You are, of course, an unmitigated bastard. Not content with dragging me away from my chair at Anassus, which I worked bloody hard to earn and which will now go to that pinhead Atho, you made me waste three months of my life in a military academy, of all places, and now you’ve dumped me here, in the last place on earth, surrounded by snow, soldiers and savages. What the hell did I ever do to you?
Purple and Black by KJ Parker is a fantasy novella. My first experience with KJ Parker’s writing was The Best Man Wins, a novelette contained in The Book of Swords. I was impressed with that story’s morally ambiguous characters, humor, and Deep Thoughts about justice, morality, and revenge. A week or so later, I saw a review by Fantasy Literature for Purple and Black, an older novella by KJ Parker. Intrigued, I ordered a copy from Amazon.
A new, young emperor has seized control of the Empire. He has appointed his old college buddy as an important governor in the north. The title Purple and Black refers to colors of ink. Purple ink is used for Official Imperial messages that can only be used by authorized Imperial Officials. The official correspondence is usually paired with unofficial private letters written in black ink. And so, Purple and Black is composed of the official letters (written in purple ink) and the unofficial letters (written in black ink) between the Emperor and his old college buddy/governor.
There is a lot of material packed within the 100-ish pages of this book. The two old friends share their reflections on battles and war, youthful idealism, the concepts of good and evil, the moral benefits of an imperial system versus “anarchy,” and the philosophical foundation of using violent force to accomplish benevolent aims. It’s a realistic book, with more-or-less accurate portrayals of economics and the power dynamics of a monarchy (and the instability of such a system). If that sounds dry and boring, it’s not. The Emperor and the Governor are charming, urbane, witty people doing the best they can while telling jokes and reminiscing about their college days. They feel like real people.
I’d recommend this book to fans of fantasy, political science, history, and philosophy.
My rating: 5 stars