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- Alas, Poor Villain: Cao Cao receives one of the longest poems in the book upon his death, almost entirely complimentary. The final lines run:
Ah! The ancients' splendid deeds or secret thoughts
We may not measure with our puny rule.
But criticize them, pedants, as ye may
The mighty dead will smile at what you say.
- Complete Monster: Dong Zhuo, of course. Despite some soft spots like Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas, his acts include city-burning, women-kidnapping, and even eating other men. And this is before other medias like Dynasty Warriors punt this Up to Eleven.
- Huang Hao, the eunuch often credited as one of the chief reasons of Shu's downfall aside of Liu Shan's incompetence, for good reason. He's a Manipulative Bastard extraordinary who pretty much manipulated the resources of Shu just for his own pleasure and position, influencing Liu Shan to pull Jiang Wei back to the capital Cheng Du for trivial reasons from an otherwise advantageous battle. He even bribed some Wei officers to let him go when Shu falls. Safe to say that when Sima Zhao and Deng Ai bumped into him once more, they got him executed on public. Extremely unlikable and devoid of positive qualities.
- Historical Hero Upgrade:
- Guan Yu, although this is more of the fault of traditional opera and certain biased emperors.
- Likewise Liu Bei... and Zhuge Liang to a point. (It's actually a historical inversion, as Zhuge Liang was considered the top political and domestic administrator, not the supreme tactician and strategist he is in the novel... on top of his political and administrative prowess. Liu Bei himself is also a slight inversion; he was actually a competent commander and not the weeping wreck we most often see, and some of the strategies in the novel attributed to Zhuge Liang were actually his own.)
- Zhang Fei gets hit with a Historical Hero Downgrade, going from historically being the most strategically accomplished of Liu Bei's main generals to a blundering drunkard. While he's still smart enough to utilize some war strategies such as during the battle to take Cheng Du, he's portrayed as more of a Boisterous Bruiser Battle God in the novel.
- Guan Yu and Zhang Fei's sons Guan Xing and Zhang Bao are portrayed in the novel to be some of the greatest warriors of Shu in their later years. In reality, Guan Xing never entered a battlefield, and Zhang Bao died young without proving himself - He got outlived by his father.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: While historically, it's hard to say if anyone was the real villain, Cao Cao and the kingdom of Wei end up being cast as the main villains, while the kingdom of Wu is relegated to a secondary position because they're fighting the Designated Villain half the time and the Designated Hero the rest of it.
- Han Xuan gets turned into a loud, rude and cruel person, while he historically was known to be quiet and kind... and he gave up instead of getting slain.
- Ho Yay: Liu Bei is noted to sleep in the same bed as quite a lot of his trusted generals, brothers, or strategists. While this is a thing one does in ancient China to show respect, the novel also indicates that Liu Bei and Zhao Yun specifically showed great affection for one another, down to tearful farewells and, in one traditional story, singing poems to each other about "being joined as one body."
- Magnificent Bastard:
- Simply, Cao Cao. He's the kind of guy who will recite poetry on the Yangtze, murder a nearby lackey who criticizes it, and then bury him with full military honors, all in the same scene. He's unfailingly polite to his guests, even when he's about to have them killed. He's unflappably cool, even after a defeat they'll be making movies about a couple thousand years later. The man is the original magnificent bastard.
- Zhuge Liang, also.
- Sima Yi reaches this when he gives his speech to Gongsun Yuan's emissary:
"There are five possible operations for any army. If you can fight, fight; if you cannot fight, defend; if you cannot defend, flee; if you cannot flee, surrender; if you cannot surrender, die. These five courses are open to you, and a hostage would be useless. Now return and tell your master."
- Zhou Yu whenever Zhuge Liang isn't also in the scene. Puts on an elaborate Feed the Mole plot, complete with a drunken sword dance. Hands Cao Cao his greatest military defeat at Chibi.
- Mary Suetopia: The Kingdom of Shu with Zhuge Liang as Prime Minister. All the peasantry are happy and well fed, taxes are paid on time and treasuries are full to overflowing, and people strive towards excellence in every facet of government.
- Hilariously, this was basically how it historically was under Cao Cao's rule.
- Mary Tzu: Zhuge Liang
- Memetic Mutation: Various incidents from the Three Kingdoms have made it into the Chinese language in the form of proverbs, as well as being Trope Namers for several of The Thirty-Six Stratagems.
- Signature Scene:
- The Oath of the Peach Garden
- The burning battle of Red Cliff between Cao Cao and the Sun-Liu allaince.
- Values Dissonance: This is not modern America. Events such as the value of one's body, and relationships (valuing of one's sworn brothers over wives and children) will only make sense in the light of historical Chinese culture.
- What an Idiot!: He Jin could definitely qualify. After living through pretty much every plot by the eunuchs to make sure no royalty threatens their power, he recieves an invitation to the Forbidden City. At the time, he is involved in a rebel plot and the eunuchs have eyes everywhere. In fact, pretty much every rebel warns him not to go. He brushes it off and decides to go anyway. So they insist on escorting him, well armed. Then, the guards tell him he must leave his guards at the door. He agrees, and proudly walks in. He, unsuprisingly, is surrounded by the eunuchs who hack him to pieces and toss his head back to his friends.