This discussion shall be brief (I’m not into shipping anyway).
Although The Ravages of Time is mainly about war stratagems and political intrigues and historical twists and the clash of ideologies and theories (and really, the ravages of time), there are also some (e)romantic moments featured throughout the series. Given that the style of ‘manliness’ in Ravages leans towards the ‘serious’ rather than the ‘titillating’ (in other words, more martial spectacles and less fan service – though ‘queer’ readers might find room for passionate disagreement), it would come as no surprise that the presence of female characters is rather minimal to say the least. Nonetheless, this also means that their rare post-debut appearances are often plot-relevant, and a few women (and ‘trans’ folk) have distinguished themselves as competent partners-in-crime and co-conspirators.
That being said, I shall mainly focus on the parallelisms and (dis)similarities between some of the ladies, and their complicated relationships with certain male characters.
- First off are the three main admirers of Liaoyuan Huo. Each of them are capable fighters in their own right and have ‘exotic’ backgrounds, with Xiao Meng being a feminized eunuch turned assassin (specializing in poisons, archery, and female impersonation), Sun Shu being a southerner and a descendant of the Sun clan (and a practitioner of some martial arts), and Fan Furen being a descendant of ‘barbarians’ through her mother (and also a masterful assassin adept in honey-trap schemes). Xiao Meng and Liaoyuan Huo are both members of the Handicapped Warriors, whereas Liaoyuan Huo encountered the other two during his infiltration missions. Moreover, Xiao Meng’s feelings of jealousy and inadequacy led to events that not only separated Liaoyuan Huo from the other two (in turn making them bear different feelings of resentment towards him), but also separated Liaoyuan Huo from Xiao Meng (in turn setting up the broader alienation of Liaoyuan Huo from his employer and friend, Sima Yi). Interestingly enough, only Fan Furen was able to bear Liaoyuan Huo’s child, and therefore was the one who became most physically intimate with him. For her part, Sun Shu came close to Liaoyuan Huo in moments of near-death: on the one hand, she almost choked him to death; on the other hand, he saved her from drowning. Xiao Meng of course gets the honor of having bonded with Liaoyuan Huo the longest, through thick and thin, and was even able to give Liaoyuan Huo a farewell kiss during a rescue mission. Of the three, only Sun Shu is still alive (although she is about to be married off to Liu Bei), since Xiao Meng was executed by Cao Cao in Xiapi after Lü Bu’s defeat, and the Eighth Genius killed off Fan Furen right in front of Liaoyuan Huo during Liu Bei’s campaign to take the four southern commanderies of Jingzhou.
- Xiao Meng, as ‘Diaochan’, also gets some sort of involvement with Lü Bu, who continued his admiration even after knowing Xiao Meng’s secret as a eunuch. Moreover, Lü Bu’s daughter notes that her already-deceased mother (Lü Bu’s first wife) and Xiao Meng have an uncanny resemblance in terms of smell.
- Kong Cha used to be Yuan Fang’s beloved, before she was poisoned at the instigation of Yuan Shao in order to pressure Yuan Fang into marrying Sun Shu (who admired him before shifting her affections to Liaoyuan Huo). This development resulted in Yuan Fang becoming more active in military and political affairs, in a bid to have his revenge on Yuan Shao and the clan.
- Shan Wuling (a.k.a. Zhang Chunhua) at first wanted to marry into the Sima clan in order to eventually take control of it, but instead became enamored by Sima Yi’s cunning and his own brand of gallantry (when he defended her dignity from the accusations of Yuan Shu’s unnamed adviser). Although Zhuge Liang’s wife has yet to show up in the story (as of chapter 462), I am already anticipating some parallels between her and Shan Wuling, insofar as they would appear as cunning advisers and intimate supporters of their respective spouses.
- The inferior roles of women in a male-dominated, war-ravaged, imperial-feudal socio-cultural political-economic order are aptly represented by Liu Bei’s wives (used as mere bait on one occasion), the Qiao sisters (‘arranged’ into marriage courtesy of Sun Quan’s forceful negotiation methods), and Zhen Furen (used by Yuan Fang as a honey trap to cause infighting among Yuan Shao’s legitimate sons, before being gifted to Cao Pi as a prize taking into account Cao Zhi’s lingering affections).
- Cao Cao’s fondness for (married/widowed) women is briefly alluded to, and this was used against him in Pang Tong’s elaborate assassination plot.
- Interestingly enough, Ravages does not dabble into imperial harem intrigues.
WORK IN PROGRESS