I am always intrigued by alternate histories, especially ones with magic. So when I read the synopsis of Cass Morris’s From Unseen Fire, I knew I needed to read it. (The cover didn’t hurt, either.) What would have happened if Ancient Rome had mages on it’s side?
(All reviews are spoiler-free unless otherwise noted.)
(From Goodreads) 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?
From Unseen Fire was an interesting start to a series. I love the idea of exploring how a society we know failed might have fared differently if magic were involved. (Sure, the name of the city is different in the book, but it is very clearly based on Ancient Rome.) I think it was a fun experiment, but I’m not quite sure how well it worked. First of all, this is very clearly the first book in a series. Not that much actually happens (and this isn’t a short novel), and things aren’t wrapped up at the end – it’s obvious that this book was setting up book two. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of introductory books, and I’m not sure the events of this book piqued my interest enough to continue.
My main issue is that, for a book that feels like an introductory novel, it is really lacking in world building. The first twenty percent or so of the book was fairly disorienting, since you’re just thrown into the world. I mean, I’m glad there wasn’t an info-dump, but I found myself concentrating so hard on figuring out what was going on and who was who that I was missing the actual story. At one point, I actually started over to try and reorient myself. There wasn’t enough background to serve as a foundation.
I also had a hard time connecting with the characters. I think part of the problem is simply that I couldn’t wrap my head around all the names (I was paying too much attention to trying to figure out the story). This is a character-heavy novel, and I definitely wish I had kept some notes along the way (there is a list of characters at the beginning, but it was too hard to flip back and forth in my eARC). I did really enjoy Latona, though it took a good half of the novel for me to start caring about her. Now that I’ve finished the book, I do have some mixed feelings. She wasn’t quite the strong female character I wanted her to be and I haven’t decided if it was just because she had to deal with a patriarchal society or something else.
I did appreciate the political and intellectual side of this novel. It was a nice to see characters driven by logic rather than emotions – especially in a fantasy. It was clear the author did her share of research and it was interesting to see her take on what could have happened after what is essentially the death of Caesar.
★★★☆☆ – Overall, I’d say From Unseen Fire was a decent read. It didn’t blow my mind, but I feel like I should take into account that my expectations were pretty high. I may revisit this down the line and see if I have a better experience now that I have a grasp on what’s going on, but I’m still not sold on the sequel (yet).
From Unseen Fire will be available in bookstores April 17 (you can preorder on Amazon now).
This book was provided to me by NetGalley and the publisher. All opinions are my own.
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