By: Cass Morris
Illustrator: Tran Nguyen (Jacket Art)
Release Date: April 17, 2018
Publisher: Daw Books
Series: Aven Cycle #1
Received From: Publisher
(All reviews are our own, honest opinions.)
You may not know this, but my family is just 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.