Worlds Both Ancient and Magical: Books that influenced the writing of FROM UNSEEN FIRE

Reading is a crucial part of a writer’s job, so this week, we’re discussing books that influenced us. I’m choosing to interpret that as “books that influenced your upcoming publication”, because if it was just books in general, I’d be here forever.

Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series: If you ever want to spend seven thousand pages immersed in the late Roman Republic (and seriously, who wouldn’t?), go swimming in these. They are an intense commitment, but so worth it. McCullough showcases incredible nuance in the political landscape of the dying Republic, far more than you’re ever going to get from your average school course or Wikipedia page. Honestly, I think I learned more from them than I did from my college course on Roman history. It is fictionalized, but she doesn’t take a whole lot of license, and her research was impeccable. The maps in the front of her books are also far and away the best for pre-Imperial Rome that I’ve ever found. I literally have massive versions of them hanging on my walls to use as references.

Kate Quinn’s Empress of Rome series: More excellent historical fiction. This series is less dense than McCullough’s, and it focuses on Imperial rather than Republican Rome, but its great glory is in focusing Rome’s women (who get pretty short shrift in McCullough — my biggest criticism of those books). As empresses, as wives, as sisters, as friends, as priestesses, Quinn gives us a spectrum of refreshingly complex ladies. So often in fiction, women are either barely present outside of one central character (The Chick) or are set up in competition with each other for some dude’s affection. Quinn’s women are varied in their objectives and personalities, and they have wide-ranging concerns like stopping wars, escaping slavery, protecting their families, and shaping the Roman Empire. Even when they are fighting over a dude, that dude is, well, the Emperor, and politics plays a huge part in their motivation. I appreciate Quinn’s scope so much, and I’ve tried to bring the same sense into From Unseen Fire with the Vitelliae and their friends, allies, and rivals.

Alberto Angela’s Day in the Life of Ancient Rome: Far and away the best research and reference text I used while writing From Unseen Fire. This is social history on the micro level, and I utterly adore it. Angela takes you, hour by hour, through an average day in Rome. I had to adjust some details backwards for my Republic setting (for example, the Flavian amphitheatre, a major feature of Imperial Rome, didn’t exist yet), but on the whole, it was incredibly useful. There are details of the Roman/Aventan world in From Unseen Fire that exist solely because Angelo told me about them.

Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series: I’ve adored these books since college, and their influence was to make me want to write an absolutely immense world where politics, religion, magic, and romance all collide together. I love the way the world unfolds across the Phèdre and Imriel trilogies, starting with just the City of Elua and ultimately encompassing parts of three continents. I also admire Carey’s prose, which is absolutely lush and gorgeous.

Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters series: These books influenced a lot of my thinking about Elemental magical practice in a historical context. Lackey focuses on the Victorian-through-Interwar eras, but these books incorporate a lot of interesting socio-political issues. They also typically have prominent romance components that complement but don’t overwhelm the main story.

I’ve also got a full shelf on Goodreads of books that I think people who like the Aven Cycle will like (and vice versa!), so if you’re looking for historical fantasy and/or Roman-themed things, give it a look!

BONUS: I was also hugely influenced by HBO’s Rome. Obviously, not a book. The showrunners said they wanted to create a sense of authenticity (if not necessarily accuracy) in how they portrayed Rome, and those visuals have definitely helped to paint Aven inside of my head. What I loved about that show was the sense of diversity and energy it showcased in the ancient city. Things weren’t whitewashed and neat; they were vibrant, thrumming, colorful. And the people came from all over — a major theme of the Aven Cycle.

Author: Cass Morris

Cass Morris lives and works in central Virginia and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She completed her Master of Letters at Mary Baldwin University in 2010, and she earned her undergraduate degree, a BA in English with a minor in history, from the College of William and Mary in 2007. She reads voraciously, wears corsets voluntarily, and will beat you at MarioKart.