This is clearly the book about Alanna accepting her magic.
Watching Alanna learn who she is throughout the series is half the fun, because she struggles with accepting all the portions of herself and of who she wants to be quite a bit. She needs to learn to be more flexible as she grows up, and this book helps her along that path.
She spends the book with the Bazhir. Here, in a tribe that ends up adopting her, she ends up fighting against a microcosm of the culture she tried to escape from when going on adventures after earning her shield (and admitting she was female) at the end of the last book.
They are not huge fans of the idea of a warrior woman, and she spends a lot of time trying to explain why there is nothing terribly different about her.
"'You are a terrifying creature,' the Voice told her solemnly. 'You do not take your place in your father's tent, letting men make your decisions. You ride as a man, you fight as a man, and you think as a man-'
'I think as a human being,' she retorted hotly. 'Men don't think any differently from women - they just make more noise about being able to.'"
She ends up adopting two girls who are willing to take a place among men, but in their own ways, which was lovely. They don't jump into the idea of rejecting everything about their culture or about their feminity; they find ways of adapting those portions of themselves into positions that still work with what they have to do. I liked that Alanna was willing to admit that her initial knee-jerk reaction of rejecting all feminity was silly and that she helped to mentor these girls into becoming women who could have the best of both worlds and help their tribe at the same time.
From her time with the Bazhir, Alanna learns the value of her magic. She has been fighting that idea for a long time, fighting the concept of it as being a cheat. She accepted her gift of healing several books ago at this point, but the rest of what she can do has been sitting idle, and she finally gets to exercise it in this book. Teaching other people (and other women) about how to use magic helps her to finally recapture that part of herself.
Jon also gets to do a little bit of growing up in this book, though most of his is negative rather than positive. This is probably his lowest point in the series, and for good reason. Alanna ends up kind of pissed at him, and that is also for good reason. But George is always there to have her back when Jon is acting like a fool, and it is nice to see both of them again and to watch Alanna sort out her feelings for them as an adult and an acknowledged woman.
This is a transition book into the endgame, and it is an enjoyable ride, but not my favorite in the series. It is very focused on character development and on what characters need to learn to make it to and then through the endgame, and thus the pace feels kind of slow. It's a good read, though, and a visit with Alanna is always enjoyable.