First, let me reveal a potential bias: I know the author. We've corresponded many times, and I'm a fan of his game designs, particularly those for Hero System, and I've enjoyed the short stories he's recently had published. It is because of that connection and his earlier short fiction that I sought out this work when Steve mentioned it was available. That being said, I am doing my best to rate Edge of Honor on its own merits.
I know nothing of Shaintar, the game world in which this novella is based. Fortunately, a knowledge of the world is unnecessary - the story is perfectly self contained.
The action takes place in a slave-holding, demon-worshipping land whose inhabitants value strength. Our protagonist, Khorond, is the eldest son and heir of one of the empire's leading nobles. It's quickly established that not only is he a talented fighter, but that he does not share the same moral outlook as his family. The story is really about Khorond's growing distaste for the empire's customs, the growth of his own moral code and sense of honour, and the inevitable conflict between him and his father and brothers.
The premise and characterisation are well handled, and don't feel particularly rushed despite the limitations of a novella (Edge of Honor is 62 pages long, including introduction from the game world designer). There's enough background information to understand the story - and, to be honest, to whet the appetite for more. Secondary characters are well drawn. Steve has an easy yet intelligent writing style, and it's a pleasure to see him spread outside the confines of a short story.
Highlights of the novella are Khorond's ingenuous discussion of the rights and wrongs of slavery at a social event, and his family's reaction to it, and his brother's efforts to persuade him to fight with the slave holders against his inner convictions.
The finale felt a little rushed - a fight unleavened by the different viewpoints of the combatants. I suppose they both had their say earlier in the story, but their final conflict felt a little flat and the ending a little rushed; I wonder if there was an arbitrary word count or time pressure at play.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable story, and shows Steve has honed his skills as a fiction writer to a decent edge - impressive this early in his fiction career. Is it worth your time to read? Absolutely. I have no hesitation in recommending it.
As Steve flexes his fiction muscles I think we will hear a lot more about him - I for one am very keen to see what comes next.
[4 of 5 Stars!]