Purple and Black by K.J. Parker - Book Review

Write on: Sun, 29 Nov 2020 by  in Assaph's Reviews Read 2113

I love KJ Parker's pseudo-Byzantine fantasy, and this short read was up to his excellent standard.

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's Review

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.



Assaph has been a bibliophile since he learnt to read at the age of five, and a Romanophile ever since he first got his hands on Asterix, way back in elementary school. This exacerbated when his parents took him on a trip to Rome and Italy - he whinged horribly when they dragged him to "yet another church with baby angels on the ceiling", yet was happy to skip all day around ancient ruins and museums for Etruscan art. 

He has since been feeding his addiction for books with stories of mystery and fantasy of all kinds. A few years ago he randomly picked a copy of a Lindsay Davis' Marcus Didius Falco novel in a used book fair, and fell in love with Rome all over again, this time from the view-point of a cynical adult. His main influences in writing are Steven Saylor, Lindsey Davis, Barry Hughart and Boris Akunin. 

Assaph now lives in Sydney, Australia with his wife, kids, cats, and - this being Australia - assorted spiders. By day he is a software product manager, bridging the gap between developers and users, and by night he's writing - he seems to do his best writing after midnight.



Twitter: @assaphmehr