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Aven Cycle #1

From Unseen Fire

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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?

390 pages, Hardcover

First published April 17, 2018

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About the author

Cass Morris

10 books163 followers
Cass Morris is a writer and research editor living in central Virginia. Her debut series, The Aven Cycle, is Roman-flavored historical fantasy. She is also one-third of the team behind the Hugo Award Finalist podcast Worldbuilding for Masochists. She currently holds the position of Research Editor and Worldbuilding Specialist at Plato Learning, a company which runs mythology-themed summer camps and other educational programming. Cass provides dramaturgical research and developmental editing for the camps' immersive, interactive theatrical experiences. Previously, she worked as Academic Resources Manager at the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, VA. She holds a Master of Letters in Shakespeare studies from Mary Baldwin University and a BA in English and History from the College of William and Mary. She reads voraciously, wears corsets voluntarily, and will beat you at Mario Kart.

Support Cass's Patreon and get special behind-the-page access and other goodies!

Represented by Connor Goldsmith of Fuse Literary.

Social Media:
Twitter: @CassRMorris
Instagram: instagram.com/cassrmorris/
Goodreads: goodreads.com/CassRMorris

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 149 reviews
Profile Image for Noah.
44 reviews
May 18, 2018
With an original IP consisting of nine fully nuanced elements of magic, Cass Morris takes her place among the master worldbuilders.

The genre needs more powerful female leads with more power women writing them.

May this fire continue to burn brightly!
Profile Image for Lara Lillibridge.
Author 4 books74 followers
March 10, 2018
Cass Morris is one of my fellow writers on TheDebutanteBall.com, and I was very excited to read her debut novel. It is outside my normal genre, but I quite enjoyed this epic tale of magic, political intrigue, and romance.

From the start we are thrust into ancient Aven—a city in the midst of political upheaval after the death of the reprobate dictator—a world so real-feeling that I nearly expected to find it in history books as a predecessor to Rome.

The world building is just fantastic, as are the vivid descriptions of clothing. I could really “see” this story unfold in a way I haven’t in a long time.

The complications of magic are well thought out, and I particularly liked the incompatibility of magic with the battlefield. Latona struggles to keep her magic under control—after having to keep it reigned in for so long, her magic is yearning to break free. This struck me as a metaphor for so many women, particularly in the current timeframe. Latona is a hero we can get behind, both understanding her failings at self-control and cheering as she unleashes her power.

“’Do not mock the gods of other people,’ Latona cautioned.” Far from the usual idea of one religion is superior, Morris uses her novel to create space for the reader to think hold more than one idea in our heads.

One aspect I truly loved was how strong the female characters are from the beginning. This isn’t a tale of empowerment where women in weak or subservient roles learn to accept their power, but rather a book that shows women as strong leaders from the very beginning. They still grow in their strength, but they never simper, even at first. Even though the society is shown to be sexist, with restrictions on women, the female characters don’t seem to internalize the messages. Still, this is not a one-dimensional portrayal of women, either. When Sempronius needs Latona’s magic, she struggles with insecurity. We hear her negative self-talk, and her struggle to believe in herself, and that makes her even more relatable. Even strong women struggle with self-doubt.

I loved the interplay with the sisters. They added warmth and humor, which was a nice counterpoint to the political intrigue. So many books rely on the jealous, back-stabbing female trope, and I felt as if Morris resisted this as much as possible, showing women supporting women. Of course all the female characters aren’t well-behaved—that would be unbelievable—but I felt as if this novel had more female cooperation than most, not just with the sisters, but the high priestesses as well.

Lastly, I have to comment on the writing as well. The language of FROM UNSEEN FIRE is beautiful, crisp and direct. The classical language lends further authenticity to the work. From the language to the clothing to the mentions of Roman minutia—this book feels like it was torn from history.

I can't wait for book two!

Profile Image for Crystal King.
Author 6 books417 followers
April 14, 2018
Absolutely loved this book. As a writer who has a book set in ancient Rome, I know the amount of research that is needed to build a world that is realistic and accessible for modern audiences. Morris has done her homework, setting her world of Aven in an alt-fantasy world that mirrors the wonders of Antica Roma with a magical edge. And she fills it with extraordinary characters, led by a mage of Spirit and Fire, Latona of the Vitelliae. The dynamic between Latona and her sisters made the book for me although I loved the relationship between Latona and Sempronius Tarren as well. It's a big book in its feel--those not familiar with the world of ancient Rome may find it a bit daunting at first but hang in there and you'll find yourself wrapped in a story full of intrigue and political ambition. You'll be cheering on Latona just as I was. I can't wait for Book 2 in the Aven Cycle!
Profile Image for Beth.
3,129 reviews263 followers
April 3, 2018
FROM UNSEEN FIRE is filled with complex imaginings and political magical machinations in a slow building reader's trap.

FROM UNSEEN FIRE is beautifully written and descriptive novel thrusting the reader deep into the Roman error…well a magical Roman error.

You have a woman, Latona, fighting for the best outcome. She is basically doing whatever it takes to keep her family ahead. While, Sempronius Tarren, he wanted the best outcome for his family but also seemed to have a grasp of the land as whole and the ability to effect everyone around him.

Political machinations, religious beliefs, personal experiences, magical power and gender all play a part Aven’s future. Reading FROM UNSEEN FIRE gives the reader an upclose and personal look as it unfolds.

I received this ARC copy of From Unseen Fire from Berkley Publishing Group - DAW. This is my honest and voluntary review. From Unseen Fire is set for publication for April 17, 2018.

My Rating: 4stars
Written by: Cass Morris
Series: Aven Cycle
Sequence in Series: Book 1
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: DAW
Publication Date: April 17, 2018
ISBN-10: 0756412242
ISBN-13: 978-0756412241
Genre: Epic Fantasy

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Profile Image for Lexie.
2,073 reviews297 followers
March 14, 2018
I received this book free from Penguin Random House in exchange for this review.

So this was interesting and I want to thank DAW for the opportunity to read this, I received a free copy at ECCC and honestly this wouldn't have been something I normally picked up. because while I like the cover it is more historical then fantasy like.

I was initially skeptical I would care about Latona or Sempronius Tarren. As anyone familiar with my romance reviews can attest, I am STRONGLY anti-cheating. The hint of romance between the two, when Latona is clearly married, relayed in the summary had me almost putting it down in frustration.

Except...well Latona's husband is not worthwhile and Morris doesn't make the feelings between Latona and Sempronius tawdry or lusty. Plus the romance is so understated as to not be a big deal. In truth I enjoyed their discussions and strategems so much I forgave many things.

Raise a hand if your dad spent dinners quizzing you in your Ancient Roman knowledge and would deduct desserts points if you got answers wrong.

Just my family? Okay well I'm sorry for what you missed because while I struggle to say Missouri correctly I can say every single name in here perfectly.

This could be categorized as alt-history with some magic thrown in since the world is recognizably Ancient Rome. They worship the Roman Deity Pantheon, their laws/justice system is Roman based and the details are clearly Roman.

Since I read an ARE/ARC the author's bio isn't part of the book, but a glance at her blog reassured me she was a history nerd. I do so like a book richly realized with history.

Latona is...at first glance she is hard to pin. I appreciated how much she sacrificed to protect her family yet still DO something. She wasn't a martyr or a victim, she was a woman with a vision of something better who adapted as much as she needed to in order to keep what she cherished safe.

Sempronius Tarren was just as committed but on a wider scale perhaps. Latona was concerned about her family foremost, as she was used to keeping them safe. Tarren was a military man through and through. He saw the larger picture as well as the immediate, trying to weave both as best he could.

I was far more intrigued by his Gift (because prophecy, or any approximation there of) is ALWAYS fascinating. He approached his Gift, which he had to keep under even TIGHTER wraps then Latona, pragmatically building his plans around what he saw but not relying on them.

I'm interested to see where this goes and what will happen to Latona and Tarren in the future. I want to see them together again, plotting and shaping the future of Aven. I want to see what Latona makes of herself with the firm resolution she had in the end foremost in her mind.

Most of all I want to see what kind of place Aven could become, now that they've put into place some strong foundations.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
432 reviews31 followers
April 24, 2018
As I said about a year ago, this is a novel by a friend (a friend I've known roughly half my life to boot.) So I can't pretend to neutrality. I will say that as much as I've been tearing through books this year, I also have a ton more I have trouble focusing on at all.

From Unseen Fire did a great job at capturing my attention, however. The prologue pulls you in, lets you know the stakes, and then immediately upends things just a few pages later. This is one of those immersive fantasy series where the pacing is pretty relentless and exciting... and yet there's also a lot of time for dense, lush world-building. Either you like letting the latter wash over you, or you don't. I fall into the latter (at least when there's a sense of liveliness to it, which is present here), especially since I enjoy ancient Rome greatly, so I was very well content. Do take note: This is more of a Kushiel's Legacy style (or even Hakuouki style, to borrow from another medium) fantasy world rather than a Westeros or Tortall style fantasy world. i.e. a historical civilization from our world.... but with magic. I found this pretty interesting and refreshing. I also liked the portrayal of fantasy equivalent of Rome- and nearby environs- as the diverse place it actually was.

This is also one of those fantasy books with tons and tons of characters and plot threads. I always love this approach because even if I wasn't super invested in a character (Sempronius on his own), I knew we would be back soon with the characters and relationships I felt strongly about (Latona on her own, Latona and her sisters, Vitellius and the various places he travels to, etc.) And since all the plot lines verge in various ways, quite my favorites would show up in a plot thread I wasn't initially excited about. POV characters all have believable motivations for a society that's trying to decide what to be. I'm definitely curious and excited about the next book!


Original "review:"

Aaaand we have a cover now!

(hahah i never leave to-read reviews like this but what else do you do when it's you friend's book?)
Profile Image for wishforagiraffe.
212 reviews50 followers
May 3, 2018
A subtle reworking of Rome, with a very large cast of characters, an interesting magic system based upon the elements and their relationship to the Roman pantheon, and a whole lot of politics. This book is DENSE. I enjoyed it a lot, but it took a while to get through.

The characters are absolutely the strongest part of the story, with an excellent trio of sisters at the core, along with many other women with strong convictions and men with many motives. It's definitely a good thing that a cast of characters is included in the book, as is a glossary of terms (there are many Latin/faux Latin terms used liberally throughout). Not the easiest to use in an eARC, but definitely great in a fully formatted ebook or physical edition.

The political motives all make sense, perhaps most especially the wife of the barbarian warlord. She's a practical gal who is fed up with men thinking only about glory, and I like her a lot.

The way magic is used throughout the story is well explained, and it's also thankfully not too overpowered. It's also clear that the author thought a lot about how magic would impact the cultures of her world, with the prohibition on men with magic being elected to the governing structures of Aven. It also provides a nice way to level the playing field between classes, which I appreciated.

I loved the bit of romance that burns throughout basically the entire book, although I'm still a bit baffled at a choice Latona makes in relation to this. Hopefully that choice will be justified better in the sequel.

Great for folks who enjoy sprawling political epic fantasy like Kushiel's Dart, Game of Thrones, or Black Wolves. Also great for people who enjoy historical fantasy.

Review copy courtesy of Net Galley.
Profile Image for Starlah.
393 reviews1,597 followers
July 22, 2020
i pretty much skimming the last 100-ish pages. interesting premise, but it was so boring. the magic system seemed really cool so i wish there was more of it. the ancient roman setting was cool and i'd be interested in reading another story set in this time and place. i love politics and whatnot in my fantasies but this was so boring. the characters were not very well developed and the writing was very dry - almost like a textbook. unfortunate.
Profile Image for Kimmery Martin.
Author 3 books1,055 followers
April 21, 2018
From Unseen Fire has been described as a mixture of I, Claudius and Game of Thrones. It’s an apt comparison. Morris employs her background as a historian to delve into the fascinating relationships between the different strata of society in a fictional society reminiscent of ancient Rome. The story centers around a large cast of characters vying for control of the city-state Aven after the death of its vicious dictator. It opens with the best prologue I’ve ever read; the dictator Ocella, prior to his death, amuses himself with the brutal and unannounced execution of a citizen in a gut-wrenching, breath-stealing scene, and the intrigue builds from there.

The novel straddles genres a bit: I’d mostly describe it as historical fiction, but it also features a subtle, cerebral romance, not to mention a strand of pure fantasy: this is a land where one in a thousand citizens is possessed of some otherworldly ability related to the nine elements of magic. The two major protagonists have superhuman powers: Latona is a mage of Spirit and Fire, meaning she can manipulate emotions and combust stuff, and Sempronius holds the gifts of Shadow and Water. Early in the novel, Sempronius divines a vision of two alternate futures for Aven, one of which echoes the fate of Ancient Rome as we know it—an empire destined for ruin—and one in which the Republic prospers, becoming stronger and more egalitarian. Together, Latona and Sempronius will battle for the soul of the city.

Reading the novel really piqued my curiosity to learn more about the real-life ancient civilizations of earth and how they functioned. All in all, this–the first in a three-part series– was a magnificent, compelling read.
Profile Image for Kathy Shin.
151 reviews117 followers
April 10, 2018
This book is a lesson in tempering expectations. One would think that, being a fan of the video game industry, it's one I've learned backwards and forwards by now, but nope--not when it comes to books, it seems. I came into the story wide-eyed and giddy. Months and months before, I'd feasted my eyes on the gorgeous cover, read the words "alt-history" and "rome" and "magic," and thought "holy hell, this is made for me," then fell headlong into hype town. But alas, reality is a cruel mistress. Because while it's not a bad historical-fantasy story, it's a mediocre one--which, to me, is the ultimate kiss of death.

The premise of the story is based around one question: what would the fate of the Roman Republic have been if it'd had mages at its disposal?

First of all, the story suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. It's mainly set in a city called Aven. And pretty much everything about Aven (minus the magic), from architecture to social and political structure, to its dictator, is identical to Ancient Rome.

Well, okay, so it's a fantasy world inspired by Rome!

Well, no. Because Aven gods are Roman gods--Jupiter, Juno, Mars, and the like. And the protagonist mentions "Remus" at one point, so Romulus and Remus and the legend of how they founded the ancient city obviously exists in this world (though it makes no sense then as to why the city would be called "Aven" rather than "Rome").

Then it's...an alternate history with a dash of fantasy!

No, not quite! Because while Aven does have its own Julius Caesar equivalent, his name of "Ocella," and he dies not of an assassination but an illness. Also, the Mediterranean Sea is called the "Middle Sea" and Lusitania (known today as Spain and Portugal) has been ever so slightly altered to "Lusetania." It's as if Aven is your white friend, Adam Smith, who'd one day decided he would get dreadlocks and call himself Swift Flowing River and sell vaginal cleansing moon water at $69.99 per bottle. It's all just so weirdly dressed-up and unnecessarily inconsistent. There are too many changes made for it to be alternate history, yet too similar to history for it to be an original fantasy world.

Secondly, let's take a look at the magic system, which I thought was full of potential:

There are nine types of elemental magics in this world and each has its own patron gods--Spirit mages, for example, are said to be blessed by Jupiter and Juno. When charted all out like this on paper, it looks really neat. Nothing too original, but familiar and cool. My problem is that we don't get to see many of these magics at work in the story itself. There are throwaway comments here and there about a certain mage doing this or that, but Fire and Shadow are the only ones that the story (sporadically) focuses on.

Moreover, Aven feels like plain Rome, with little to indicate that it's a city of mages. There are so many ways that the magic could have been incorporated into the setting. Architectural inventions that rely on magic. Elaborate fashion designs that are reflective of specific patron deities and their powers. There are so many cool possibilities that the story just doesn't explore, and I was left gnashing my teeth in frustration and disappointment.

The characters are a hit and a miss. Latona is a fine lead character. She's a Spirt and Fire Mage, which means that she can influence emotions and blow shit up, respectively. She's independent and fiercely protective of her loved ones, but she's also dealing with trauma from her time at the Dictator's court, where she was manipulated and kept under leash. I loved how she channels all the guilt, rage, and helplessness from that experience into helping other vulnerable women.

The same, unfortunately, can't be said for her male co-lead, Sempronius, and most of the supporting characters. Stories with large casts run the risk of uneven distribution of character development, and that's exactly the case with this book.

Sempronius is a Shadow and Water mage. Immediately following the death of Oscella, he scries a vision of two possible Avens: one of properity and strength like it has never seen before; the other, of ruin and dust--our Rome, basically. And so Sempronius is determined to do whatever it takes to prevent this second future from taking hold. We see very early on that he's a noble, charismatic, and ambitious man. And as the story goes on, he continues to be noble and charismatic and ambitious, and...nothing much more. Interesting, complex characters either shed layers or have layers added to them over the course of a story. But Sempronius at the beginning of this story is the same as the Sempronius at the middle and at the end. Bland and paper-thin, he essentially exists for the sole purpose of moving the plot forward (and very slowly, at that).

The supporting characters fare no better, with perhaps the exception of Aula, Latona's older sister, and Merula, Latona's handmaiden. Part of the problem is that we see so little of so many of them that it's hard to feel one way or the other about any. The other problem is that they're just not very interesting. There's nothing notable that distinguishes one from the other and they all kind of blend together after a while.

The story focuses on two plotlines: the upcoming election of Aven, which Sempronius is campaigning for, and the rising conflict in Lucenatnia, led by the 20 year-old war-leader, Ekialde. I wasn't really invested in either of them, and a lot of that has to do with uneven pacing. Nothing much important happens throughout a large chunk of the middle, and then there's a sudden flurry of activities in the last 70 pages. It also has to do with the the structure of the narration, which was very different from what I'd expected. Many of the scenes are written almost like vignettes: there's a lot of dialogue and exposition and description of actions, but no detailed descriptions of the setting (or any extraneous details) in between. It's very economic. Which makes it digestible but doesn't keep me deeply immersed in the world.

The bottom line is that I was bored. I was bored reading a character-driven story about Ancient Rome and political intrigue and foreign threats and magic influenced by Roman gods. It's an exciting premise that fails to deliver. And I tried to like it. I wanted to like it badly. But for that to happen, you got to give me something to hook my interest onto, and all I found were smooth, flat walls.

Thank you to DAW Books and Netgalley for providing me with a review copy.

More reviews at Pages Below the Vaulted Sky
Profile Image for Online Eccentric Librarian.
2,906 reviews5 followers
April 25, 2018
More reviews at the Online Eccentric Librarian http://surrealtalvi.wordpress.com/

More reviews (and no fluff) on the blog http://surrealtalvi.wordpress.com/

From Unseen Fire is a beautifully written and nuanced work of historical urban fantasy. The focus here is not on the magic so much as the interpersonal relationships and politics of a pseudo ancient Rome. Accomplishments are through intellectual decisions rather than random actions - a rarity in this age of 'tell and forget to show' fiction. I appreciated that we have a mature set of main characters who are navigating a tricky world and situation but also triumphing above adversity.

Story: Latona is the daughter of privilege but at the mercy of a vicious Dictator who has ruled Aven with greed and decisiveness. Her family has suffered, as has she personally, under the Dictator; his final death after years of subjugation means freedom but also challenges. As the politicians jockey for position, exiled aristocrats return, and a new threat emerges in Ibera, Aven is an empire in turmoil. Latona will find herself siding with the quiet and shrewd senator Sempronius Tarren - her contribution to his campaign to become the next leader of Aven being a very strong ability in fire and empathy magic.

Since this is Rome by another name, it is fairly easy to understand the plot - Aven standing for Rome, Iberia for Spain, and the Roman political structure. The magic is understated - aristocrats downplay the ability due to its potential for abuse and most with magic abilities seek to hide it if they are in politics. Especially in patrician women, it is a detriment rather than a benefit. There are darker, more forbidden magics, of course, and even more 'spiritual' magic in the pagan lands outside of Aven.

Main character Latona is a woman protecting her family members while also attempting to effect change quietly. Her struggles are nicely drawn and she triumphs or fails based on her intellect rather than random chance or deus ex machina abilities. This type of heroine is so rare in fiction lately - and I appreciated her characterization all the much more for it.

At its heart, it is a romance - the developing relationship between Sempronius and Latona. I was greatly reminded of Pride and Prejudice in several areas - not directly but more as an inspiration. Especially since we have a lead male character with a watchful sister and a lead female character with a large family in straightened circumstances. There are no great misunderstandings but the depth and strength of these characters were very reminiscent of Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett - as well as many of Austen's protagonists.

From Unseen Fire is written in a literary style that lets the plot unfold slowly and smoothly. It's not a book for those expecting huge drama points or excess battles over characterization. As such, it's a book to slowly savor rather than quickly consume. It's also a book that stays with you longer for that reason. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.
Profile Image for Rebekkah Brainerd.
35 reviews84 followers
April 21, 2018
Two words: Masterful and delicious.

This is the kind of book that feeds your soul. This is the kind of book that wraps you up in intelligence, wonder, and charm and leaves you thinking about it for weeks afterwards.

The writing is excellent all on it's own. Then you have the incredibly sophisticated world that is freaking DELIGHTFUL. The societal structure, geography, politics, magic system -- every aspect of this world is weaved with mastery. And did I mention the politics? The politics are positively delicious -- as are each and every one of the complex, well-rounded, and incredible characters.

Speaking of characters, there is not a 2 dimensional character in this book. I am absolutely in love with Latona and Sempronius (and let me add a note of appreciation for the dynamic and tension between those two... whooo boy). Latona's sisters absolutely stole my heart, and even the freaking villains I appreciated.

Speaking of Latona's sisters, let me just say: The. Female. POWER. I don't mean badass woman wielding swords and killing people (which is cool, don't get me wrong). I mean strong women filled with agency and complexity, who embrace fierceness and beauty, femininity in all its powerful forms. Every single woman in this story is complex and nuanced.

You should absolutely read this book. You will not regret it.

(And good LORD I cannot wait for book two!)
Profile Image for Sarah Foil.
97 reviews26 followers
April 4, 2018
The ancient country of Aven has been the victim of its Dictator for decades. When he dies of a chronic illness, the capitol city and the entire country is thrown into chaos. Those who were exiled under the previous regime flock to the capitol. Politicians scramble to capture power. Enemy countries make plans to attack. The lives of a trio of sisters and their historic family are turned upside down.

I was excited to be sent a copy of From Unseen Fire. I'd seen it marketed on Twitter by the author and a number of different book marketing companies. The cover looked fascinating and once I read of the summary, I knew I had to read it. As I've mentioned in a few previous blog posts, I studied Latin for many years and, since this book appeared to be based in Rome or a similar setting, I was excited to learn more.

READ MY FULL REVIEW AT https://sarahfoil.com/blog/a-review-o...
Profile Image for Iryna KL.
234 reviews47 followers
March 25, 2018
I received a free galley of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you publisher!

4 out of 5 stars

First I would like to take a moment to appreciate the cover by Tran Nguyen who is one of my favorite traditional artists. Thank you Daw Publishing for always putting a lot into your covers - they’re always INCREDIBLE!

From Unseen Fire is an alternative retelling of ancient Roman history with magic. It is a tale of intrigue and love. It is a story of a woman struggling to contain her magic after so long, and falling in love with another man who is not her husband.

I was really skeptical when I picked the book up. I will warn the reader that the first 100 pages is a lot of information and a lot to absorb. However, like Lord of the Rings, if you stick through - you will be rewarded with an incredible tale. I absolutely adored the main character, Latona, - who is a very strong female character. It’s also very refreshing to see a strong female from the beginning of the book, Latona is not one of those characters who is weak in the beginning and then finds her strength. She is already strong and is not afraid of that strength. On the other hand, even she has her moments of doubt and I honestly found that incredibly relatable.

While, I do not condone cheating, in this book it simply works. It’s not that Latona is being abused by her husband or has it really bad in their marriage. It’s just that sometimes things do not work out. And while today we have divorce, from what I remember of my Ancient Roman history - getting a divorce then was equivalent to walking on water, especially for a woman. And maybe, maybe, what Morris is saying with Latona’s extra marital affair is that just like any other Ancient Roman man in power, Latona, a woman, can also have lovers.

I absolutely love that Morris stayed away from the female on female trope. There is something to be said about the authors today, Morris, Novik, Arden, Taylor, who are pushing the idea of female friendship in their novels, to demonstrate to readers that women should not hate women. Of course, not every woman gets along in this book, that would be ridiculous, but the sisterly affection from Latona and her sisters is refreshing, endearing and encouraging.

I understand that this is Morris’s debut, but my god can the woman write. Her descriptions are so vivid that I could almost touch them. The research that went into this book is also staggering. To write an alternative retelling of a time period, demands time, research and patience and Morris completely succeeded in this.

I would recommend this book for anyone who read Circe by Madeline Miller, Uprooter and Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik or The Bear and the Nightingale Series by Katherine Arden. You will not regret it, I promise.
Profile Image for Susana Zemlyakova.
139 reviews3 followers
December 20, 2018
Unseen Fire is a unique take on magic and fantasy within a Roman society. Although not quite a historical fantasy, the author is clearly a big fan of hellenic and roman studies because the first hundred or so pages painstakingly lay out the government, magic system and patrician/plebeian classes. The magic system is tied closely to roman gods but is also very subtle throughout the book.

I found Latona and her sisters very likable but could not connect with any of them outside of perhaps some feminist ideas. Latona's counterpart in politics and love, Sempronius, fell a little flat for me despite his ties with Hades and his gift of prophecy. Nevertheless that did not prevent me from finishing the book. I also liked the tension that the rising revolution lead by Ekialde added. I found myself hoping to see more chapters with him toward the end.

Overall 3.5-4 stars for Ms Morris' debut. I enjoyed reading it and look forward to the sequel.

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and DAW Books. Thank You!
Profile Image for Barb Lie.
1,799 reviews4 followers
April 19, 2018
From Unseen Fire by Cass Morris is the 1st book in her Aven Cycle fantasy series. This is an epic fantasy that takes place in Aven, with an Ancient Rome background, where they worship the Roman Deity. The story is filled with magic, intrigue, history and romance. From Unseen Fire was a very good story, but I did have some mixed feelings, which I will note later in my review.

Latona, our heroine, is the middle sister of the Vitelliae family that is highly respected in Aven. With the Dictator now dead, Latona finds herself free to learn more about her hidden ability as a mage of spirit and fire. Latona is in a loveless marriage forced by her father, but she is loyal very close to her sisters. I really loved Latona, and her two sisters, Aula and Alhena, and how strong all three women truly were.

Sempronius Tarren, our hero, is a senator who has kept himself in the background because of the evil dictator. He is a very powerful shadow mage, who also has hidden abilities that he keeps secret that allows him to also see prophecy. Tarren is determined to run for political office to become their leader, and bring Aven to a better world for all citizens.

Tarren begins to notice how powerful Latona is, and how she tries to hide it. She is able to secretly calm people with her spirit ability and fight or stop fire with that ability. Tarren will be the one who will give Latona confidence in harnessing and controlling her powers.

Latona and her family all support Tarren, and she begins to feel an attraction to him. When trouble arises, Latona will find a way to help Tarren. Their attraction for each other grows, but they both know since she is married, even in name only, it is best to leave it as friendship.

There are a number of villains in this story, one being the deceased dictator’s 2nd in command, who wants to take over everything, including kill Tarren. The other main villain comes from another area, who murders people along the way to destroy Aven and become the power.

What follows is an exciting adventure that will put both Tarren and Latona in dangerous situations a few times. There slow build romance is kept loosely in the background, as we know how they feel and we root for them, but Latona is tied to a marriage with a husband who is becoming more difficult and anti anything she wants to do to help others. Latona is a strong woman, but can she find a way to utilize her ability to help Tarren and the good people of Aven?

As much as I enjoyed the story revolving around Aven, Latona, her family, Tarren, his sister & his supporters, I did have some feelings about the rest. The villain who was trying to stop Tarren was bad, but it did blend in with that part of the story, which was exciting. I did not like the story around the other villain murdering villages and innocent people to gain control (though this does happen in many fantasy novels), as well as the story about Latona’s brother, who was in the army battling this villain. It was slow, and I lost interest, pushing along to get back to Latona and Tarren’s story. There is a lot of history in the background, and perhaps that is where I got lost.

Overall, From the Unseen Fire was a very good story, well written by Morris, with some very good characters. I want to see what happens in the next book; how will Latona’s strength grow; will Tarren be able to fight off his enemies; will Latona’ s youngest sister control her powers; and the people of Aven survive.

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Profile Image for Erin Page.
7 reviews6 followers
May 7, 2018
From Unseen Fire is a book to sink into. It starts with a bang (or, a sword-slash, as the case may be) in an intense prologue, and then the reader is eased into meeting the large cast of characters, magical powers, and ancient world setting. The ancient world is very similar to Ancient Rome at the time of Julius Caesar (so much so that the Roman pantheon and some actual Roman locations are exactly the same), so if you're a fan of HBO's Rome and/or a bit of a classics nerd you'll already have some bearings here. The city of Aven is populated with a wide array of characters who, though rooted in an ancient society, breathe with life and dreams and a tangled web of political machinations. Most of this first volume in the Aven Cycle is focused on world-building and character introductions, and though I sometimes needed to flip back to remember who was who (and we do meet everyone, from emperors to slaves), I found myself reading faster and faster as the pace picked up and I was eager to see how Latona and Sempronius' plans would pan out. Like any good epic fantasy, there is such a big cast that you'll find plenty of characters to root for and to root against, and I was happy to identify my favorite side characters to cheer on (Bartasco and Hannath) when we weren't focused on the story arc of the main protagonists. I look forward to the publication of the next book in the series and returning to this familiar world.
Profile Image for Ellis.
3 reviews7 followers
May 6, 2018

rating: four and a half stars

firstly, i loved this book. as a classical studies major with an interest in ancient rome, it's everything i look for in a fantasy based off of ancient rome, and it doesn't require an in-depth knowledge of the inner workings of ancient rome to be enjoyed. a lot of roman social culture is explained in the glossary or easily enough within the text itself, so anyone with even a passing interest--or no knowledge at all--should be able to follow the workings with relative ease.

however, the comparisons to a song of ice and fire are perhaps a stretch too far; AN UNSEEN FLAME involves politics and several viewpoints, but there end the similarities. unlike asoiaf, AN UNSEEN FLAME does far more justice to its cast of women characters, in my opinion, and there's never gratuitous violence simply for the sake of it--when violence appears, it pertains to the plot, and you never question its place. whereas asoiaf relies heavily on its historical settings and cries of fans citing "historical accuracy!"--at least with the tv series--for much of its violence and plot, AN UNSEEN FLAME cleverly works its time period into the violence, and utilises it as a means of demonstrating the political intrigue--and general dangers--of the time, rather than just because.

the intrigue is delightfully well-written, and the reader is even given insight into the empire's latest enemy, a man leading a rebellion within lusitania. every character, however fleeting, is nuanced, and even the slaves are afforded agency, with a glimpse into their thoughts and daily lives. it would have been easy for cass morris to focus solely on latona, but instead she gives the reader a vast array of characters to both love and despise.

AN UNSEEN FLAME never loses sight of what it is, or its scope. every chapter is precise, and there's no unnecessary explanation of the magic system; instead it's masterfully woven within the characters' daily lives and interactions with each other - there are no info dumps here, which is frankly a relief. cass morris also deals well with the agency of women within the time period - she allows her women to make mistakes, to control their own fates, to act within their own spheres of influence and beyond, all in unique ways; no two women act the same, and there are different interpretations of freedom to women from different female characters - a refreshing surprise.


the primary romance of AN UNSEEN FLAME, between latona and sempronius, is a slow burn that's delightful to read. what starts off as glances and an amicable acquaintance descends into something much deeper and more profound as sempronius sees latona's worth, hidden after years of the dictator's demands of her and years of marriage to a cool and distant husband, and actively coaxes it out of her. there's no manipulation here, no demands of latona; they are two people who enjoy each other's company - and latona's doubts are realistic and often-times sombre due to what she suffered under the dictator.

for me, the most interesting magic in the book is sempronius's shadow magic, and alhena's time magic. i can't wait to see them explored in greater detail in the next book, and i hope that fracture magic is explored as well; my greatest hope would be for sempronius's sister and alhena to work together (again).


i would give half a star more if the book had more LGBT representation, because i found the fleeting mention to be a pleasant surprise - and immediately wanted more. the cast as it stands is diverse, as are the view points; i only hope that the romance diversifies in the next book as well, because that would truly make it a firm favourite to me.
Profile Image for Jacqueline Baxter.
116 reviews4 followers
May 7, 2018
Such a cool concept and very well executed. I'm so delighted that I read this book I cannot wait for the next one.
Profile Image for Kate.
2,048 reviews78 followers
April 20, 2018
I started reading this book because the author was coming to the bookstore for her release party. Right away I found myself enjoying the world Morris had created. Aven is pretty much Ancient Rome with magic, but I loved the change of setting (so many fantasy novels are basically England in the middle ages with magic). Loved the characters- while Latona might be the main character beside her love interest Sempronius, the supporting cast is just as compelling. Loved Latona's sisters and I hope to see them even more in book 2. Blood magic vs. elemental magic? Bring it on!
Profile Image for Maurynne  Maxwell.
680 reviews21 followers
December 20, 2018
I'll read the next. Very credible alternate Rome, patriarchy included--as is the diversity of other ancient cultures. I like the magic systems (see diversity reference). Fast read.
Profile Image for Abigail  F.
200 reviews6 followers
May 3, 2018
Are you a fan of ASoIaF, but (for obvious reasons) need to find a series to read between book releases? Or, are you someone who wishes that HBO hadn't canceled Rome after just two seasons? Then OMGOSH HAVE I GOT A BOOK FOR YOU.

This lyrical debut novel is part fantasy, part alt-history. Set in the city of Aven, which closely parallels the social, cultural, political, and geographical facets of ancient Rome, the story follows Latona (the daughter of an ancient patrician family) and her family, Sempronius Tarren (a politically ambitious senator), and Ekialde (a non-Aventian warrior king leading an uprising near Aven's borders). Oh, and there's legit magic. Latona wields the power of Juno and Venus, Aven's temples house mages versed in the magic of many of the familiar Roman pantheon, and Ekialde's gods offer him a darker blood magic.

The world-building is sublime and the characters are well-drawn, including the minor ones. One character I hope we'll see a lot more of in the sequel is Ekialde's wife, Neitin. From her first appearance to her last she had my heart as I read this book. And omgoodness the twisty political machinations are a treat. Not to mention some ::very:: interesting tension building between Latona and Sempronius... I can't wait for sequel!
Profile Image for nikkia neil.
1,150 reviews19 followers
May 7, 2018
Thanks Berkley Publishing Group and netgalley for this ARC.

I can't wait to read the next installment of this series. Cliffhanger does not come close to describing how this one left off but I'm excited to read more. If you love ancient Rome, fantasy, fighting, and good fiction then this one is for you.
Profile Image for Rhode PVD.
2,341 reviews23 followers
Shelved as 'not-for-me'
July 21, 2018
DNFed at 40 pages in plus leafing through the rest, dipping in to read a page here and there. It’s competently written and it’s always nice to see Rome used as inspiration instead of medieval Europe. Plus, nice to see that three sisters with their own strengths are featured.

And yet. The first 40 pages introduced too many characters. It was slippery trying to keep track of them all. And I found no one caught my attention enough for me to want to follow them through the story.

Also, women’s roles in this world are restricted. Subjugated to the whim of a father or husband, adultery punishable by death, having to hide their strengths, being forced to have noncon relations with men. It’s standard things-were-worse-in-the-past 21st century feminism, without much flavor or nuance. Plus, it means our heroines have to be deeply unusual to succeed - sexy, lucky in birth, smart and magic.


I don’t need to see another fantasy world suffuse with sexism showing only very special women overcoming restricted, old fashioned, roles. That’s not helpful.

What’s wrong with inventing a world that’s a bit different? A world where, like Ancient Rome, women have more nuanced lives beyond submit vs rebel? For example, Lindsey Davis’ Flavia Albia mysteries give fascinating details - good and bad - about the realities of women’s lives in Rome, while featuring a heroine who is not magical or extraordinary aside from being doggedly good at her job.
Profile Image for Kate (Looking Glass Reads).
467 reviews16 followers
May 17, 2018
My family is chock full of history buffs. My father’s a history professor, my brother works at a museum, my sister gives talks at conferences about historical monuments, and I was an art history student once upon a time. So my excitement wasn't very surprising when I first heard a book being described as ‘ancient Rome plus magic’. And that was exactly what we received in From Unseen Fire by Cass Morris.

From Unseen Fire is a fantastic fantasy book set in a word reminiscent of Ancient Rome. The book follows Latona, along with her sisters and several others, as the city of Aven is left leaderless following the sudden death of the Dictator Ocella. On one hand, the people no longer live in fear of his iron fisted rule and mad grab for the magic he was born without. But the people are still livid over the conditions they’ve lived in for so long now, war is brewing on one of Aven’s boarders, and elections will be held sooner rather than later. Two ambitious men strive to lead Aven into this new age – one who clings to the old ways, another determined to bring Aven into the future and hide the magic he has which would bar him from office.

This book is steeped in Ancient Roman history. Though names of places are different, it is unmistakable that this world is supposed to be an alternate Rome, one called Aven after the Aventine hills. It is a Rome much like the one we know. This does extend to naming conventions, city landscape, villa layouts, etc. While there is a character page at the start of the novel and a rather detailed glossary at the end, keep in mind that getting this as an ebook might be helpful if you know nothing of ancient rome. That dictionary search function may come in handy, though even terms that might not be unfamiliar are normally identifiable based on context. Magical abilities are very common in this society, but suppressed. One unfortunate ruler has lead to magic being outlawed in government positions, and those who bear these powers to stay out of the way, hidden, at least within the social circles of the upper classes.

Political intrigue is a large part of this book. Yet it isn’t all politics, rebuilding a damaged Republic, and dealing with a war brewing along their border. This is as much about the lives of the characters are the politics. Latona is the character through whom we experience the majority of the story. She is a grow woman and married to a man who addresses her with either cold indifference or views her as a threat. For Latona has magic, namely Fire and Spirit magic, and is capable of much more than she seems to realize. I loved reading about Latona, and her sisters.

I loved reading about sisters who weren’t at one another’s throats, siblings who genuinely care about one another, and friends who aren’t busy stabbing one another in back or sabotaging their good efforts. This book is just chock full of good, kind, heartwarming sibling relationships and deep friendships. Not everyone is kind – that would make for a boring book, after all. People are still enemies. Some government factions are more dastardly than others. But the characters we follow and care about try their hardest. Siblings tell each other when they simply can’t deal with the attitude or words they know they have.

The magic in this book is widely varied. A person normally is gifted with one or two types of magic. Each of these magic’s are associated with one of their gods. Temples are places for learning as much as worship or healing. Yet, magic is suppressed in many ways. While not outlawed, those with magic cannot hold any major positions within the government so as not to. Thus, magic gets a bit of a poor reputation among the upper echelons of society.

From Unseen Fire wraps up very well. There is a clear conclusion to the book – no major cliffhangers to be found here. I am hooked nonetheless. I will absolutely be continuing with this series. Because it is more than a historically bases society with magic. This is a story about family. It is a story about marriage, about healing, about finding yourself, about courage, and doing what you feel is right no matter what the laws or societal norms may say.

If you are a fan of fantasy who is looking for a very different sort of magic system to read about, check this book out. From Unseen Fire would also probably greatly appeal to readers of historical fiction despite its fantastical elements. Either way, this is a fantastic series with wide appeal which everyone should read.
Profile Image for Danya.
485 reviews22 followers
May 24, 2018
This review and others can be found on my blog, Fine Print.

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.
Profile Image for Alyssa Palombo.
Author 5 books392 followers
February 18, 2021
This novel was a highly anticipated read for me, and it did NOT disappoint. I absolutely loved this book, and found myself deliberately reading it at a slower pace so that it didn't end, eager as I was to see how the ending unfurled! Good thing for me this is going to be a series!

This novel hit the sweet spot between historical fiction and fantasy. The magic system was well thought out, and Morris's knowledge of Ancient Roman history is clearly very extensive, and she brought that world to vivid life on the page. She masterfully managed her large cast of characters and succeeded in making us care and root for (almost) all of them. The blend of historical detail, magic, politics, romance, and warfare made for a novel epic in scope and one that keeps the reader engaged from the first page to the last. Indeed, her portrayal of the politics and campaigning and rhetoric of the time felt very real and very timely. Morris is one hell of a writer, and her debut amply demonstrates her considerable gifts. I am a definite fan!

Just on a personal note, I started reading this novel while I was actually in Rome, and that definitely added to the reading experience for me :)
Profile Image for Anne Morgan.
688 reviews15 followers
May 19, 2018
I can't lie, it was the cover that first caught my attention for this book. It made me want to read the synopsis, which made me want to read the book- which led to one of the best fantasy books I've read in quite some time. A book that lives up to its potential, From Unseen Fire takes place in an alternate, fantasy, version of ancient Rome. The cruel dictator who governed the empire and terrorized its people is dead and now it is time to pick up the pieces- socially, politically, personally, and militarily.

Latona of the Vitelliae is one of those who suffered under the dictator in order to protect her family. Now freed from his shadow, she finds she cannot fit easily back into the life she led before. No longer can she hide herself or her talents, or her wish to do more to rebuild the Republic and help its people. All her life Latona has been held back by other people: her parents, who worried that unscrupulous men would use her and her magic; her husband who wants only a quiet life in the country focusing on his business; and Aventan society itself, which says that a woman who is not a priestess should focus her life and her magic only on her family. Then she meets Sempronius Tarren, an ambitious man who hates to see talent wasted, and sees in Latona huge potential- if only she can find the courage to reach for it. Sempronius is the first person to see Latona as she is, not as he wants her to be, so it can be no surprise that their friendship grows into a magnetically compelling attraction.

Sempronius is among those who want to rebuild Aven, and he joins the political clash on what the Republic should look like. He hopes to break down barriers and allow people to thrive as their talents allow, without being trapped by class or citizenship restrictions. Others want to return to the glory days of the old Aven, and the ways of the city's founders hundreds of years ago. Some want to focus only on home while others worry about growing disturbances in the provinces. Iberia becomes a hotbed of chaos with Aven's allies threatened by a new war-chief determined to protect his land and his people.

At first glance, these seem like too many different story lines to work, but Morris weaves them together into a brilliant, seamless novel. From Unseen Fire kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time, wondering what would happen next, if favorite characters would succeed in their personal quests. I was constantly worried that the book would end on a cliffhanger and I'd be left waiting desperately to find out what happened next. True, the book doesn't wrap everything up in a neat bow- this is the start of a series. But neither does Morris leave her readers yelling "How could you end it there!?" when they reach the last page. I was struck throughout the entire book by how each of the characters believes completely that their actions are for the good of their land and their people. Looking at it like that, none of them can be really considered 'villains', although some are more willing to take questionable paths to reach their idea of the greater good.

Although a debut novel, From Unseen Fire reads like it was written by a veteran author. I greatly look forward to Cass Morris' next Aven book, both to keep following these characters and this world, and to see if Morris can keep to the high bar she set for herself here.
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