Content warning: A lot of death.
The mage Aoyas has three strikes against her: She’s a mercenary; she was born in Lerani, the most recently conquered and still not quite subjugated province of the Empire; and she is a Marked woman, someone who has changed her born gender. Her mercenary partner Rais isn’t that much better; he was born in the capital city but his father was an outlander who abandoned him and his mother when he was young. Neither Aoyas nor Rais set out to become mercenaries, but fate put them in each other’s paths and together they became lovers and survived their first — hardest — year of mercenarying.
It took five-and-a-half pages to set up all the history and backdrop for the story, rather a long in something only about 20 pages long; but I’m a sucker for good worldbuilding so the lack of action or activity didn’t bother me too much. I was surprised at how transphobic and misogynistic the setting was — it made me sad that Aoyas didn’t get a better story, a better life. While some people might say she got her happily ever after, I’m not entirely convinced.