From Unseen Fire- Cass Morris
DAW? Penguin Group
Release Date: April 17, 2018
Synopsis: 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?
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.
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review