Cover Image: Non Serviam

Non Serviam

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Member Reviews

Advanced Review Copy provided by the author in exchange for a review. Thank you to NetGalley, BookSirens, and Lacrimosity and Righteous Rage publishing.

Non Servium is the beginning of a grim-dark gothic fantasy series set in a Ventian-inspired world. The world-building is lush, with gorgeous prose and political intrigue. We follow Giorgianna, along with a found family of sorts, as she navigates the complex social structures around her. The setting is unique and the dark twists had me invested.

However, I struggled to get through this book more than a chapter or two at a time. It is very dense and while the writing is beautiful, the number of flashbacks and flowery language, made it a tad bit confusing to put the complete narrative together in my head.

Still enjoyable and worth picking up, but took me a while to work through.

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Gül has created such a complex world in this novel. The gothic elements, fantasy, and political aspects of the novel all create a captivating, complex world with equally complex characters that take us through it. I loved this book and how Gül constructed this world and characters

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Non Serviam is for all the people looking for a true feminine rage tale. It is the book with stunning, elegant prose that makes you feel as if you got transported into the vicious, ruthless world of Vencenza. It is the sort of novel with characters you will love like our protagonist Giorgianna or our rebel, Cesare and a love story that unfolds like a true slow burn in a world where emotions cannot be expressed and doing so will lead to death.

With a full cast of queer characters, villains you will hate with a burning passion and witty and sharp dialogue that will send you on a rollercoaster, this is one of the books everyone should consider reading. It also has plenty of beautiful quotes that stick with you long after the book has ended and it is such a pleasure to be able to see this beautiful, gritty political fantasy soon be out in the world!

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Thank you to Net Galley and the publisher for the ARC. I was excited to read this. I like purple prose. I also love good worldbuilding and politics. Unfortunately, the prose was dense and really slowed down the pace of the story, such that I just couldn't get invested enough to complete the ARC.

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DNF. I found the prose as a whole to be very overwritten and clunky and often felt that it got in the way of the story. I’m no stranger to fancy or embellished writing, but I just found it here to be painful and didn’t think that the writing had a good flow. I do think there were some really nice lines and imagery in places, but as a whole I was not a fan of the writing. Beyond that, I didn’t find the story or characters to be anything that special or compelling enough to want to continue reading despite my dislike of the writing. I think that there was too much time in the beginning that was just spent meandering around with flashbacks that didn’t seem to add enough to the overall plot line to warrant how many of them there was. Cesare and Giorgianna were clearly the two stand out characters in my opinion, and while overall I felt that they were decent enough characters, I found that the writing style got in the way of me feeling like I truly knew them and erased any sort of character voice that either of them might’ve had. I didn’t get far enough to see how the story played out or how the characters ended up developing, but I didn’t feel compelled to.

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This was a great start to the hypo status of descent series. It had everything I was looking for in the Sci-Fi world and thought it worked great as a duology. The characters felt like they belonged in this world. And I love the illustrations in this book. It had a great story to it. And I really thought the use of the psyche. Was perfect that hinted at a darker side. It had a strong premise and executed it well, and I can't wait to read the next book in the series.

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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

DNF 12%

I desperately wanted to love this book. From what I could tell of the plot, it would have been right up my alley.

I also understood going in that the prose was deliberately overdone, which I can get behind as a feature.

However, something about it made it incredibly difficult to get through. I spent more time going back and forth to figure out who was who and what was happening than I have in any other book. It's the kind of book that makes you feel dumb, and not in a good way. My eyes and brain glossed over Cesare's dialogue, I have no idea what the other characters plot was, and kept waiting for it to click, and ultimately I put the book down in favor of something else to read.

Several weeks later I have yet to muster the energy to pick it back up.

For now, I leave it as it is. 2/5 stars for potential. Maybe I'll come back to it at a later time.

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The hyperstylized GrimDark debut by author Sfarda Gul, Non Serviam positions itself as literary political GrimDark. It is equal parts a visceral and cerebral experience. Their approach to telling a familiar dark fantasy tale of revolution under the crushing fist of tyranny both serves as the greatest strength and biggest weakness of the first part of The Hypostasis of Dissent duology.

Non Serviam (Latin for “I Will Not Serve”) is a tale not entirely unheard of in the GrimDark ecosystem. Set in the city of Vencenza, a fantasy version of Venice (among other related locales), the story revolves around the budding revolution of the common folk long oppressed under a tyrannical ruler. In this iteration of the Dark Overlord tale, the tyrant has outlawed all forms of emotional expression. As a counterfoil, our protagonists are artists of various forms — playwright, musician, thespian, all of which are banned by the powers that be, with extreme and violent prejudice.

Central to the narrative are the three POV characters, Georgianna, a budding actor who has her quiet life thrown into turmoil as she is thrown into the misery vortex as a stand-in for the obscene governance till she becomes the pinnacle of rage, channeled outwards and within her own self. Following which we have Cesare, the cunning Machiavellian insert who is the brains behind the revolution orchestrated to erupt forming the central motif of the Non Serviam. Lastly, we have Lucrezia, who, well, I kinda forget what her whole schtick was, because she paled compared to the other two archetypes.

What Sfarda Gul (pseudonym) gets right, to an extent, is the effort put into worldbuilding. They have created expansive mythos borrowing from medieval Latin and Middle-Eastern cultures, as well as drawing influences from African subcultures as well as Indian and East-Asian flavors. There is a clear sense of effort being put into creating an in-universe language for the narrative as well as creating extensive ancillary documentation for all the terminology including detailed appendices, pronunciation guides, and even some nifty pictorial guides to the masks (which form a central motif in the story further into the Venetian Theater vibe).

Unfortunately, there is something vaguely vacuous about both her characters and worldbuilding. The author sets out to create archetypes that we have seen before, and better versions of in other works of GrimDark fantasy. Georgianna comes across as a petulant rage-first-think-later version of the much more maniacally savant Baru Cormorant (The Masquerade series by Seth Dickinson), Cesare feels like a downgraded version of Locke Lamora (The Gentleman Bastards series by Scott Lynch) which also explores the Mediterranean Theater aesthetic, in a more sunny approach.

The tyrannical lord is a tired trope by this point, and the author’s motif of the outlawing of expression, while an intriguing premise, is not really dug into in a way which feels expansive. One of the keystone aspects of GrimDark is that it is a bleak world, and while there is plenty of violence and oppression in Non Serviam the sense of general misery is not really well painted, best done through the eyes of the non-protagonist characters.

But by far, the biggest aspect which will divide the readers of this series, and will decide whether this series will succeed or not, is Gul’s stylistic choice of prose.

<Deep Breath>

GrimDark has always been a genre that has given authors a wider leeway of flexing their stylistic prose, from the brutalist Sanderson approach to the black-comedy of Abercrombie, the bloodthirsty mania of Fletcher, the poetic repetition of Anna Smith Spark, or the academic leanings of Mark Lawrence and Tchaikovsky. There is even the tumblr-esque edgelord purple prose of Jay Kristoff, which has also been divisive among fantasy readers as being overly edgy. You can read a review of Kristoff’s latest offering here.

Then there’s whatever the hell Sfarda S. Gul decided to throw at us in Non Serviam.

Their prose is hyperstylized purple (reaching for a more extreme color here) to the point of tedium. With incredibly long run-on sentences, convoluted structure, and purposefully obtuse vocabulary, their writing style hits you like a sledgehammer and exhausts you before you get to the end of the first chapter. I would like to think of myself that likes the elevated approach and even likes getting stumped by words that I have not read before, and looking up their meanings.

I cannot comment on the realistic control over the English language that the author possesses. The overall appearance of the prose feels so hamfisted, so contrived, so dragged out with broken teeth out of the cavernous darkness into the blinding and bloodsoaked sunlight of a dying world (now they have ME doing it too!) that it feels as if they took their first draft and pushed it through the thesaurus meatgrinder.

The overall appearance of the prose feels so hamfisted, so contrived, so dragged out with broken teeth out of the cavernous darkness into the blinding and bloodsoaked sunlight of a dying world (now they have ME doing it too!) that it feels as if they took their first draft and pushed it through the thesaurus meatgrinder.

For those who watched the entirety of the Spartcaus TV show, you will know exactly just how exaggerated prose can lead to comedic tedium.

To further complicate matters, Non Serviam is told in both First, Second, AND Third person voices. Georgianna’s POV is told in the first person, the Second person voice is thankfully sparse and is only reserved for her flashbacks, and Cesare and Lucrecia’s POVs are narrated in the standard third person. Phew! Furthermore, even the chapter titles come across less as well-thought-out and impressive, and more as a “look how smart I am” self-congratulation. The titles are either drawn from medical or psychological terminology, or genuinely feel like regular sentences pushed through an English-to-Latin translator. This is NOT commentary on the author’s command over Latin (which is seemingly considerable along with several other languages as per the footnotes), but when piled on the rest of their prose’s critique veers deeply into “Im14AndThisIsDeep” territory.

Non Serviam is a textbook example of “style over substance”. What lies beneath all the claustrophobically complex prose and elaborate yet vacuous worldbuilding is a sadly anemic plot carried forward by characters that feel like caricatures of exaggeration, and vehicles of poorly concealed messaging rather than fleshed-out characters with distinct voices. The amateur nature of the prose is stark in that for all the effort the author put into their prose, all the characters spoke with exactly the same voice, leading the reader to be extremely confused and unable to form mental anchors via speech mannerisms or delivery. This problem is further exacerbated when both the narration and dialog suffer from nearly identical bloat, making even the most ardent of readers unable to distinguish between the two. The total of which is a dense mess of overly compressed yet overly fatty slab covering very little meat over a weak skeleton of a memorable tale.

Non Serviam also highlights the aspects of GrimDark that makes the genre the most inaccessible to newcomers. This story lacked the blase meta commentary towards its own bleak universe or the nuanced morally grey diverse characters that fill out the world. For as much as the author has written essays about the pitfalls of GrimDark on other forums …

Non Serviam is misery-porn, the weakest form of GrimDark

Every character is so broken down by past mental, physical, and sexual abuse that they become paragons of self-loathing. While this is a staple within many GrimDark characters, Gul treats her characters with the subtlety of a bulldozer. Both Georgianna and Cesare get more and more unbelievable as they are both subjected to the maligned trope known as the Conga Line of Trauma, to the point of reader nausea.

Feminine Rage is also a central motif in Non Serviam, and Georgianna feels channels it to a hyperbolic degree. I will fully admit that I am no expert in trauma representation and I can empathize with their author’s effort to shed light on real-world issues through their chosen artform, but they do so without intelligent restraint.

There IS a good story within Non Serviam but it is held back by the author’s own stylistic choices, which I feel will drive more readers away than towards their future efforts.

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This novel is, well, a lot. But it also shows its cards right from the beginning, in the book’s summary/blurb, which references its “lush purple prose” and “vividly complex setting.” If you’re onboard with that then there is a lot to chew on in this story. The writing is really dense and filled with (invented) non-English terms and names, so much so that there are numerous footnotes explaining not just pronunciation but also grammatical rules. And while the setting is easy to fall into, in the big picture, it is wildly complex and intricate, eons of other-worldly histories are contained within, and it is easy to be overwhelmed. Neither the world-building nor the (somewhat) profligate language are eased into, the reader is thrown into the canal and expected to swim, gasping short breaths of information and details enough to keep you afloat long enough to read land. Don’t go into the book expecting your hand to be held.

If you brave those hurdles, what is there? A core group of characters with complicated and heartfelt histories, torn by warring emotions and violence, and a plot that is fueled by blood and anger. The characters are great, and they make the story worth the trouble, but sometimes they too get lost in the writing. The story itself is, in broad strokes, pretty simple, but it is a strong spine from which numerous subplots are supported, including a few thrilling, bloody action set pieces, and other scenes that are truly heart-wrenching. The plotting and writing feel convoluted at times, like the story is more concerned with its expression than its forward momentum, which is well and good as a vibe, to parallel the writing and the story, but it does cause the story to have a start and stop feel, with the characters’ experiencing an urgency that the reader doesn’t share. There could have been 75-100 pages edited out and the story would have had much more momentum, enough to propel even an easy reader through the complexities of its prose and ideas. It sometimes felt like too many things were layered atop one another, and in a way that doesn’t contribute to the overall experience. For instance, an entire complicated magic system is introduced about three-fourths of the way into the book, with a footnote giving a summary of how the whole magic system works and who can wield it, and it becomes important for events that happen in the last quarter of the book. But there were no seeds of it planted and nurtured from the beginning, it is just thrust into the readers’ laps a few chapters before it becomes necessary. I don’t mind the magic system, it enrichens the world, but the way it is presented is indicative of how this story and world just have so much information that it feels like it inelegantly piles up one atop the next.

However, for all its dense world-building, the ideas are the point, here, and what make these characters’ struggles valuable. They are a ragtag group looking to bring down a cruel dictatorship; that is easy to hold on to. But what toll does that hatred and violence take on the heart? What can be truly won through blood, and what has to be sacrificed in the process? Can a revolution be victorious if you need to forfeit your humanity to see it through? Do personal traumas and vendettas serve as valid stand-ins for state-sponsored violence and oppression, and do we collapse our experiences of pain into such all-encompassing motivations that we lose the capacity for joy and emotional resolution? The story is very intent on contemplating these ideas and more, and while I don’t feel my own personal inclinations lining up with where the novel/our characters find themselves at the end of this first part of an intended duology I have definitely appreciated the unvarnished exploration. This novel isn’t for everyone, given not just its themes but its really--sometimes seemingly unnecessarily--dense, purple prose along with its branching, sometimes wandering plot. But it is filled with revolutionary philosophies and the minds that fuel them, a full meal to sink your teeth into, and has a lot to offer.

The meandering plot and somewhat clumsy world-building (clumsy only insofar as it is remarkably complicated but often rather bluntly introduced) pull down my rating a bit. The characters and ideas and bravado all raise it up. The language, well, it depends on the page. Sometimes the grandiosity of the language felt impressive and appropriate and enveloped me in the complexities of the story, and other times it felt pompous and distracting and unnecessary. So, it kind of balances itself out, but it impressed me more often than not, enough to bring the story up to 3.5 stars from three.

(Rounded up from 3.5 stars).

I want to thank the author, the publisher Lacrimosity and Righteous Rage Press, and NetGalley, who provided a complimentary eARC for review. I am leaving this review voluntarily.

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I had a difficult time getting into this book in the beginning. I felt like perhaps I missed another book that should go before it, but that was not the case. It took me a little longer to get into but once I got into it, it was not bad at all.

This book is very uniquely written. If you are looking for something very different from what is on the market today and complex with artistic writing, I recommend the book. Read the description carefully that this is written with poetry and art cinema in mind. Truly is. Thank you for the opportunity to read the ARC and exposing me to a different kind of writing than that exists today.

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Unfortunately I had to dnf (did not finish) this book. While I loved the description, and everything seemed like i was going to adore this book, I had trouble getting through the thick prose. The overly flowery language and quantity of words in another language made the reading experience a bit of a slog.

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As the first installment in a political fiction, "Non Serviam" promises a thought-provoking journey into a world fraught with peril, challenging readers to reflect on the complexities of power, oppression, and the human spirit.

Set against the backdrop of a vividly complex world inspired by Venice, Sardinia, and Etruscan Civilization, the novel weaves lush purple prose, visceral symbolism, and philosophical pondering. The author's writing style, reminiscent of poetry and art cinema, invites readers into a world where tragedy erodes Giorgianna's psyche, leading her down a path of vengeful bloodlust haunted by cabbalistic visions.

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Really could not get into this book. So did not finish it. I felt it jumped straight into a plot without me having any semblance of place and time

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Thank you for the ARC. This book was unbelievably well written and the world building was very immersive. 3 stars overall.

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