Sunday, July 11, 2010

Purple and Black by K.J. Parker

In this long short story Parker creatively explores ideas of leadership and power; idealism versus reality; book knowledge against real life experience. Two friends, both around thirty, have recently come into leadership positions and through a series a letters that comprise the narrative they share their triumphs and learning experiences.

The setting seems to be modeled after ancient Rome. Nico is the newly crowned emperor and Phormio is his newly appointed general assigned to quell insurgency in a distant region. Though the book has a feel of antiquity you'll find none of the flowery, affected historical prose of Arturo Pérez-Reverte or other such stylist. The two characters jest, swear and talk politics in language that we hear today; full of fragments, and run-ons, that add realism to their speech.

As the two bicker at the start, the plot slips in very subtly much like the details of their past. Everything about their letters feels real. Both have to deal with morality, one being an active general, the other a politician signing death warrants. By the end, their definition of morals may need a few amendments, yet it is in their seemingly shared philosophy concerning government and power that the story is built on.

It's not the book of military and imperial rule you're expecting, rather a story of relationships and how they develop over time. The story is too delicate to speak of without spoiling. Suffice it to say the phrase, 'a kiss on the lips and a dagger in the heart' comes to mind upon completion.

There is a jarring moment midway through as both characters seem to obsess over someone previously mentioned all of two times. The story shifts drastically and considering the subtly of Parker's narrative, and work's overall brevity, this particular change of direction is extremely blunt.

Not that I'm sensitive to profanity, but I did think it was a bit overused to the detriment of a few passages that may have been strengthened had Parker held back. Readers familiar with Robert Graves I, Claudius and Claudius the God may find a little something extra in Parker's possible homage.

It reads at a fast pace, and can easily be conquered in one sitting. It will stay with you a bit longer. A big thanks to Terry Wenya as I'm now a K.J. Parker fan and have a lot of, hopefully, equally pleasant reading ahead of me.


Terry Weyna said...

So glad you enjoyed this book! I think it was a little gem. I'm eager to read more Parker (that's a pseudonym, by the way; wonder who it is?)

Chad Hull said...

Let us start the "Guess who K.J. Parker is" contest. I haven't the slightest clue. But I think it's a woman.