Genre: Fantasy, Historical
Publisher: Daw Books on April 17, 2018
My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.
The Dictator is dead; long live the Republic.
But whose Republic will it be? Senators, generals, and elemental mages vie for the power to shape the future of the city of Aven. Latona of the Vitelliae, a mage of Spirit and Fire, has suppressed her phenomenal talents for fear they would draw unwanted attention from unscrupulous men. Now that the Dictator who threatened her family is gone, she may have an opportunity to seize a greater destiny as a protector of the people — if only she can find the courage to try.
Her siblings—a widow who conceals a canny political mind in the guise of a frivolous socialite, a young prophetess learning to navigate a treacherous world, and a military tribune leading a dangerous expedition in the province of Iberia—will be her allies as she builds a place for herself in this new world, against the objections of their father, her husband, and the strictures of Aventan society.
Latona’s path intersects with that of Sempronius Tarren, an ambitious senator harboring a dangerous secret. Sacred law dictates that no mage may hold high office, but Sempronius, a Shadow mage who has kept his abilities a life-long secret, intends to do just that. As rebellion brews in the provinces, Sempronius must outwit the ruthless leader of the opposing Senate faction to claim the political and military power he needs to secure a glorious future for Aven and his own place in history.
As politics draw them together and romance blossoms between them, Latona and Sempronius will use wit, charm, and magic to shape Aven’s fate. But when their foes resort to brutal violence and foul sorcery, will their efforts be enough to save the Republic they love?
Cass Morris’ debut novel FROM UNSEEN FIRE is an accomplished epic fantasy novel that introduces complex characters, politics, and magic.
The Republic of Aven, an alternate ancient Rome, has been smothered under the tyrannical rule of the Dictator Ocella. With the Dictator dead, there is a power vacuum in Aven…one that many people are eager to fill, and not all of them with the best intentions. Who will be the next leader of the Republic, and what will become of Aven?
It’s impossible to do justice to all the characters in review format since they’re all well developed and fascinating. There are at least a dozen POV characters and I was interested in each and every one of them — not once was I tempted to skim a character’s POV chapter. But of course, some characters are more compelling than others, and protagonists Latona and Sempronius stole the show.
Latona is a daughter of the Vitelliae, an important and well-respected patrician family that suffered greatly under Ocella’s rule. Latona suffered more than most, forced to use her magical gifts given by Venus to please the Dictator lest he kill her family. Now that Ocella is gone, Latona is finally free to live the life she chooses. The only trouble is finding out what exactly it is that she wants… Latona is the perfect example of a strong heroine who isn’t physically tough: her Fire and Spirit magic is incredibly powerful, and she’s committed to helping the women of Aven escape the sexual exploitation she herself was forced to endure. She’s sassy and passionate, but she also knows how to play the political game. Latona’s clearly just coming into her own in FROM UNSEEN FIRE and I can’t wait to see where her storyline goes in the sequel.
Sempronius, while just as likable as Latona, is considerably more devious…and much more prone to operate from a place best described as “morally grey.” He’s just as ruthless – and frankly, criminal – as the politicians jockeying for position, but his actions stem from a genuine desire to protect Aven and her people. To make his ambitions reality, Sempronius hides his magic from all but a close few…for a mage were discovered in the Senate, the fury of Aven would fall upon him. But Sempronius’ passion for Latona, a married woman, may lead to his downfall long before his magic does…
FROM UNSEEN FIRE’s magic system is impeccably crafted, with the power of the Aventine mage bestowed by gods like Jupiter and Minerva and their gifts directly linked to that god’s dominion. Mages harness their power in unique ways; for instance, Sempronius, a mage of Shadow, uses actual smoke and mirrors to accomplish his ends. Latona uses Spirit to influence people, and her sister Alhena uses Time to see the future (with admittedly spotty results). There are also other cultures, gods, and magics in FROM UNSEEN FIRE, most notably the blood magic used by the Lusetani, a group who begin rising up against Aven’s colonial efforts. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of them as the series progresses!
Some readers may struggle with the book’s overarching plot, as its less of an action-packed story and more of a slow simmer. But never fear, what with all the political scheming, personal backstabbing, and greedy warmongering, there’s plenty to keep you interested! Those of you who enjoy quiet genre books like THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE will be more than satisfied with all the goings-on in FROM UNSEEN FIRE. It’s one of the most impressive debuts I’ve read in ages, and I’m very eager to see what Cass Morris comes up with next.