go, knowing Frodo holds the Ring.
The knights of the Round Table. I can’t leave these guys out – they’re the epitome of what we think of when we think “knight” (even if historically, they would have been closer to Roman cavalry than medieval knights.) There are so many good versions of the Arthurian myths. I’m particularly fond of Mary Stewart’s series, especially The Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills. For younger readers, Elizabeth Lodor Merchant’s King Arthur and His Knights is pretty good, especially if you can find the Winston edition illustrated by Frank Godwin (long out of print, I’m afraid, but based on Malory, and the illustrations are gorgeous.)
Aeron from Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown. Aeron is neither your typical knight nor your typical hero, and the dragon is a particularly difficult specimen to deal with. Add in McKinley’s marvelous writing, and this is a winner – literally. The Hero and the Crown won the Newbery in 1985.
The knight in One Good Knight, by Mercedes Lackey. I can’t give this knight’s identity or story away without major spoilers. Let’s just say that lots of things in this novel aren’t what they appear, and you’ll really have to read it to see why.
Tarma, from Mercedes Lackey’s Oathbound series. Tarma’s people – the Shin’a’in horse-nomads – don’t have knights, but their Kal’enedral are essentially similar. Bound to serve the Goddess in her aspect as Warrior, the Kal’enedral (male and female) are highly trained, highly skilled fighters, whether afoot or on horseback. And they always serve the cause of justice.
Kelson, Morgan, Nigel, and any number of other characters from Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni books. For knightly prowess and honor, tempered by a sense of practical realism and enhanced by magic/ESP, read Kurtz’s Deryni novels. They’re set in a world based on late medieval/Renaissance Britain, Europe, and the Ottoman Empire. I guarantee you can get your knight fix in these! Watching Kelson grow into kingship through the the course of seven books (Deryni Rising through King Kelson’s Bride) is an education in medieval politics (as well as a pleasure, of course!)
ETA: The Heralds in Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books. All of them. OK, they wear white uniforms instead of armor, and they ride sentient “horses.” But their primary function is dispensing the Monarch’s justice and serving as his/her eyes, ears, and voice throughout the country, and their major characteristic is selfless devotion to Valdemar’s people – defending the helpless, bringing justice on the evildoers. Yes, I think they qualify as knights.