2020 releases

Review: Docile by K.M. Szpara

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Image result for docile coverDocile was one of my most anticipated releases of the year. Not only is it published by Tor Dot Com, who now owns my heart, it was also marketed under the tagline above and I jump at every opportunity to criticize capitalism. Plus, this is an ownvoices novel, and there was just so much to be excited about. Yes, including the cover, I am only human. So I requested an eARC and I was super excited to read it. And it was an all-around confusing reading experience for me. There might be slight spoilers in the text, but I will hide them so you can avoid them. But there is no way I can discuss why things did or did not work without talking about the actual content, because it’s super-specific.

Docile is set in the future where the gap between the rich and the poor has gotten so big that poor people are now forced to become Dociles for the rich in order to get rid of their debt. Dociles are basically slaves, they forgo almost all of their rights to their Patrons. They are also allowed to take (or refuse) Dociline, which is a drug that makes them forget everything that’s happening but also makes them completely obedient. We follow Elisha, who is forced to sell his debt to save his family, and he ends up becoming a Docile for Alexander Bishop III, whose family invented Dociline. Except Elisha refuses Dociline, since his mother never got better from it, and we follow both Elisha and Alex’s perspective from there.

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First of all, I found this premise to be really interesting, and sadly, it even seems possible. The way the whole system is set up to blatantly favor the rich is something that is completely relatable, it’s just taken to the extreme to make a point. Moreover, this is such an addictive, high-paced read, that keeps you glued to the page at all times. I also found it to be quite unpredictable. The author really takes you on a ride, and I never knew in which way the story was gonna go, and to be honest, that was unsettling for me.

This also touched on the issues of consent and how Dociles are treated and what their position is, and how that essentially obliterates their agency and their consent doesn’t mean anything because they are put in a situation where they cannot refuse.

It was also an interesting decision to include Alex’s perspective. While I did find his narrative voice grating and sort of self-righteous in a really cartoonish way, I think it allowed the author to explore how the rich are lulled into this false sense of them being the ones who help Dociles, when in fact they are the ones that put them into that situation. Moreover, because the set up of the novel is such that Elisha refuses Dociline, Alex decides that he has to train him so he acts like his on Dociline even when he isn’t. Which basically means that he treats Elisha like a dog, and trains him like one, and punishes him constantly for minor mistakes. Alex’s perspective allowed the author to show how Alex did not see anything wrong with what he was doing. We saw how he wanted to please his father and the Board of his company, and how he sees Elisha as a project to be paraded around, and not a human being. And it was a stark contrast to seeing Elisha become this drone of himself, someone who could not separate his personality from Alex’s, who became so dependent on Alex that he lost all sense of agency. It was disturbing and devastating, but it was also in my opinion really powerful and well done.

However, this was not a pleasant reading experience for me. This book is described as being “sexy“. This book is not sexy. This book is heavy on the graphic sexual content, but since one person is a slave to the other, he doesn’t really ever consent truly to the sexual acts he is in. And that made the sex scenes incredibly uncomfortable for me, more so because Elisha doesn’t have any previous sexual experience, and he finds himself not enjoying things but thinking they are right and how it should be. And then on the flip side, the scenes at times felt romanticized to me, when in fact there was always this whole issue of consent. These are basically rape scenes, but they are written in such a way that doesn’t treat them as such. On one hand, I do understand that that’s the point, but I found it so uncomfortable to read, and the fact that I could not really get a grounding in how the narrative (or the author) positioned themselves and their attitudes towards these scenes made me feel incredibly weird. I wasn’t sure if they were trying to be sexy, because the lines were so blurred in here. This is not sexy. There’s only one consensual sex scene in here, and it’s towards the end, and it’s not between the main characters.

This is where we get to slight spoilers. I put it in white so you can select the text if you want to read it. If not, you can skip it.

The biggest issue for me and why I had such a hard time with the sex scenes is because I feel like this was in the end treated as a love story. Elisha and Alex end up together, vaguely, but they do. The book ends with them kissing. And while Alex had this whole redemption ARC where he realized he was a part of the problem, he realizes he hurt Elisha, he raped them, nothing between them was consensual and he regrets everything, it was still so aggravating to see them end up together and to see the narrative that they were in love. Elisha does break up with Alex at one point, realizes Alex literally trained him like a dog and did, in fact, rape him, but in the end, Elisha STILL has feelings for Alex and Alex is still in love with him. 

And that whole thing was awful and unbelievable. We are supposed to believe that Alex fell in love with Elisha, but Elisha wasn’t a person at that time. And while Alex acknowledges this at one point, THEY STILL END UP TOGETHER. It’s so frustrating. It’s frustrating to see a character acknowledge that the other person RAPED them and then go on and end the book with them being together and having this whole thing framed as a love story. I am so uncomfortable with that. While the overall message was that they were both sort of victims of the system, one of them is also the victim of the other. SO I DID NOT WANT A HAPPY ENDING FOR THEM. PLEASE. I HATED IT.

I also had some slight issues with the writing – it was heavily dialogue focused, so it was hard to really get a grip on characters and their personalities. Both Alex and Elisha did not feel fully developed to me because we rarely got an insight into their inner monologue since this is very focused on the dialogue. And when we did it was in a way that felt like the character was directly speaking, like they were telling the reader how they were feeling, which I wasn’t a fan of. What I mean is that even the inner turmoil felt like a dialogue. I mentioned that Alex’s narrative voice really grated me — this was mostly due to the previously described issues I had with the writing.

verdict

I have no idea. This book is unlike anything I ever read. It has a really interesting premise, and it does some really fantastic things with it. However, I did have big problems with it, and I am not sure how to deal with them. I will think about this book a lot but I don’t even know what to rate it because it had some stuff that I enjoyed, but it also had stuff that I absolutely hated. The lines are all blurred in here, which makes for a confusing reading experience. So take that as you will. And thread carefully with this one.

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I would love to hear from you! Have you read this one? If so, please, send me a message on Twitter, I NEED to talk about it more.

In the meantime, happy reading

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*I received a free eARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

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3 thoughts on “Review: Docile by K.M. Szpara

      1. It’ll probably be awhile before I read … but the themes somehow remind me a lot of Captive Prince.. let’s see how I feel about this 😊😊

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