Imperial Purple

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Weaving silk in the royal silk factory of Tyre is the life and first love of Demetrias, a state slave. Married to Symeon and mother of their only child, Meletios, Demetrias has a comfortable and stable life. Then, the procurator commissions a silk tapestry cloak of imperial purple as part of a complex plot to overthrow the emperor. Imperial purple garments are forbidden to all but the imperial family. Nevertheless, Demetrias, as the factory’s most talented weaver, is forced to take the commission. She guesses that the cloak is not for the emperor, but as a state slave she cannot refuse to weave the cloak, though she also knows that she can be tortured and killed should the plot be discovered. Only the factory supervisor and her husband are aware of the cloak and the dangers associated with its weaving.

Symeon, fearing for his wife’s safety, bides his time and then goes secretly to Flavius Marcianus for help. Marcianus agrees to protect Symeon and Demetrias. The cloak is completed ahead of schedule, but just as Demetrias believes herself to be safely out of danger, other conspirators appear. Demetrias is kidnapped and taken to Constantinople with Symeon and her son in pursuit. As conspirators and counter-conspirators vie for power, Demetrias and Symeon struggle to survive. With their lot thrown in with the strongest and most ethical member of the imperial family, Demetrias and Symeon are eventually reunited and begin a new life in Constantinople as free citizens of the empire.

The author has chosen a period in history about which there is little fully verified information. Although broad outlines of the politics of the period are available, few substantiated facts are known. Using whatever information is available, the author uses her imagination to create not only a believable story, but also a credible picture of the life and culture of fifth century Tyre and Constantinople. This well-written book is both interesting and entertaining, and though its ending is somewhat predictable, it is nevertheless satisfying.