Review: DOCILE by K.M. Szpara

Publisher: Tor.com
Page Count: 488
Release Date: March 3rd, 2020
Series: Standalone
Rating: 4/5 Stars – Really Liked It

Note: I was provided a free ARC in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Content Warning: If you aren’t a fan of explicit, graphic sex scenes (including scenes of sexual assault), this is not the book for you.  Please find the nearest exit and make your way to your next read.

40522814Would you sell yourself into slavery to free your family from debt?  That is essentially the choice facing Elisha Wilder.  In the near future, with debt spiraling out of control at a national level, the Office of Debt Resolution allows you to take a contract of servitude for varying lengths of time in exchange for paying off your debt; such “servants” are called Dociles.  With his parents and sister three million dollars in debt, only a life term contract will save Elisha’s family.  Making Elisha’s future even more daunting is the fact that he plans on refusing Dociline, the drug that gave the Docile class its name by making them compliant and unable to remember the time they serve.  It’s a drug that’s supposed to make serving easier, but Elisha’s mom never recovered from her time under the drug, and he refuses to become a drone like her.  But Elisha’s contract is bought by Alex Bishop, heir to the family that created Dociline. Alex has problems of his own: his father has questioned his ability to lead the company, and made it clear that an inability to control his new Docile will reflect that Alex isn’t ready to be CEO.  With his livelihood on the line, Alex is determined to make his Docile utterly submissive – and he’s willing to mix pain and pleasure to make it happen.

DOCILE is an engrossing examination of power dynamics that gets its claws into you from page one and never lets go.  I will admit, this was a strange read for me because while I couldn’t put the book down, I had utterly no idea what my final verdict was going to be. There was a moment when I was worried that this was going to turn into a love story where the inherently problematic nature of the relationship would be brushed under the rug, and it would become a tale purely of “the world doesn’t understand our love, but we’ll stand against them and prevail.”  I needn’t have worried. DOCILE is ruthless in the back half of the book, calling out Alex’s behavior and labeling rape for what it is.  Alex and Elisha’s emotional relationship is a toxic, tangled mess, and the author puts a giant spotlight on the issues at hand.  Alex is allowed to grow and realize his faults, but he is never excused.

As for the sex scenes themselves, were they all necessary?  Your mileage will vary.  At first I was unsure if the scenes were indulgent, and having finished the book, there are a few moments I probably would have ended up cutting.  But while some of these encounters are (intentionally) difficult to read, they do accomplish the task at hand of a very visual demonstration of the developing emotional states and power dynamics over the course of the book. Importantly, there’s a scene near the end where Elisha is exposed for the first time to a healthy, consensual sexual encounter where he is an equal participant in laying the ground rules, and it’s a stark contrast to the forced submissiveness of his relationship with Alex.

Elisha’s state of mind is where this book sings, and what really elevated the book beyond simple erotic fiction.  At the start, Elisha is determined to hate Alex, to be his own person and to never forget the terrible system that put him in this position in the first place.  He’ll still do as he’s told (he has to keep this contract or risk his family being put in debtor’s prison) but his plan is to never be a mindless drone, to always be his own person.  But over the course of six months, Alex slowly conditions Elisha, and Elisha’s narration subtly begins to change.  His need to keep his contract is subsumed by his need to please Alex, and he can’t understand why people tell him he’s changed.  Alex is happy, and that’s what’s supposed to matter, right?  And if he can’t live without Alex, that’s love, right?  Elisha is irrevocably damaged by his time as a Docile, and watching the descent, and the struggle to become his own person again, is the binding agent that keeps the story together.

DOCILE is a tale about toxic, unhealthy relationships.  It’s about the complete lack of balance of power between the haves and the have-nots.  Its about emotionally abusive relationships that leave you believing you are always wrong and your partner is always right. It’s about a world so used to a broken system that it will literally drug away the parts of human will that reflect how utterly repugnant society is.  DOCILE is not the right read for everyone, but it IS an important one about making sure you have an equal say in all your relationships, and never once letting yourself become complacent.

15 thoughts on “Review: DOCILE by K.M. Szpara

Add yours

  1. This sounds incredible, and absolutely NOT a book for me.
    I’m really glad to read your even-handed review as I’ve been wondering about this book since I first heard about it. Maybe further down the line I’ll be able to read it, but as I am now I think I’d really struggle with the sexual stuff.
    Great review, as always! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad the review was helpful! I was on the fence about reading this one for SO LONG because I wasn’t sure of the content, and finally took the plunge because someone had an extra ARC. It’ll always be there for you if you ever decide you’re ready!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This was an amazing review! I have never heard of this book, and as soon as I read your disclaimer, I was quite convinced this book wasn’t for me. But then I kept reading your review and… and now I am not so sure anymore! I mean, this is not typically my cup of tea, but you did an amazing job of explaining what you would find in this book, and you were so convincing about the importance of this that… I may end reading this one, I am not sure sure sure, but I am almost there.

    Liked by 1 person

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