What to Expect
An epistolary tale, a series of exchanges and communiqués between (mainly) the emperor and his fried whom he sent to govern a frontier province. (The title refers to the ink used in those missives - purple for the official imperial communications, and black for the private letters attached). In between we get a story that may start at handling a frontier rebellion, but quickly moves to social criticism - a discussion of idealism and politics.
What I liked
I love Parker's use of a Byzantine-ish background for his fantasy worlds. His rich knowledge of history shines through and creates a wonderful backdrop which he uses to explore human nature. This is an intelligent, speculative-fiction novella that makes you think.
What to be aware of
Though classified as fantasy, this novel doesn't involve magic. Further, the epistolary style is far removed from the typical adventure. It's a delicate story about the human condition, where one has to read between the lines to savour and enjoy it fully.
Felix, who's familiar with the danger of kings and despots, was entirely unsurprised by the turn of events. He'd like to point out that the "mystery" aspect was rather obvious, as is the lesson about the failure to maintain idealism by everyone who attains power.
If you already love KJ Parker's longer works like Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City (reviewed here) or whether you are looking for a short novella to introduce you to him, this is an excellent, highly recommended read.
Enjoying the reviews, but wondering who the heck is that Felix fellow? Glad you asked! He's the protagonist of the Toags, Daggers, and Magic series, an historical-fantasy blend of a paranormal detective on the background of ancient Rome.