Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Cass Morris's "Give Way to Night"

Cass Morris works as an educator in central Virginia and as a bookseller on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She holds a Master of Letters from Mary Baldwin University and a BA in English with a minor in history from the College of William and Mary. She reads voraciously, wears corsets voluntarily, and will beat you at MarioKart.

Here Morris dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, Give Way to Night:
Give Way to Night is the second book of the Aven Cycle, an epic fantasy series set in an alternate ancient Rome where magic has shaped the course of nations every bit as much as law and warfare. Aven is on the brink, attempting to re-establish its ideals after a dictatorship. As if determining the philosophical soul of the nation weren’t enough, they’re also dealing with violent incursions in a province and the resurgence of a banished cult at home!

The Aven Cycle has a large cast of characters. I have strong ideas for actors I’d love to see play some of them and little-to-no idea for others. My biggest overall concern if someone were to cast the series, though, would be diversity. The ancient world was multicultural, and Rome thrived with populations from many nations and of many skin tones. I would want the cast to reflect that above all else.

My two chief protagonists are Latona of the Vitelliae and Sempronius Tarren. Sempronius is an ambitious senator with a divinely-inspired vision: he wants to see Aven the center of a coalition of nations that spans the known world, the beating heart of a vibrant federation. He’ll do whatever necessary to reach that goal -- including breaking the laws of the nation he loves so much. Sempronius is a mage, granted elemental power by the gods, and Aven’s laws bar such men from high office. He thinks the gods know better than the men who write laws, though, and so he keeps his gift a secret while he reaches for the power to shape the world of his dreams.

Latona is also a mage, and her powers have brought her a lot of trouble in life, to the point where she began suppressing them and denying her true strength. In Give Way to Night, however, she’s tired of making herself small for others’ comfort; she’s decided instead to use her gifts to protect and defend Aven. That determination puts her in conflict with a mysterious opponent using dark magic to foment chaos and terror in the already-fragile city.

An actor I’ve long had in my head for Latona is Sarah Gadon. I first saw her in Amma Asante’s Belle, but it was her performance in Alias Grace that convinced me she would be perfect for Latona’s haunted intensity, able to shift between carefully-constructed poise and explosively fierce emotions. She also has the angular beauty I think of when I picture Latona: graceful and even a little vulnerable, but with fire behind the eyes.

Sempronius is harder. He must be absolutely charismatic, but I’d actually prefer an actor who isn’t too good-looking! I describe him in the books as being average-looking; not unattractive, but not swoon-worthy. His personal magnetism is much more important: his way of talking to people, his way with words, his vigor. I concede that a film or tv series would likely lean into the “tall, dark, and handsome” trope, however, so someone like Henry Cavill, Diego Luna, or Emun Elliott, but a bit younger. Sempronius should be early 30s.

Overall, I’d want a film or series to have an immersive feel, making both the world and the magic feel viscerally real. I took a lot of inspiration from HBO’s Rome, so I imagine that kind of art direction and attention to detail.
Visit Cass Morris's website.

--Marshal Zeringue