FROM UNSEEN FIRE is a big, luscious, complex book, the kind that makes you want to wall yourself off from the world in your most comfortable pajamas with a cup of something warm and sweet to drink. Some books you skim through, racing to reach the denouement; others, like this novel, are immersion reads, so full-fledged and epic you are a bit startled to find yourself in your own world when you set them down.
Set 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. (In case you’re curious about the magical elements, they are Earth, Air, Water, Fire, Spirit, light, Time, Shadow, and Fracture. You can even take a quiz HERE to find out which element you’d wield if you were an Aventan mage. Cool, right? I took it and got Air, which I think means I’m bossy.)
FROM UNSEEN FIRE has been described as a mixture of I, Claudius and Game of Thrones. It’s an apt comparison, and one of the things I enjoyed most about the novel is its sociopolitical insight. Even though the Republic is only loosely based on reality, Morris didn’t shy away from the complexities of pre-Christian Rome, employing her background as a historian to delve into the fascinating relationships between the different strata of society. As a writer of contemporary fiction, I cannot even imagine the depth of the research necessary to write something like this. In many respects, the geopolitical machinations of the characters hold true today: we still have oppression and misogyny and the havoc wrought by power-hungry men. But it would be a mistake to view this world entirely through a twenty-first century lens; this was a time of different social constructs. 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.
Read it now as a hardcover, Kindle, or Audible or join us on Instagram to enter the Deb Ball Giveaway! Cass is giving away packages to TWO winners: a signed hardcover + an element-themed tarot reading to the first, and an Audible code + tarot reading to the second.
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