The Remarried Empress: Rashta is Fine Though?

The Remarried Empress is a 2019 Korean Webtoon drawn by Sumpul and adapting a series of webnovels by Alphatart. It tells the story of Empress Navier and the issues that arise when her husband, Sovieshu, brings home his first mistress. It’s really good and you should read it. Just don’t pay too much attention to the advertising because it’s a bit, um…

yikes

If you can’t/don’t want to watch the video, it’s not actually the problem I’m about to harp on about for way too many words. The problem is the thumbnail.

she really didn’t

The video itself manages to avoid referring Rashta as a conniving, man-stealing whore (though it also doesn’t really “explain” anything, either. “Explained” implies some manner of analysis and it’s really mostly just a summary and a summary is no more an analysis than it is a review and I’m getting off topic), but this isn’t the only example of Webtoons portraying Rashta as a homewrecker in their ads, just the only one I have because I didn’t think to screenshot the notifications on my phone. The guy in the video does point out that emperors having mistresses is both normal and expected, but neglects to mention that Rashta is a former slave, which is kind of a huge oversight since it informs literally everything about her character.

Oh, by the way? This essay is going to be lousy with spoilers up to the point of the official English release so go read the Webtoon and come back if you care about that sort of thing.

aww, i missed you spoiler sign

Rashta isn’t a conniving, man-stealing whore. She’s a desperate person in way over her head. She’s an antagonist only in the sense that she’s opposed to the protagonist, and even then she spends most of her time trying to stay out of Navier’s way. The biggest antagonists in the story so far are the emperor, who constantly invalidates his wife’s feelings and tries to force her to put up with Rashta far more than she should really be required to given their vastly different statuses; the viscount who used to own and is currently blackmailing Rashta; and Navier’s brother, Kosair, who keeps doing things Navier explicitly tells him not to do because he’s an idiot.

“because he’s an idiot” explains the actions of most of the men in this comic

(Disclaimer: I’m aware that Kosair barely qualifies as an antagonist; I didn’t want to cut that joke.)

Which isn’t to claim that Rashta has done no wrong (though a current or former slave can do literally anything to not be a slave anymore/avoid going back to being a slave and at worst it’ll be morally neutral), but the harm she does cause results more from her being in way over her head than any malicious intent on her part.

Navier isn’t completely unjustified in her regard for Rashta, either (y’know, apart from where she’s the empress of an empire that allows slavery and gives no indication she sees anything wrong with this). She’s established early on as being disillusioned with her marriage and her viewing Rashta as representative of her and Sovieshu’s relationship problems is understandable. She’s perfectly within her rights to set strict boundaries and want to associate with Rashta as little as possible, despite Sovieshu’s insistence on making her handle matters that should really be on him since Rashta is his mistress and therefore his responsibility. The biggest problems arise, however, from the introduction of Rashta’s former owner, who swiftly goes about blackmailing her with explicit threats to reveal her status as an escaped slave and implicit threats directed toward the child forced upon her by his son.

So yeah, this is the point where I’m going to start talking (very briefly) about rape. Sorry about that, but it’s kind of the most important point.

You cannot consent to sex with somebody who literally owns you, or the child of somebody who literally owns you. There’s just too much of a power disparity for the slave to have any real choice in the matter. Nor is there any obligation to have any real attachment to a child that you didn’t want with a person you didn’t want to have a child with and who very likely would never be allowed to know that you’re their parent anyway. The fact that Rashta does worry about Ian’s well-being however briefly, just shows that she really is a genuinely kind person, which, unfortunately, tends to turn against her more often than it works in her favor.

As a slight aside, as part of my research (inasmuch as I did any for this opinion piece) I scrolled down to read the comments on one chapter, even though that’s never a good idea because comment sections are a pit of despair and nuance doesn’t exist on the Internet.

exhibit a

In the one comment I read, the commenter referred to Rashta as Trashta, but fortunately anyone smart and sexy enough to visit aceanimereviews.com doesn’t need to be told why calling a rape victim trash is Super Not Cool.

In any other version of this story, Rashta would be the main character. It’s a typical fairy tale ending, isn’t it? The slave rescued by the handsome prince? Unfortunately, The Remarried Empress, despite the magical setting, shapeshifting birds, and fanciful artstyle, isn’t a fairy tale. It has more in common with A Song of Ice and Fire than Cinderella (though it’s not nearly as dark as the former, especially since most of the grimmer elements- like the rape thing- are merely inferred based on character reactions and general knowledge of how things work in the real world). It takes a while for Rashta to realize that she’s not in a fairy tale, and once she does she manages to adapt fairly well, but she’s still woefully ill-equipped to go toe to toe with noblewomen who have been neck deep in court drama and political intrigue from an early age, and doesn’t have the necessary context and experience to consider the greater scope effects of some of her actions, such as when she tries to distract from rumors about her by dredging up rumors on someone else that eventually leads to a divorce and an exile.

The only major character who has really done anything wrong is Sovieshu. He should not have introduced Rashta to high society before she was properly educated and prepared; he needs to stop steamrolling his wife’s incredibly valid and fair concerns; and he needs to stop acting like an asshole because his wife has the audacity to befriend someone who actually listens to her and validates her feelings and opinions.

Rashta is a nice girl who had to learn the hard way that being nice is not necessarily a good thing when you’re surrounded by people who don’t have your best interests at heart. She even manages to be nice in the face of her anxieties about being tossed aside, left with nothing, and forced to return to a life of exploitation and abuse. She makes mistakes, but she learns from them and uses her experiences to grow as a contender amongst the oft-scheming nobles and others around her. She is a character possessed of both virtues and flaws, whose decisions make sense based on what we know about her personality, skills, and personal history. You don’t have to like her but she is, objectively, a Good Character.

The Remarried Empress isn’t as good as, say, Your Throne, which blows it out of the water in pretty much every conceivable area, but that speaks more to how good Your Throne is than implies anything bad about Remarried Empress. The plotting is tight, the art is gorgeous, the setting is lived in, and the characters are well-developed, fully realized characters whose actions and motivations are believable and understandable. I strongly recommend it to anyone. Just stop calling Rashta trash.

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