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Purple and Black Hardcover – July 30, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this heartbreaking epistolary novella, pseudonymous military fantasist Parker (The Company) keeps the letters, humor and tension moving at a quick clip. Nicephorus becomes the reluctant emperor of the Vesani after all his imperial relatives kill one other off. Knowing that 72 of the past century's 77 emperors have been murdered by the military, he appoints his trusted friend Phormio to command on a frontier filled with almost preternaturally effective insurgents. Each man sends two letters at a time to the other: one in official purple ink, the other a black-inked personal missive ranging from hilarious to despairing. As enemies become stalwart allies, sorrow lurks within victory and a forgotten moment of youth threatens everything, Parker sends the brief (but never terse) story flying to a wrenching and all too realistic conclusion. (July)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 120 pages
  • Publisher: Subterranean (July 30, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159606241X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596062412
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,042,300 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jacob Glicklich on June 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Exquisitely drawn story, very funny and then very tragic in all the right points. The story is an exchange of letters between two figures, the newly crowned Emperor and his long term schoolfriend set out to command at the frontier. The genre elements are a bit thin (it's closely modeled after Rome but equally clearly has its own specific events) but the actual process of emotion and exchange is first rate. Feels very much like a parable, sketching out the question of idealism and pragmatism in politics, and what happens to student promises for justice once the former students attain real power. A fairly grim long-term perspective, but the spark of character detail and effectively rendered perspectives make this a satisfying read, at once unique, plausible and surprisingly fun despite the grim result. Glad I came across this one.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By The Mad Hatter VINE VOICE on September 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Pseudonymous K.J. Parker has been making a name for herself over the last few years with well-reviewed Military Fantasy such as The Engineer Trilogy and The Company. When I heard about the Purple and Black novella I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to dip my toe into her works. Purple and Black is told through the letters an Emperor of a sprawling land and one of his oldest friends who is also current governor of one of the most remote parts of the country. The letters are printed in black and purple, which is used to good effect by Sub Press's two color design.

The worldbuilding while not fully developed feels like a medieval setting with the back pinning of a religion akin to the Egyptians of old where the ruler is close to being a God. Yet there is a lot of backstabbing history in this government, which pops up again and again as it is the theme of the story. The Emperor with an often funny yet self-defeated tone fell into his role as the rest of his relatives killed each other, which left him the de facto ruler.

The characters while scant come across well for such a short number of pages, but Parker does manage to tell a good yarn with an usual story which is complete to boot. Overall, Purple and Black is a tasty treat and would provide a great break for those of us draw to giant fantasy tomes. I give Purple and Black 7 out of 10 Hats. Fans of political themed Fantasy would be advised to track a copy down.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on December 23, 2009
Format: Hardcover
KJ Parker might as well change his/her pen name to "The Enigmatic". Not only do the official blurbs refer to the author in this fashion, but virtually every review does the same. "KJ Parker" is a pseudonym (supposedly of someone that's already famous in another genre), but the cryptic reputation is reinforced by his/her chosen stylistic territory.

Parker writes epic fantasy with the tone and flair of the great existentialists. Imagine Camus (beret / chain-smoking / small coffee / derisive look) secretly going home and reading Tolkien under the covers. The closest modern comparison is Andrzej Sapkowski, who also lends a certain stark & philosophical bent to his work. (Although the 'stark' could be the result of the translations).

Purple and Black is a limited edition novella from Subterranean Press, who have defied the 2009 malaise by putting out some stonking short fiction over the past 12 months.

It is, first and foremost, a stunning book. Subterranean pulled out all the stops - even printing it in mixed purple and black text. A short (120 pg) book, this is a quick read, but by no means a light one.

The novella takes place in a world vaguely analogous to the late Roman empire, although, like in The Company, world-building details are kept deliberately abstracted in favor of character-building. And, despite the short span of the book, there's plenty of character. An epistolary novel tough to write, but Parker manages to bring both letter-writers to life. The idealistic young Emperor Nico and his cynical friend Phormio are both astoundingly empathetic - all the more impressive as we only know them from their own words.

Nico has appointed his friend as General.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By E. Smiley on September 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I picked up this book because I'd heard good things about the author, and was not disappointed.

The novella consists mostly of letters between two friends: one newly made Emperor, and the other out to quash a rebellion for him. It's a short book, but packs quite a punch; as with many epistolary novels, there's more unwritten than actually on the page, which makes for wonderfully thought-provoking reading. And unlike in most epistolary novels I've read, the letters here actually sound like letters that people might write to one another: there's not a lot of scene-setting, description, dialogue, or telling each other what they already know, which leaves us to fill in a lot of blanks.

Like many of my favorite books, this one is set in a secondary world, but without magic, dragons and so on. It focuses on political intrigue and the corrupting effects of power, and is predictably grim. The one problem I found was that the language felt perhaps too modern and slang-y for the (ambiguous, but certainly premodern) setting. Purple and Black is expensive (I was fortunate enough to find it at the library) but was certainly worth an evening of my time.
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