This book is a joke.No, really. I'm not being mean. K.J. Parker is just messing with you: this is a story told by an unreliable narrator who is upfront about being unreliable, and the entire narrative is just a setup for a punchline that doesn't arrive until you've read the final two words. There's a really great first line:"Well, let me see," I said, as the innkeeper poured me a beer. "In the morning I discovered the secret of changing base metal into gold. In the afternoon, I murdered my wife."Both of those things end up being not exactly true, but they aren't really false either. Saloninus claims to be the world's greatest alchemist, and maybe he is, but you can't exactly take him at his word. Sometimes, he tells you how something happened. Then he tells you how it could have happened, if he wants to makes himself look good. Then eventually, he admits what actually happened, which is closer to the first version, but now you know why. With the justifications this guy comes up with for his actions, you can see why he lies and embellishes. It turns out that I like novellas. It's a good length -- more beef than a short story, but not so long that it milks all the life out of an idea (beef, milks... is that a mixed metaphor or not?). I can handle a character changing things up on me for 99 pages. Any longer, and I'd be ready to punch the book in the face. This is the second K.J. Parker novella I've read, and while I think it is just as good as Purple and Black, I'm taking away a star because it's basically the same idea: both books string you along and then pull the rug out from under you. They're all setup, but this time I knew the punchline was coming. I mean, I still laughed. Or did I? You'll just have to take my word for it.