It's been a near year since I first read 'The Abandoned Empress'. Instantly I was attracted to its potential. But that was then. Now, thinking of it makes me sigh on the best of days, and wish it were a piñata I could beat to breaking point on worse ones.
My brain can hardly function well enough on a regular day to properly word what reading this was like; I instead use that time to consume more fulfilling media that doesn't make me feel ill will towards their irresponsible creators. Because this truly is a narrative that came about as the result of derelict creation. Since today is a day I feel reasonably present and focused, allow me to explain what I mean by that statement. Spoiler warnings hereon.
Before we begin, let me clarify that I had no horse in this race. The moment Allen was revealed to be an obsessive maniac, I could see where the narrative would lead, and to whom exactly. Once you've read enough, tropes, even the ones that bear red flags, become increasingly apparent. It's a shame I could never come to truly care for Carsein, he would've been a healthier fit, but I knew that his affections were doomed already. Perhaps that colored my affection for him.
We're all familiar with the general complaints most people have with this manhwa (bad pacing, poorly written cookie-cutter side characters, unresolved plotlines, etc) so I will skip over them. My review is centered around the three 'primary' characters of this story, Aristia (tia), Ruvellis (Ruve), and Jieun. This is because although it initially sets itself up to be a coming of age/into oneself story, TAE eventually plays into its wish to be a character-driven romance.
A creator is as a creator does. Four years after Ruve's birth Vita first created Jieun, her blessed child, and through an Oracle made her out to be Ruve's perfect partner. The prophecy was the accepted truth, for everything divine is correct, and the will of the creator is above all. And Then. Vita let their blessed child fall through the dimensions into another world. Humans, unknowing of their God's folly, thus sought for a girl of suitable position and age and decided that she was the prophecized child, and so began the miserable tale of Tia's first life.
What happened next can be relearned through the first six chapters of this manhwa, and is painful to read and garners the utmost sympathy for Tia. We learn she's been brought up with a strict education to become an empress, been married to and hated by the person she loved, relegated to a secondary position after the child foretold by the oracle fell into their world, neglected, abused, assaulted (more on this later), become pregnant, lost her child, heard of the demise of her father and then executed. We learn of all her grief and wish better for her.
My favorite moment from this manhwa comes soon after when Tia visits the temple in chapter 9 and confront Vita. Tia learns that the only reason she loved Ruve despite all his neglect and cruelty was because of her string of fate, and the way it accidentally got entangled with his (more on this later). In both despair and righteous anger, Tia calls their God cruel and professes to renounce her faith, promises to reject and discard Vita the same way she was discarded by them. Vita accepts it all, because it's one of two times they've acted responsibly towards the lives of our three primary characters, and declares Tia to be a child who forges their path, bequeaths the name 'pioneer'. It is an emotional and creative high point, one that the rest of the story completely goes on to shit upon.
Since the manhwa centers itself around Tia, we concentrate on her circumstances and her experiences. We understand her trauma, willingness to move on and grow as a person, and wanting to inherit her family title. We root for her. But we're not nearly done with the first timeline.
Jieun is a 16 y/o girl thrown into an unknown world, burdened with the destiny of a 'chosen one'. Duke Jenna, the primary antagonist of the series, manipulates her into believing that having Ruve love her is the only way she can survive. She expects monogamy (as most people in modern times do) and does not get it. She is thrust into a position of power and saddled with responsibilities she has no experience handling (let's be real, a 16 y/o with mere 4 years of education added thereafter cannot handle statecraft the way a girl who has been brought up her whole life learning how to can). With the death of Tia, her husband grows increasingly angry and neglectful and she is constantly compared to and found lacking against the erstwhile queen and reprimanded for her incompetence. Everybody speaks of the special girl with the happy ending, but no one thinks of what comes thereafter. In the end, she dies with her newborn daughter, and carries the pain of a world that believes her to be God's chosen child, but fails to give her any support system to live by.
Ruve grows up in the shadow of a Palace where no one pays attention to him. One of the two people he feels paternal affection for dies in front of him protecting her daughter in her arms, and he comes to hate the girl for it. Being the child of a lowborn, he develops an inferiority complex to that girl (who, as most would've guessed, is Tia) who is of pureblood, extremely competent, And loved by the emperor (unlike him). He is further manipulated by Duke Jenna, who tells of how Tia only views him as a way to gain greater power and rule the nation. He is fed both psychotropic drugs (which induces anger, bipolar conduct, and schizophrenia (inducing schizophrenia by drugs is impossible but it's fantasy so alright I guess?)... wonder if it's the fantasy world equivalent of datura?) and lies by everyone around him and finds his confirmation in Tia's icy conduct. This is Before he marries Tia. There's a ton of things that happen thereafter which will be talked about below.
You can see the creator, i.e. the author took a lot of time to create an absolute tragedy of errors. All of this could be better if any of the characters could communicate, but their personalities and positions prevent that from happening. Tia cannot bear Jieun's casual behavior and believes Ruve hates her. Jieun cannot approach Tia without being rebuffed and believes clinging to Ruve is her only way of survival and doesn't allow herself to be vulnerable in front of him. Ruve thinks Tia only wants him for his power and finds Jieun's affection to be far too shallow. As I said, it's a character drama, and its 1st timeline pulls that off well.
Issues arise with how the story goes about executing its plot thereafter. Initially, it gives the impression of being a narrative about a person coming into themselves, assuming power, becoming self-assured, and overcoming their trauma. Instead, it turns into a shoddy 'love overcomes all' romance with cheap villains who can hardly hold together their schemes.
The concept of love in this manhwa is shot to shit, swear to god. Love is built upon multiple things. It can be built upon admiration, yes, but unless one makes an effort to know someone love, in its truer (real, if you will) form, cannot exist. Love is built upon the small things, interactions, personal banter, shared memories, etc. In the first timeline Tia 'loves' Ruve because of fatum (fate) alone. Her 'love' persists in the face of cruelty, neglect, anger, abuse, and assault. After returning, she swears to Vita she will not follow fate again and not fall in love with Ruve again. Let's reiterate. She has No Reason to love him apart from her twisted fate.
In the first timeline, Ruve outright hates, despises, and has an inferiority complex towards Tia, and all of that is exacerbated by the weird plot convenient drug. They Never have an honest to god conversation, but even in all of their toxic situation he recognizes tia to be more competent than him and feels attracted to her. This becomes a constant source of self-hatred and disgust. His hate/love towards her dictates his actions towards Tia (whom he believes to be a powermonger), and he only gains instances of sobriety (from the drug) around Tia during really intense moments (when she says she's pregnant, when she loses her child, when she is executed, etc). (On that note, the licking of boot thing is non-canon acc the novel, and honestly... WHAT THE FUCK was the manhwa artist thinking when they added that if they already knew Ruve was ML).
I once read someone here say 'Imagine having to send off the person you love most to their death' re: tia being executed while ruve and jieun watched and honestly... that's fucking laughable. What the author in the novel in those moments calls love can be at best called guilt, regret, and self-loathing on Ruve's part. His emotions for her thereon are marked with his shortcomings alongside regret and guilt. In thinking back to her grace and competence he almost deifies her erstwhile life. You can delude yourself into thinking you love what you've built someone up in your mind to be, but that isn't love either. Ruve sanctifies Tia's existence in his mind, falls in love with that, and that is what we are to believe his love comprises. (Also I was promised that novel!Ruve wasn't as bad as manhwa!Ruve and I had to wade through a fuckton of abuse apologies and 'Tia wasn't assaulted she stripped herself when Ruve told her to' (when she was in clear mental distress over it thinking it was the only way he could ever feel affection for her and coerced into consent) so fuck you to every single person who made me go through that muck, your ML is deplorable.)
My problem with how the author goes about developing romance between Ruve and Tia is how it completely disrespects the experiences of traumatized people and the intelligence of the readers. Even If someone wanted to go about writing something which redeems a past abuser (eg. 2ha, which sufficiently redeems the MC but I still dislike for entirely different reasons do not ask me) the only way a sensible person (be it a character or reader) would be able to accept it would be if the abuser addressed their past actions, made reparations for them, and then made an effort to build something positive with the person they hurt. The writer does that here with Jieun.
Jieun also hurts Tia, but through her POV she is the one worst-hit here. Remember when I said accepting Tia's scorn was one of two times Vita acted responsibly towards the lives of these characters? The only other time is when they offer to either send Jieun back to her world or go back in time. I honestly understood her choice. The memory of her life before is long faded, perhaps reeking of comfort she cannot see herself have in again now that she's experienced so much hurt.
Called God's child, yet isolated, neglected, constantly looked down upon, and scolded by her husband who only ever compares her to his other dead wife (who may have tried to kill her) and then even losing her child. She too burned with a desire for vengeance. But on seeing how Tia and Ruve have changed in this timeline, she makes belated attempts to aid them. She retains memories of her life and nearly kills Tia only to save her and then helps her uncover Jenna's actions. Her presence alone in the last life caused Tia a world of hurt, but in this life, she trades her abilities to save Tia. She redeems herself because she makes reparations for her past actions.
But Ruve? He's an entirely different person with the only knowledge of his actions from the first timeline coming from a letter that he wasn't even supposed to read. I completely understand that he's not the person who abused Tia in the first timeline, but as a reader, it's difficult to accept that the girl who was rendered catatonic for 2 days straight because he merely raised his voice went on to marry him. The writer seems to think that writing misery porn about ML's backstory in the first timeline will give him character depth and serve both as an excuse for his actions in the past and as a good foil against the 2nd timeline's new and improved version of himself.
Maybe these cheap tricks work on others, but it doesn't change the fact that whether under the duress of drugs and mental illness or not, his actions are veritably registered as abuse in Tia's mind. This begets the question 'is a mentally unsound person liable for the hurt they cause others?' and the answer to that is yes, yes they are. Tia has PTSD from her last life, and all of that is brushed under the rug in the face of affection from Ruve in this life. This is such a slap in the face of what overcoming PTSD is like.. here in Tia's mind it's 'just get over it lol' that's not how shit works dearest author. Giving reasons for committing abuse does not negate its existence, nor its consequence.
It feels even worse that Tia had to change to be a more socially engaging person for Ruve to fall for her in this life. She has to change to become palatable and understandable to Ruve in this life so he can stop hating her and then love her. Tia's feelings for him in this life also seem to build upon a shoddy foundation. Theirs is one of the flimsiest loves I've read (even if you were to take away the 'abused in former life' angle) and I say that as someone that used to read Mills and Boons novels to waste time.
I'll finally answer what I meant about irresponsible creators. Of course, in mishandling the lives of the aforementioned characters, Vita is one of the creators I speak of. The other is the author. In writing their 'love overcomes all' and 'deep down he was a good guy, actually' and 'forgiveness is so romantic even if the person you love is the one who traumatized you thoroughly before' romance novel, they fail to properly recognize and portray with consideration the many heavy issues that come up with executing such a plot. They were so focused on making excuses for their ML and making the romance work that they failed to recognize just what they were romanticizing and what they have failed to write well, and I pray that neither they nor anyone who likes these sorts of novels has to suffer half of what they glorify.
There's also a ton of things to say about plot holes everywhere, about how no time frame was given as to the administration of the convenient fantasy drug so it can become a consistent (with 1st timeline) plot point in the 2nd timeline, my thoughts on Allen, Carsein, and Jieun's fates at the novel's end, etc, but at this point I'm tired and I'm sure you, the reader of this review, is too. Thank you for making it this far. My contempt for this novel has been building for quite some time, I know I'm insane for making such a long comment but ya know? to purge something vicious from your mind you've just got to give it the shape it desires, and for me, that shape was this comment.
MINOR SPOILER AHEAD, but i'm just trying to encourage you to still read this manhwa DESPITE of its spoiled ending (as suggested in the novel), DESPITE OF ITS MANY NEGATIVE REVIEWS (EVEN ON THIS SITE) BECAUSE OF THE ENDING.
please hear me out :)
I know that many people has been disappointed with the novel ending. Many has also been warn people not to read this manhwa. But, I think this is a great manhwa for those who, like me, enjoys a tragic story with a 'bad ending'. I personally think it's not a 'bad ending' per se. I'll explain this further with how i think about the character development.
First, the story. It is not you would expect of the usual great ones. It is painfully slow paced and often does not make sense. However, i think its slow pace-ness is one of its charm together with its many twists and turns. Sow pace-ness story done right. It depicts how the MC has to go through such long years and slowly make herself and the world deviates further and further from the original one. The art also supports this idea. You can also recognize how the characters are drawn more mature bit by bit to the point that you would not see the difference unless you jump 1-2 dozen chapters. It's just like real life, where you don't see yourself growing day by day, yet when you look at your old photo you see that you have changed so much. The art is not only good to the eyes, but also support the story tremendously. It's not something that you very often see in other 'typical' manhwa/manga.
I recommend you to read this manhwa as if you're reading a mystery story. You need to be on the look out for minor details that may be significant in the future. As the story goes, more things will be unfolded and it will give you new perspective about the circumstances and the characters.
On that note, the (main) characters are NOT depicted as black and white. From reading many comments & discussions, i found that many people just love to label this character as the bad guy, and the other one is the good guy. I don't think that's what the author wants people to see. I think he/she wants to give you more of a realistic view, instead of the usual fairy tale narrative. The main criticisim that people give is that SPOILER: The MC ends up with the emperor who abandoned her in her first life.
People say that she's chasing her own tail, she's stupid, bla bla bla. NO, i don't think it's as simple as that. This IS NOT a simple story with simple characters and simple development. I believe that the ending will be beautiful as more things unfold and the characters develop further. It will be the ending that no one even considers at first, not even the MC. Like a story of someone that didn't even think of having a certain job, or of sworn enemies becoming lovers, etc.
It's not the typical, popular, mainstream romance story that pleases everybody. It's not for those who are thirsting for the more popular flowery romance story. I don't think it intends to be one. Not that i hate the more popular story. But it is perfect for those who are looking for a change of pace, who are willing to open their minds to a boarder perspective on things, and those who loves stories that is not bluntly obvious as how things are to be expected.
Some negatives though: Its slow pace-ness is something you must endure, like it or not. so i think it's better to read it when it's completed if you're not the patient type. But trust me that the story is not going all over the place and steadily goes forward. Second, the art with its layout is not soo sophisticated that i'd give a 10 but it's good enough. The characters, though develops steadily, does not give an obvious direction / description so people might be confused on what are they thinking. For example there're several times when MC is staring at the emperor, but there's no obvious expression or blush, no flowery effects, no thoughts that say "ah, i still love him" or "i'm confused" or "ch, i hate him" or whatever. You're in the dark and kind of have to infer if yourself by empathizing to the character given the many details that have been revealed. I think that it's the charm, but if you don't get it then i bet you'll get pissed. So 8.5/10 it is.
spoiler on my opinion so maybe you'll get what i mean by infering things: i love to think that the moments i described earlier is the MC being charmed to the prince all over again due to his different behavior, the fact that the string of fate that was mentioned before makes the MC harbor feelings for the prince, and the fact that she still cherished that feeling in her first life despite the prince being a dick (until that moment when she hated him). And no, i don't think that just because the prince was a dick, he is one in the second life. He onced or twice worry about the MC to in the past, so that's a clue.
hm yeah, i don't know about you guys but personally, i would never go back into the arms of a guy who killed my sexy dilf papa... even if it happened in a past life. and I don't care if he was under the influence of poison or whatever. its just an inexcusable crime. F*CK RUVE!
*contains slight spoilers*
What is this shit?
I read it till the end, and now I'm asking myself "why? why did you read this?"
At first, it was kinda good, except for the art style, but with every chapter, it got worse. The story drifted away and the MC ufffff my poor brain cells. But I think the ending was okay...
As I said, the art was really bad initially, but it improved and got better, so I think it's okay.
.................. (I want to skip this part because there were only two acceptable characters, but I won't.....)
There is the protagonist Aristia Pioneer la Monique......she was kinda good at the beginning and I understood her feelings. But why do you fall in love with someone who did "this" to you?! There is not really a character development...Ruvelis (I don't remember his full name ._. but I don't need to), the Male Lead, was so shitty in the first life of Aristia and then his character improved but I couldn't understand him at all.....
There were a few side characters....but they were all fired, so I don't think I need to write about them, except for one, weed-head-boy (maybe he has a name but I don't care). Weed-head-boy was kinda cool and sweet but then he became just a psychopath......Why again?
.......It was garbage but I think I liked it for whatever reason, so maybe I had fun, but I won't read it again. I will not tell you to not read it but think thoroughly about it.
First of all: I dropped this series at chapter 30. It's not exactly bad, but also not good.
My biggest critique ist the 19 year old MC. She's had a miserable life full of pain and betrayel. Yet, she's still completely naive and stupid and gets pushed around by everyone after the traveled back in time to overcome her fate. I can understand that she should be scared and overwhelmed by her past life at first, so a "pathetic" MC at the beginning would be realistic and absolutely fine with me. But it has been two years since she traveled back in time and she's just becoming dumber.
"I have to become a knight in order to prevent my past life from happening again".
<sarcasm:on>Yeeeess, yess, yess ... my weak and constantly sick MC with knowledge of everything that will happen in the next 7 years. Becoming a knight is TRULY the ONLY thing you can do - especially in a patriarchal society! You've chosen the most obvious path!
You've made the best choice after wrapping your head around for at least half a year! What am I even saying?! You didn't even have a choice, right?<sarcasm:off>
It's really disappointing seeing something with at least a little bit of potential being destroyed because author didnt know his/her self-created MC, world, setting and story...
All the MLs are your typical stereotypes aswell. Not that it would bother me to the point I'd drop a series, but it still adds a little bit of shit ontop.
The story itself is nothing new, so I cant say that it's good or bad. It's just the same as with the MLs: It doesnt really matter. A story is experienced by the characters. If the characters are good, they can completely hide a mediocre story, but it's almost impossible the other way around.
The art is pretty old and not really to my taste, but I won't rate it here, because to me, it has nothing todo with the quality of a manga/manwha/manhua.