From Unseen Fire is the first novel in the Aven Cycle, a historical fantasy set in an alternate Rome, by debut author Cass Morris
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?
If there's an overlap in fandoms for I, Claudius and Game of Thrones, Morris's painfully old-fashioned debut is aiming there. In Aven, seat of a quasi-Roman empire, word of the dictator Ocella's demise is spreading, and those who have awaited this opportunity begin jockeying for position. Candidates include Rabirus, a calculating soldier-lackey aligned with the dictator; Latona, a well-born mage and Ocella's unwilling mistress; Sempronius, an exiled politician and secret mage with ambitions; and Ekialde, an Iberian tribal leader preparing for war against the Avenian overlords. After the adrenaline punch of the opening assassination, the book is dominated by the ruminations, posturing, and gossip of a large, well-realized cast. By the time the machinations are briefly interrupted by a riot, it's clear that Morris's projected trilogy is going to stick to an old-school formula of patriarchy, lighter-skinned imperators enslaving darker-skinned barbarians, and legitimated, systemic violence, much of it against women and children. Adding magic changes nothing in the equation. This competently written political intrigue could have emerged from a time capsule sealed in 1950.