When we last saw Sonja, she was recovering from the plague from her encounter with Dark Anissia, and was planning on getting drunk in legendary fashion. Assuming she already did so, we find her on the road a few weeks later, under the employ of a despicable Emperor. Now, why would Sonja work for someone despicable? Well, this Emperor happens to by dying, and as such, is having his thousand or so slaves build him a mausoleum to spend eternity in (like all despicable Emperors do). However, he wants to have one final party before he dies, and hires Sonja to find him the six greatest artisans in the land to entertain him. Sonja agrees to find them for him, but only after he agrees to let his slaves go once he has passed on.
One by one, Sonja finds each of these artisans, each one requiring her to overcome no short amount of obstacles (not the least of which her smell and unsatisfied libido). She indeed finds each of them, but during her journey discovers a lot more about herself than she had expected, overcoming more than a few personal demons in the process.
There was a lot of subtext in these stories, much more so once you read them a second time. Gail is amazing here, using this adventure to examine Sonja’s insecurities about her beauty, her ability in battle, and even her place in the world. Furthermore, if you read deep enough, the subtext grows even larger, the stories forcing us to look at more than a few social issues in new light. I won’t go into huge details, I want you all to read the book for yourself, but through Sonja, Gail examines issues such as beauty, gender, self-confidence, sexuality, faith, and love. What this does is create a heartfelt, personal, and wonderful story about a flawed warrior woman as she discovers more about herself than she could have thought possible.
What I’ve just spoken of is why I loved this book so much. Too many stories out there, in any medium, seem to be about the action, the conflict between good and evil (which is fine to a degree), and how many explosions you can fit into one camera shot (not criticizing you Michael Bay, but some character development would be nice every once in a while). This story made me feel, made me laugh, made me cry, and more than a few times make me think about the world and the troubles of the people in it. This was a story about people, which is what all stories should be about in my opinion. I loved it, and cannot state in words how wonderful it truly is.