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Purple and Black

4.18  ·  Rating Details ·  310 Ratings  ·  61 Reviews
When his father, brothers and uncles wiped each other out in a murderous civil war, Nicephorus was forced to leave the University and become emperor.

Seventy-seven emperors had met violent deaths over the past hundred years, most of them murdered by their own soldiers. Hardly surprising, then, that Nico should want to fill the major offices of state with the only people he
Hardcover, 113 pages
Published July 1st 2009 by Subterranean Press
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Althea Ann
Sep 06, 2016 Althea Ann rated it it was amazing
An epistolary novella consisting mainly of correspondence between two young school friends - one of whom has recently unexpectedly become emperor, and the other of whom has been appointed governor of a province by that emperor. While the letters concern matters of politics and affairs of state, the tone is the chatty, informal one one might expect from best friends, and also have to do with keeping up with mundane personal topics and keeping up with other members of their little school clique... ...more
Nov 26, 2010 j rated it really liked it
Recommended to j by: Liviu
There's nothing more fun than snooping into someone else's mail and reading their letters. When I was in middle school I was friends with these two girls who were always passing notes that I wasn't allowed to read, which made me very angry and paranoid (more so than usual anyway). But once while leaving English, one of the notes was dropped! I furtively picked it up and stuffed it in my pocket, and snuck off to the bathroom to peruse its secrets. It turned out to be totally mundane (I recall it ...more
Dec 22, 2015 Jokoloyo rated it it was amazing
I tried this book based on good rating and rave reviews of K. J. Parker by Liviu. And all of these didn't give it proper justice. The novella is still better than my high expectation.

It is an epistolary novella. And the first letters are effective to grab my attention with mixing official words between emperor and his governor, with informal carefree words between school fast friends.
EDIT NOTE: until De 23, 2015, this novella is my best read for "The Best Beginning" for 2015.

This is my second
Aug 21, 2012 Caitlin rated it it was amazing
I came across this book when the boyfriend brought it and another Parker novella home from the library. He read it while I was taking a nap (it goes very quickly), and when I woke up, he tossed it to me and said, basically, "Here, you're going to love it. It's epistolary. And alternate Byzantine."

Though I have to say, 'alternate Byzantine' is a pretty loose description.

It's an epistolary novella, set in a roughly Byzantine-era and style fantasy 'verse. But if you're put off by it being Byzantine
Great novella set in dispatches between two scholars. One is the accidental heir to an Empire who becomes Emperor on the deaths in fratricidal war of the rest of his family and the other his best friend whom he dispatches as military governor in the one trouble province on the Northern ice-cold border where an unknown enemy attacks.

From his university days there was a circle of friends around Nico (the Emperor) and Phormio (the governor) with the brilliant Gorgias the only dead in the civil wa
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
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 letter
Aug 08, 2011 Ann rated it really liked it
Fantasy novella consisting of a series of letters between two old friends. Nico is the emperor-by-default (all his relatives killed each other off) of a country modeled after Ancient Rome; Phormio is the newly appointed governor of the northern frontier, an area beleaguered by an elusive insurgency. The correspondence between the men provides deftly humorous and poignant characterizations, and the book is a fun and riveting read ripe with byzantine politics and more serious ponderings on the nat ...more
If you're familiar with the history of the Roman Empire, the first half of the book is going to be hilarious. If you're NOT familiar with the history of the Roman Empire, the first half of the book is going to be hilarious.
Mar 05, 2016 Lori rated it really liked it
Jeez. Wow. I must read more by her. You think things are gonna change but it's the same as it ever was. The letters start out endearing as we read letters between the accidental empower ( he is crowned due to the fact his family wiped each other out) and his best friend, 2 of a group of 6 buddies dragged from college due to the civil war. The letters are endearing and funny as the Emperor deals with the corruption and injustice as he sends his best friend to handle a mysterious insurgency in the ...more
Dec 24, 2009 Hank rated it really liked it
Power corrupts. Old story in a novel and interesting package. Fantasy but altogether realistic in principle. Delivered in a series of missives between old school chums who are elevated to generals and emperors. Deception, betrayal, and collusion abound, but all the higher good. Bottom line is do people in positions of power inevitably become evil and would the world be a better place if there was just anarchy; no leaders, no government, no large corporate entities. These school mates thought so ...more
Jun 13, 2016 Jacqie rated it liked it
This was a good novella, no doubt. With K.J. Parker I'm always looking for the rug to get pulled out from under me, though, and there's just not enough space in a book this length to do the complicated misdirection that is truly unexpected.

The idea of purple ink for official briefs and black ink for the personal letters also enclosed in message scrolls is kind of cool, but it does seem like even sealed personal letters would be fair game for spies who know how to work with sealing wax. Seems li
Aug 17, 2012 Search rated it it was amazing
A profoundly moving piece of short fiction and the best of K.J.Parker's shorter work I've read. A work of pure genius. Its funny, intelligent, and in the end totally heart-wrenching. For me fiction is only as good as the depth of emotion it makes me feel. And I don't think I've ever felt such outrage as when I finished this book. Purple and Black is a masterwork of literature and an absolute must read for anyone with any kind of interest in good fiction.
David Ramirer
Jan 30, 2014 David Ramirer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
ein erbauliches kleines briefbüchlein.

anhand einiger briefe wird ein machtwechsel in einem königreich beschrieben. in diese spannende geschichte sind auf geschickte art und weise viele soziologische probleme der monarchischen staatsform eingewoben, sodaß es auch lehrreich ist, dieses buch zu lesen, es wird nämlich nicht mit trockenem historizismus, sondern mit persönlichen schicksalen die theorie lebendig gemacht, und das ohne schnickschnak und ohne zeitverlust.

was mir nicht so gefällt ist die e
Nov 20, 2014 Jane rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy, young-adult
Posted to the library's book blog MADreads:

I was looking through my recent reads to find a book I just loved. A lot of things lately have been solid, but not great. Except for this one. Purple and Black is brilliantly done. Tightly woven. Thought-provoking. And all of that in a slender 113 pages. This is a fantasy novel, but don't let that prevent you reading it. It's only a fantasy in that it has a made up country. Everything else about it reads like hist
Feb 22, 2012 Larou added it
Shelves: fantasy, 2009-08
An epistolary novella, consisting almost exclusively of the exchange of missives between a newly-ascended emperor and the friend who he sends off to hold the frontier for him. It also is a meditation on friendship, on youth and its ideals, on politics and its lack of ideals, on the ethics of power.
It's also (as one has to come to expect from Subterranean Press) a beautifully made book, a pleasure not just to read but to handle as well, the two-coloured print reflecting not only the use of differ
Jul 02, 2014 Andrew rated it it was amazing
I've been wanting to read something by K.J. Parker for several months now, and decided to jump into the works of this pseudonymous author by picking up one of his/her shorter stories from the library.

Purple and Black is a novelette told entirely through letters between the Emperor of Vasani and the Governor of Tremissis, who were friends in college. The tone of these letters is often humorous, so much so I would say the banter alone is worth the read. What starts as a simple collection of lette
Janine Southard
Feb 19, 2016 Janine Southard rated it really liked it
Having read this only a month after Addison's The Goblin Emperor, it makes an interesting counterpoint. They start from the same premise: the unpopular youngest son who was never meant to be ruler ascends the throne after calamity befalls the "normal" family.

Similarities end there.

Where TGE shows all the dirty details, P&B is quick and brutal and has a tight plot. Everything is light and fluffy-hearted, there's a minor mystery plot going on, and readers figure out the basics of the mystery
Pure, distilled essence of Parker. This didn't displace the Engineer trilogy in my affections, but it's absolutely where I'd suggest anyone curious about Parker start. The novella format really plays to her strengths, I think; it's long enough that she can build up layers of irony, but short enough that readers unhappy with the lack of sympathetic protagonists in her full-length works may be able to read it without frustration.

My only quibble is that sometimes things were a bit too clearly spell
Nov 01, 2015 Amy rated it really liked it
One of the better epistolary stories I've read--funny, realistic, and ultimately had a very relevant point about student idealism and the difficulties of its application to reality. I'm not sure if Parker did more with these chars--there's some University overlap, and a Gorgias Professor in "Let Maps to Others."

A reluctant monarch isn't new, but Nico is a student who wanted to be far away from all that murderous business. And then it got so murderous that the third son of a third son (I believe)
Jun 13, 2016 Maria rated it really liked it
This should have been a quick read, but I got distracted by life partway through and also the blurbs kept hinting at how heartbreaking the story was and I just couldn't handle that after getting through the first third and really liking Nico and Phormio's relationship.

But I just finished it tonight and it /is/ heart-wrenching.


It reminded me of the philosophical/political mixture of Plato's Republic with a heavy dose of snark and youthful idealism. But I guess Aristotle was the one that was mo
Jun 06, 2015 dwd rated it it was amazing
Reread! I loved this so much when I read it in Academic Exercises that I paid an outrageous amount of money for the 113 page hardcover edition.
Dec 18, 2012 Periklis rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
I really enjoyed this Fantasy novella. It resembles Gene Wolfe's best short fiction (only with a clearer resolution) in its structure. On a side note, I felt the "voices" of the characters felt more modern than the pseudo-antiquity the story takes place in. Also, as a Greek reader, some names used for places [like, "Choris Anthropou" (= no man)
& "Gelos" (=laughter)] brought a small grin...
Travis Mueller
Jun 06, 2016 Travis Mueller rated it it was ok
Shelves: fantasy, novella
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lee Dunning
Jun 20, 2015 Lee Dunning rated it it was amazing
I'd already read two of K.J. Parker's works - "Sharps" and "The Company". I didn't care for them and swore off reading anymore of the author's endeavors. Then a friend started raving about 'Purple and Black". He told me he thought it was far superior to any of the other items by K.J. Parker he'd read. I caved in and picked it up. My friend seldom steers me wrong, and as it turns out I agree with his assessment of "Purple and Black".

P&B is quite different from the previous books I read. One,
Nov 18, 2015 Logan rated it it was amazing
A collection of "letters" back and forth between two friends, one just become emperor, the other made general. Absolutely brilliant insight into the difference between ideals and reality. Loved it.
Mar 08, 2015 Sharon rated it really liked it
Shelves: novella
So good, so charming and fascinating and, in the end, grim.

See fantaasialugu meeldis mulle väga, ikkagi Bytsantsi keisrite põhjal, lõbus ja traagiline lugu noortest sõpradest ja idealismist, aga veider, kui palju mind häiris see "fantaasia"-osa seal. Olgu pealegi grammatiliselt jaburad kreekalikud nimed (ehkki tahaks mõnd kreeklast, kellele saaks iga nime näidata ja hyyda: "No mis sa oskad kosta, Kosta!")(oi, kuidas palavik ajab nalja tegema), aga miks on Bytsantsi hulka segatud ka Rooma ja isegi Hiina keisrid? Kus on fantaasialugude ajalooline korrekts ...more
Jul 06, 2012 Franziska rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, war
Nico - oder mit vollem Titel: Nicephorus, der Bruder der Unbezwingbaren Sonne, der Vater des Volkes, Verteidiger des Glaubens, Kaiser der Vesani - wollte eigentlich nie Kaiser werden. Während seiner Kindheit hat er sich möglichst fern von den Ränkeschmieden gehalten und im Studium mit seinen Kommilitonen über die Notwendigkeit der Abschaffung der Macht philosophiert. Nach dem letzten Krieg ist aber Nico der einzige Überlebende seiner Familie und wird daher Kaiser. Sein Erfolgsrezept: Gib dem die ...more
Tom Loock
Dec 05, 2012 Tom Loock rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone wanting to read quality fiction and anyone who thinks fantasy is stupid/childish/escapism etc
Another wonderful novella by the elusive K.J. Parker, he* (!) who is still not paid the appropriate attention and respect despite a considerable output of consistently high quality.
I like epistolary storytelling - dispatches in this case exchanged between the Vesani emperor Nicephorus V. and his old academy friend Phormio whom he sent to Upper Tremissis to deal with insurgents. I hate spoilers so no more of the story here.
It's a quick read, 1-2 hours with a satisfying end and yes, I would have l
Aug 20, 2010 Jo rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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K.J. Parker is a pseudonym for Tom Holt. The author's true name was revealed on 21 April 2015.

According to the biographical notes in some of Parker's books, Parker has previously worked in law, journalism, and numismatics, and now writes and makes things out of wood and metal. It is also claimed that Parker is married to a solicitor and now lives in southern England. According to an autobiographi
More about K.J. Parker...

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“It's sheer spitefulness to allow mortals to love because everybody dies but the love they cause to be in others doesn't die with them. Therefore love is the cause of the greatest sorrow therefore love is the greatest evil.” 3 likes
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