I dragged my feet on starting this book, because I felt pretty lukewarm toward its predecessor, The Killing Moon. Once I finally started on this one, however, I just really wanted to know what was happening.
This one is about so many things. I will talk about it as best I can without spoilers. There's a heavy theme of being a fish out of water, getting to know other cultures and unlearning some prejudices. The author is deeply talented at creating a setting and a complex, alien culture that makes sense to the reader and feels believable. Thinking more deeply about right and wrong, and considering that the things that are right within one person's culture can be horrifying to an outsider. There is a lot about gender roles, exploring if a person can take on a role typically seen as belonging to the other gender, while maintaining one's on gender identity.
There is a love story between two complicated, emotionally damaged characters who are still discovering their own needs and feelings. It also felt believable to me. There was melancholy in it, but this author does not seem to write typical happily ever after stories.
Another major theme in this book, I'd say the most important one, is coping with abuse, and trying to heal from it. Horrific abuse is alluded to in this story, involving a small child, and particularly sensitive readers may find it deeply upsetting. It isn't graphic, but it doesn't need to be to get across the sadness and horror.
I have not been so emotionally destroyed by the ending of a book since I gave up reading John Steinbeck. But unlike what turned me away from Steinbeck, not every outcome in this book is negative. There is a great deal of tragedy and sorrow, but there is also forgiveness, understanding, and hope.