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 started. "This class is so boring!") and not entirely about how cute I was (probably they had just talked about that already that day though). But I still enjoyed it.I mention this because I think epistolary novels are oddly the exact opposite of this kind of illicit fun for me (so really, I mentioned it for no reason at all). But no, I hardly ever think novels in letters are as enjoyable as they would have been as simple prose. I have trouble sinking into them, I get distracted by the different voices, or I think they don't seem different enough, or I forget who's writing a particular section. They are tiresome.I mention this for an actual reason though: K.J. Parker has written an epistolary novel I enjoyed! Though perhaps that it is a brief novella that took me an hour and change to read played a part, I still was never frustrated like I was about 15 minutes into The Gurnsey Potato Face Club. Purple & Black takes the form of letters between the somewhat reluctant emperor (he was next in line for the throne after all of his brothers and uncles murdered one another in a power struggle, yay) of a Romanesque city-state and his chief general, an old college buddy the emperor appointed to the task despite a near-total lack of military experience.So we're reading letters between the emperor, who is trying to keep order in the city and deal with political strife and tax problems and treaties, and the general, who is trying to quell a shadowy rebellion and not die. And though the description brings to mind Rome (the TV show), the language and humor is very contemporary, full of sarcasm and irony and swears, which makes it really fun to read. Later on there are twists, which I did not see coming, but it was interesting to note that apparently even in ancient and fictional city-states, dudes in college liked to get drunk and sit around philosophizing about how the world would be so much better off if we could all just be Libertarians, man (today they would first watch South Park so they could get some oversimplified ideas to use as a jumping off point).K.J. Parker (which incidentally is a pseudonym for British woman who writes nothing but grim, violent historical fantasy type stuff, so everyone assumes she's male -- check out even some professional reviews, full of "him"s) has written a really interesting story and managed to make it interesting even in a format I despise somewhat blindly, so props to him her. And also to Subterranean Press, which neatly printed this in two colors (guess which two), and for plot-related reasons at that.