Purple and Black by K. J. Parker
Novella from 2009, and of much better quality. Good enough to make it to my Hugo votes at the top of the novella category, although this love of it wasn't shared by wider fandom.
Exquisitely drawn story, very funny and then very tragic in all the right points. The story is an exchange of letters between two figures, the newly crowned Emperor and his long term schoolfriend set out to command at the frontier. The genre elements are a bit thin (it's closely modeled after Rome but equally clearly has its own specific events) but the actual process of emotion and exchange is first rate. Feels very much like a parable, sketching out the question of idealism and pragmatism in politics, and what happens to student promises for justice once the former students attain real power. A fairly grim long-term perspective, but the spark of character detail and effectively rendered perspectives make this a satisfying read, at once unique, plausible and surprisingly fun despite the grim result. Glad I came across this one.
Better than: The Tear by Ian McDonald
Worse than: Truth by Robert Reed