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Book Review

A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the third book in the "A Song of Ice and Fire" series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Mance Rayder is the king of the wildlings, who live north of the Wall around the Seven Kingdoms. Mance and his people are preparing to attack the Seven Kingdoms.

Jon Snow — the illegitimate son of Eddard Stark, who was the former lord of Winterfell — travels through the north with a group of wildlings who have taken him in. He was forced to kill his own commander, Qhorin Halfhand, in order to get the wildlings to trust him. Jon intends to gather information about the wildlings before returning to the Wall to inform the Night's Watch of their activities. Jon joins Mance's host and meets Mance himself, who is less frightening than the legends about him imply.

Jon leaves the wildlings and helps defend Castle Black against a wildling attack. His wildling girlfriend Ygritte is killed in the attack. After defending the Wall against another wildling attack, he is made commander of the Night's Watch. Later, he is demoted and thrown into a prison cell before being sent out past the Wall on a mission to kill Mance.

Later, King Stannis' troops march to the Wall and defeat the wilding host led by Mance. King Stannis offers Jon the lordship of Winterfell. Jon is officially elected Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, thus excluding him from inheriting Winterfell.

Jaime Lannister, the brother lover of Queen Regent Cersei Lannister, is a war captive of the Tully family. Catelyn Stark, the widow of Eddard Stark and daughter of Lord Hoster Tully, breaks Jaime out of jail at the castle of Riverrun. Catelyn plans to have her knight Brienne return Jaime to his sister, Cersei, in return for Catelyn's two captive daughters, Arya and Sansa. Catelyn's brother, Edmure, does not like her plan, so he sends out men to attack Brienne and bring Jaime back to Riverrun.

Arya Stark travels away from the castle of Harrenhal with her friends Gendry and Hot Pie. She and Gendry meet a bard named Tom Sevenstrings and his friends. The children travel with the bard to an inn where Arya meets a man who recognizes her as one of the heirs of Winterfell. Tom and his company capture her and Gendry. He decides to take them to Lord Beric Donadrrion, a man loyal to the Starks, in order to receive a ransom. After she is at Beric's home, Arya meets Sandor Clegane, who is captured by Beric. Clegane defeats Beric in single combat and is free to leave. Clegane kidnaps Arya. She kills a man called The Tickler, who was known for torturing people to death. Then she escapes from Clegane and finds passage on a Braavosi ship.

At Riverrun, Robb Stark meets with his mother, Catelyn, and introduces her to his new wife, Jeyne Westerling. Robb's choice of wife has decreased the strength of his army because the powerful Freys only supported Robb when they believed he would follow through on his promise to marry a Frey girl.

After the battle at King's Landing, Tyrion Lannister is wounded. Tyrion is trying to find his place in the new power structure. Tyrion's father, Tywin Lannister, replaces him as the Hand of the King. Tyrion has lost almost all of the troops who supported him before the battle.

Tyrion is given a job in King's Landing as the Master of Coin, which simply means that he will have to find money for the king to spend. Lord Tywin decides that Cersei should marry young Willas Tyrell, the crippled heir to an important piece of land. Tywin is also determined to have Tyrion marry Sansa Stark.

Sansa is invited to visit Margaery Tyrell, the new fiancée of King Joffrey. Margaery and her grandmother Lady Olenna are kind to Sansa. They want to take Sansa to their estate at Highgarden so she can marry Margaery's brother Willas.

In King's Landing, Sansa is wed to Tyrion, giving the Lannisters a claim to the lands of Winterfell. Someone poisons King Joffrey on his wedding day. Joffrey dies, and Cersei has Tyrion arrested on suspicion of murder. Sansa is taken out of the city by Lord Baelish, also known as "Littlefinger."

Jaime enters King's Landing. Lord Tywin disowns Jaime when he will not obey him and marry Margaery Tyrell. Tyrion's champion is defeated in a trial by combat. Tyrion is thrown in prison, awaiting execution for King Joffrey's death.

Daenerys Targaryen, Joffrey's sister, sails toward the Seven Kingdoms with her Dothraki followers and her three young dragons. Her right-hand man, Ser Jorah Mormont, confesses that he loves her.

Daenerys purchases thousands of eunuch slave warriors to help her retake the Seven Kingdoms. She has the eunuchs lead a rebellion against their own city of Astapor, freeing all the slaves. Tens of thousands of freed slaves from Astapor follow Daenerys as she marches to Yunkai and defeats the city.

Daenerys' company of tens of thousands reaches the city of Meereen. She discovers that for months a legendary knight named Ser Barristan Selmy has been guarding her. She also learns that Ser Jorah Mormont betrayed her during their early acquaintance by selling secrets about her to King Robert.

Jaime and Brienne are taken captive by a group of mercenaries called the Brave Companions. The Brave Companions cut off Jaime's hand and give him and Brienne to Roose Bolton at Harrenhal. Eventually Jaime rescues Brienne from Vargo Hoat, who made her fight a bear in a pit.

Jamie frees Tyrion from prison. Tyrion finds his girlfriend Shae, who lied and testified against him at his trial. He strangles her to death with a necklace, then kills his father, Tywin, with a crossbow.

At Riverrun, Catelyn's father, Lord Hoster Tully, dies. Catelyn's brother Edmure becomes the new lord of Riverrun. Robb learns that Winterfell has been burned down. At Edmure's wedding to Roslin Frey, the Freys betray the Stark troops and attack them. Robb is murdered, as is Catelyn.

At Dreadfort, Sansa is acting the part of Littlefinger's illegitimate daughter when her own aunt, Lysa Arryn, comes to marry Littlefinger. When Lysa learns that Sansa is truly her niece, she decides that Sansa should marry her son Robert, though he is only 8, and Sansa is married already.

At the Eyrie, Sansa learns that Littlefinger has a romantic interest in her. Lysa tries to kill her when she sees Littlefinger kiss Sansa. Littlefinger saves Sansa and pushes Lysa to her death.

In the epilogue, Catelyn is resurrected from the dead, and she orders a Frey descendant to be hanged.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

Catelyn makes Jaime swear on the old gods and the new gods of the Faith, promising that he will not fight against the Starks in the future.

Catelyn worships the seven faces of the god of the Faith: the Maid, Mother, Warrior, Smith, Crone, Father and Stranger. She prays to them for protection for her loved ones and lights candles at their altars. Both Catelyn and Jeyne Westerling pray for Jeyne to bear Robb a child to be his heir.

Ser Davos believes that the gods of the ocean are waiting for him to sink down to them and die. He prays to the Mother god of the Faith to save him. The Mother replies to him through his thoughts. She tells Davos that he is partly to blame for King Stannis' defeat at King's Landing because he helped Melisandre, an evil red priestess. Davos did not stand up to Melisandre when she ordered the seven gods of the Faith to be burned at Dragonstone, so the Mother holds him responsible for the destruction. When a passing ship finds him, Davos believes that the Mother is showing her mercy. Samwell Tarly prays to the Mother for her mercy.

Melisandre is a red priestess of a new religion serving R'hllor, the Lord of Light. The Lord of Light is also called the Heart of Fire and the God of Flame and Shadow. Melisandre says that R'hllor is opposed to a single, nameless other god who rules over the cold and darkness. Melisandre can see the future in the flames of her fire, and she can siphon a man's life-force in order to create evil shadow creatures. Melisandre uses the blood of kings to make some of her rituals work. She wants to use King Stannis' illegitimate nephew as part of a human sacrifice, but Stannis refuses.

Beric Dondarrion and his men worship R'hllor and keep company with a red priest. The priest Thoros keeps Beric alive by dark magic rituals although Beric has been killed six times.

When Bran Stark dreams, his consciousness combines with that of his intelligent pet direwolf, Summer. Bran's friend Jojen Reed can foresee the future. Jojen calls this gift the greensight and says that the old gods give many different talents to human beings.

Arya prays to the old gods of the forest for protection. Jon prays to the old gods. Samwell Tarly prays to the seven faces of god, but then switches to praying to Jon's gods in hopes that they will help him in the wilderness.

The wildling man Craster says he is a godly man because he sacrifices all his infant sons to his gods.

Bran can partially control the actions of other people by entering their consciousness. Arya can enter the consciousness of her lost direwolf, Nymeria.

Authority Roles

Catelyn frees Jaime in defiance of her brother Edmure's authority, but she does so in order to regain her daughters Sansa and Arya. Catelyn once advised her son Robb to avoid trusting Theon Greyjoy, but Robb did not listen, and Theon betrayed him and tried to kill his brothers. Catelyn warns Robb about his new wife and her family, but Robb is not concerned about possible betrayals. Catelyn offers Robb's new wife comfort and advice. Catelyn loves and cares for her aging father, Lord Hoster Tully, until his death.

Arya is determined to protect her friends Gendry and Hot Pie. The boys are older than Arya, but she has more battle experience. Arya views the boys as family and refuses to abandon them. She makes Hot Pie keep travelling even when he is exhausted, because she knows that if he stops, he will be captured and killed. She leaves Hot Pie working safely for an innkeeper.

Tyrion's father, Tywin, is unkind to him. Tywin is not concerned when Tyrion is sick and close to death. Tywin despises his son because Tyrion is a dwarf. Tywin announces that Tyrion will never inherit Casterly Rock, his birthright, because he looks so unpleasant, and Lord Tywin is very concerned with appearances. Lord Tywin disowns Jaime when he will not obey him.

Margaery Tyrell's grandmother Lady Olenna tells Sansa to beat her future sons often so they will learn to listen to her. Olenna says that the Seven Kingdoms would be better off if the kings would stop fighting and listen to their mothers.

Ser Davos mourns the deaths of his three grown sons.

Both Jon and Arya struggle to understand their father's sense of honor. Eddard Stark was widely respected as one of the most moral men in the Seven Kingdoms, and yet he fathered an illegitimate child, Jon, with an unknown woman. Jon seems to want to imitate his father's life in every respect aside from this one major moral failure.


The following words are used often: b--ch, h---, d--n, s---, c--k, a--/arse and the f-word. The word c--t is used a few times. B--tard is used continuously to refer to illegitimate children.

Chett was sent to the Night's Watch for a murdering a woman who refused to have sex with him. Vargo Hoat is known for cutting off the hands and feet of anyone who angers him. Men are stabbed, shot with arrows and impaled with spears during battle.

Robb executes Rickard Karstark by cutting off his head with an axe. The decapitation spatters blood on the onlookers. An insane man named Biter is said to have eaten a dead woman's breasts.

Eunuch warriors known as the Unsullied are trained from childhood in the art of killing. As boys, they are required to raise a pet dog and then strangle it to death. To finish their training, they are required to kill a baby in front of its mother, proving they have no pity.

Daenerys sees slaves who have had pieces of their skin stripped away to allow flies and maggots to eat the flesh beneath. Daenerys strikes a cruel slaver across the face with a whip before having one of her dragons roast him alive.

Arya sees mutilated men who are being starved to death in iron cages for their crimes of rape and murder. Later, Arya sees more soldiers accused of murder as they are stripped and hanged to death. Arya stabs a young squire to death after he attacks her. Arya repeatedly stabs a man nicknamed the Tickler. She kills the Tickler because she previously saw him torturing dozens of men, women and children to death.

The Brave Companions cut off Jaime's hand and hang it around his neck. When Jaime rescues Brienne from a pit where she is forced to fight a bear, he throws a maggot-filled human jawbone at the bear before archers shoot the creature repeatedly.

Wights, the undead flesh-eating equivalent of zombies, eat living people and animals. Wights are followed by crows, who eat pieces of their bodies.

When Robb is killed by the Freys, Catelyn retaliates by slitting the throat of a mentally challenged Frey. After his death, Robb is beheaded and the Freys sew the head of his pet direwolf onto his body.

The people of Meereen dare Daenerys to attack them by nailing dead slave children to posts. The children's intestines are pulled out and their arms are nailed in place to point the way to Meereen. Daenerys retaliates by having all the leaders of Meereen nailed up in a similar manner after she conquers their city.


Among the Night's Watch, a man called Softfoot boasts of raping 100 women and being so quiet that they could not hear him sneaking up to attack them. A Night's Watchman named Chett thinks about how he has always had to pay for sex because he is so ugly; no woman would sleep with him without payment.

Jaime and his twin sister, Cersei, have had an incestuous relationship since their childhood. Jaime is not sexually interested in any women other than Cersei. Jaime is interested in marrying his sister, as the old Targaryen kings always wed their sisters, and he thinks that it might be a good idea to have his and Cersei's children, Joffrey and Myrcella, marry each other when they come of age. Jaime and Cersei have sex while the body of their deceased son, Joffrey, is in the room.

Catelyn learns that her sister, Lysa, conceived a child out of wedlock. Lysa later admits that she was pregnant with Littlefinger's child, but her father gave her a drink that made her miscarry.

Tyrion's girlfriend Shae is a prostitute, and his father, Tywin, does not approve of his fondness for prostitutes. Tyrion continues to have sex with Shae after he marries Sansa, because he will not consummate his marriage to Sansa, who is only 12.

The elderly Lady Olenna says that her late husband was skilled in the bedchamber, and she remarks that eunuchs are useless because they are men with all their important parts missing.

Mance sings a song about adultery entitled "The Dornishman's Wife." Ser Jorah kisses his queen, Daenerys Targaryen, while she is naked. She is surprised by his actions, but initially welcomes his kiss. Jorah suggests they marry, but Daenerys rebuffs him.

To maintain their loyalty, Cersei Lannister hints that she will perform sexual favors for the soldiers who work for her.

A graphic sex scene between Shae and Tyrion is described.

Robb had sex with Jeyne Westerling the night he learned that his brothers had been murdered. He married Jeyne the next day because he believed marriage was his only honorable option.

Tormund the wildling tells a strange story about having sex with a woman who turned into a bear and having bear-children from her. It is clear from the context that he is telling a tall tale. Tormund tells Jon that some wildling women drink a special concoction that makes them miscarry when they want to avoid having a child after casual sex.

Jon knows that the wildling woman Ygritte wants to have sex with him. Wherever the wildlings camp, she lays down her blankets next to his and sleeps as close to him as possible. Jon does not want to have sex with Ygritte because he took a vow as a member of the Night's Watch that he would never take a wife and have children, and also because he is not interested in having an affair. Jon does not want to produce an illegitimate child, like himself. Eventually Jon does have sex with Ygritte, though he feels conflicted about it. Ygritte is very experienced, while Jon is a virgin.

Bandits discuss the possibility of anally raping Brienne. Jaime lies about Brienne's fortune to keep the men from abusing her.

Lady Smallwood berates Tom Sevenstrings for his womanizing ways, and says that he could avoid impregnating so many peasant women if he would remember to ejaculate outside of their bodies.

Daeneyrs begins to masturbate, but her handmaiden sees what she is doing and stops her. The girl touches Daenerys until she has an orgasm. Daenerys turns down future offers of pleasure from her maid.

Sansa is 12 when she is ordered to marry Tyrion. Tyrion's nephew, young King Joffrey, tells Sansa that although she is married, he intends to have sex with her whenever he pleases. Tyrion and Sansa remove their clothes and prepare to consummate their marriage, but Tyrion decides to leave Sansa alone because she is so clearly disgusted by him. Sansa remains a virgin.

The wildling man Craster marries his daughters and has children/grandchildren with them.

Prince Oberyn Martell is rumored to be sexually attracted to both men and women. Prince Oberyn's mistress Ellaria is thrilled at the prospect of having a threesome involving Cersei Lannister.

A septon, a holy man who is the equivalent of a priest, is hanged for having sex with small boys and then killing them.

At Edmure Tully and Roslin Frey's wedding, the guests conduct a practice called bedding where the men strip the bride and the women strip the groom before leaving the new couple in a room together to consummate their relationship.

Sansa participates in a bedding for Littlefinger and her aunt Lysa Arryn. The entire castle can hear Lysa's screams of encouragement as she and her new husband have sex. A singer named Marillion fondles Sansa after a wedding and tries to pressure her into having sex with him, but Sansa refuses. Littlefinger kisses Sansa.

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

16 and up


George R.R. Martin






Record Label



Bantam Spectra, a division of Bantam Books, owned by Random House


On Video

Year Published



Locus Award, Best Fantasy Novel, 2001; Geffen Award, Best Fantasy Novel, 2002


We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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