Book Review: Docile by K.M. Szpara

Title: Docile

Author: K.M. Szpara

Publisher: Tor.com

Publication Date: March, 3 2020

Genres: Science Fiction

Shelves: 

Okay, this goes out to all my book loving friends. Why the hell did you let me wait so long to read this? I’m seriously kicking myself in the ass for letting it sit on TBR pile for so long.

Docile is, in a word, AMAZING.

Alongside Stealing Thunder and Of Honey and Wildfires, it’s one of my top 3 favorite reads of the year (so-far).

This is a book that has a lot to say about politics, economics, society, family, and kink. It’s a story about slavery, consent, and the blurry, ever-moving line between the two. It’s erotic, intense, emotional, and thought-provoking in ways I didn’t expect. There’s a blurb from Jenn Lyons that says “This is what Fifty Shades of Grey could have been, if only it had been more brutally honest with itself,” and I can’t think of any better way to sum up a book that says so much, so perfectly.

What makes this so fascinating is that there’s no black-and-white to it, no simple villain-and-victim. K.M. Szpara suggests a chilling yet plausible future of inescapable debt, institutionalized slavery, and a drug called Dociline. On the one hand, Dociline allows the indebted to escape awareness of their suffering and humiliation, turning them into happy, mindless drones for the duration of their slavery. On the other hand, it also empowers the rich to treat their slaves as disposable toys, absolving them of their guilt by removing all semblance humanity.

Having seen what Dociline did to his mother, Elisha declines the drug in entering his own service to Alex – and it is his experience as a fully aware slave, sexually and emotionally subservient to his owner, undergoing something akin to Stockholm syndrome, that makes this so compelling. It’s tempting to read the first half of the book as a simple power exchange fantasy, an erotic rags-to-riches romance, especially with the scenes of Docile orgies and pony-races, but everything pivots on the question of consent. Exploring that consent and what its understanding means for both Alex and Elisha is what drives the second half, and shifting into the realm of political and philosophical courtroom drama changes the entire reading experience.

There is even a small element of gender fluidity in the second half that speaks volumes about expectations, assumptions, and choices.

As someone who enjoys the power exchange, who is intimately familiar with the mindset of a submissive, Docile hit home for me in ways it may not for other readers. I understood Elisha’s plight, sympathized with his struggles, and identified with his confusion. Initially, I chafed against the idea that he wasn’t in his right mind, that he couldn’t consent to being in love, but it’s a testament to Szpara’s writing that I was able to come around and understand what an emotional quagmire his slavery created. I went from hoping everything would be resolved in a last-minute romantic twist to dreading that Szpara would take that easy way out, but the ending was . . . well, as perfect as everything else about this. I’m still thinking about it, still feeling it, and I imagine I will be for a long while to come.

Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀

My sincere thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

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

Add yours

  1. Glad you enjoyed this, Bob. I think this may have been the wrong book for me, but it was a compelling read and I couldn’t put it down.

    Like

    1. I was unsure going in because I had your review in the back of my head and we’re usually on the same page but I think it was just the right book at the right time for me, coming on the heels of a much anticipated disappointment (but more on that tomorrow).

      Like

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