Q & A | Cass Morris, Author of From Unseen Fire

From the moment I heard that Jacqueline Carey was a major influence for this author, I have wanted to read From Unseen Fire. As you can tell from the blurb, this book is fire with political intrigue and family ties, and I can’t wait for this one to come out!

From Unseen Fire by Cass Morris | Aven Cycle #1
Adult Fantasy
Publication Date | April 17th, 2018



Book Blurb:

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?

| Q & A With Cass Morris |

Alternate-history and historical fantasy is en vogue for TV and film, as well as books lately. Are there any historical or alternative-historical TV / films / books that influenced your writing?

Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series had a major influence on me. I loved the scope of the alternate world she imagined, flavored by the real history of dozens of nations and cultures, but interwoven with her own magical paradigm. I’ve always liked big worlds in the fiction I consume, and hers felt so fully-drawn and complete. That sense of the epic features in a lot of the stories that have influenced me over time — Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, His Dark Materials, The Sandman, A Song of Ice and Fire — if it has a massive map and a cast of thousands, I’m probably all for it.

As far as straight-up historical influence goes, HBO’s Rome was playing in the background during a lot of the drafting of From Unseen Fire. The creators of that show said in one of their behind-the-scenes featurettes that they were looking to re-create an authentic ancient Rome, even though they knew they weren’t being completely accurate, since they fudged timelines and merged characters together for storytelling purposes. I think they totally succeeded. Their Rome looked like a real city, so full of people, always busy, and so complex. Those images are definitely a lot of what I had in mind while crafting the city of Aven.

How does FROM UNSEEN FIRE speak to feminist issues?

So much of From Unseen Fire focuses on women’s agency, women’s friendships, and the space that women claim in society. My main character, Latona, has long been taught that being seen is dangerous. Some are jealous of her potential power, some seek to abuse it, and sometimes it’s just good old-fashioned misogyny determined to keep her down. Latona has been told that her emotions are a threat, that she has to keep iron-tight control over them, because if she loses control for even a moment, it will lead to destruction. That’s often tied to her magic, because her Elements, Fire and Spirit, are somewhat volatile Elements, but it also ties in to the gaslighting that so many women experience — told that they’re irrational, over-dramatic, and that their emotions somehow negate their ability to function.

The society she lives in is one that lets women of her class have a lot of power behind the scenes, but very little space in public life. Latona’s story is one of hitting the breaking point, refusing to listen to everyone telling her to make herself small, and deciding to claim the space that others would deny her.

She would certainly be all about #MeToo and #TimesUp.

How did you go about researching the setting for FROM UNSEEN FIRE? Did you travel?

I looked at so. many. maps. Which was great! I love cartography. It’s shockingly difficult to find maps of Rome from the Republic era, though; almost everything is Imperial, because so much of the Forum was destroyed and rebuilt over time, so archaeology has a much easier time figuring out what it looked like in, say, 300 CE than 30 BCE. I also scoured the internet for every picture of reconstructions I could find — the Getty Villa has some gorgeous images of a reconstructed Roman country house, interior and exterior, and there are a surprising number of Roman legion re-enactment groups. And yes, I did travel. I’d been to Rome once before, as a teenager, and in 2016 I was lucky enough to be able to go back. There’s nothing quite like walking the very hills and streets your characters would have!

Take us through a typical day of writing / editing this book / series. Any writing rituals?

I’m a bit nocturnal by nature, so my best writing hours tend to be in the evening. I work at a standing desk most of the time — now, that is. Most of From Unseen Fire was actually written on a card table, as I went many years without a proper desk in my apartment! But a couple of years ago I splurged on an electronic desk with a totally adjustable height, so it can be a normal sitting desk if I need it to be. For some reason it’s easier to focus and feel active and engaged with what I’m working on when I’m standing. Sitting feels like relaxation time.

I’m someone who abhors silence, so I have to have some sort of background noise while I’m working. That might be music — I’ve made I don’t even know how many scores of playlists over the years, for various characters, stories, and moods — but it might also be something running on TV. I find nature documentaries are great. Pretty pictures, nice music, often the soothing tones of David Attenborough, easy to tune out — but then I get to learn something cool when I surface for a break. I usually have some sort of goal in mind, but it varies by the day. It might be “get 1000 words of new material written” or “edit three chapters,” but it might also be something like “stare at that scene until you figure out what’s wrong with it.” Progress is measured in a lot of different ways.

I rarely write outside of the house. Trains and planes are okay, if I’m traveling, but my extroverted nature is too easily distracted by other human beings to get much work done in a coffee shop. Every once in a while I’ll treat myself to a day somewhere really special — Bold Rock Cidery in Nellysford, VA is absolutely beautiful, for example, so it’s a lovely place to settle in, enjoy a few pints, and write while gazing at gorgeous mountain scenery.

| about the author |

Cass Morris lives and works in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with the companionship of two royal felines, Princess and Ptolemy. 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. Find out more about Cass Morris online at cassmorriswrites.com.

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