REVIEW: Docile by KM Szpara

Elisha Wilder’s family has been ruined by debt, handed down to them from previous generations. His mother never recovered from the Dociline she took during her term as a Docile, so when Elisha decides to try and erase the family’s debt himself, he swears he will never take the drug that took his mother from him.

Too bad his contract has been purchased by Alexander Bishop III, whose ultra-rich family is the brains (and money) behind Dociline and the entire Office of Debt Resolution. When Elisha refuses Dociline, Alex refuses to believe that his family’s crowning achievement could have any negative side effects—and is determined to turn Elisha into the perfect Docile without it.

Warnings: Slavery, rape/noncon, dubcon, abuse, suicide, victim blaming

Category: M/M

Docile is a dystopic science fiction drama heavy on political discussion and social critique. It also incorporates a large amount of slavefic tropes as well as exploring hurt/comfort, and is a drama filled waltz through a world where capitalism has been taken to its utmost extremes, and people routinely sell themselves into legal slavery to escape debtor’s prison. While it can be a rather dark and disturbing read at times, it is a journey that gives us food for thought on how we interact with our own privileges and situations in life.

Docile is written in first person, present tense, which is a configuration that I quite honestly have not seen done better than it has been done here. Usually present tense can feel jarring and a little forced, but in Docile it flows naturally and feels organic as the story moves along, and the first person perspectives of both main character’s POVs maintains the sense of unreliable narrator that the book is overall steeped in utilizing. We see the events through very specifically limited viewpoints; either from Alex’s privileged mentalities or through Elisha’s slowly unravelling brainwashed mentalities. Elisha’s experiences are very central to our connection to the story, and the reader has to sort through each narrator’s opinions to find a more truthful picture of reality.

The first half of the book reads like a fetish novel, which is interesting because it isn’t marketed at all like one. The publishers really want the book to be taken seriously as a dystopic social commentary, but it reads like slavefic smut and in fact follows many similar plot points the Demoted series. Now, this isn’t a dig; I am a huge advocate for the fact that a book can be both erotic and steamy and serious literature with a critique of social ills, all at the same time, and that more people should take explicit novels seriously. But it is rare to see a serious publishing company acknowledge this, and books are either marketed one way or the other. While Captive Prince for instance was marketed exclusively as an erotica, it actually has quite a bit less graphic sex in it. This is a smut novel… and it’s a serious novel as well that delves into a lot of social and political commentary.

The emotional engagement in this book is expertly well done. The reader comes to love Elisha and feel so deeply for him, and even to understand Alex to a degree, even if he represents the absolute worst face of rich privilege. Both of these characters shine, and it’s easy to become invested in both of them, even though we do root more for Elisha’s success than Alex’s. Alex is equal parts fun to love and hate, which is good because there’s a lot in him to warrant both. Meanwhile Elisha is so broken down over the course of the story that it is impossible to not want to see him heal and grow. The timeline can move a bit fast however, with Elisha’s rather extreme character arc taking place over a course of six months. And while the book does a lot to call Alex’s actions to task, it fell a little short in how it treated the actions of other character’s reactions to Elisha’s development. I was, if anything, more disturbed by Elisha’s father than by Alex, and wished that the book had given him as much of a come around as Alex got.

This is a fairly well crafted dystopia: In a world where draconian debt laws have destroyed peoples livelihoods, debtors have the option to sell themselves into a form of debt servitude slavery and become “Dociles” for a set amount of time to work off their debt. Dociles are slaves that are expected to act without thought to their own agency or sense of self in a meek and subservient manor… to be, in a world, docile. In order to help Dociles to get through the horrors of their terms, Alex’s family invented Dociline; a drug that makes a person open to commands, happy, complacent, and unable to form memories. A truly chilling world where the rich rule with an iron fist over the poor.

While the first half of the book does explore the themes of the effects of capitalism and the psychological traumas of slavery and brainwashing, the priviledge of the rich and powerful and the ways that the poor are abused and exploited, it’s all a lot more subtle in the first half than the second. The second half of the book gets much more heavy handed in this narrative; instead of letting the reader draw their conclusions there are whole rants delivered by characters spelling out the concepts that the author is conveying. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and I certainly don’t disagree with anything the author is getting at in this book, but it can at times feel a little like the characters have picked up a PSA script. Capitalism is bad, check your privilege, consent is required for sex, ect. Of course I will happily take the preachy-ness of Docile over the atrocious ending given in Demoted, for what it is worth.

While this is not marketed as an erotic novel, it does contain quite a bit of graphic sex scenes. And the sex is steamy. It’s incredibly well written, very creative, and it has a lot of it. The carnality of the encounters, and the emotional experiences within them, are all beautifully woven and described from the way Alex slowly coaxes Elisha through his first sexual encounters to some of the rougher scenes later on in the book. I adored it, it was exciting and full of the kind of angst and drama that makes a novel like this truly a page turner. There was so much tension laced into their relationship, so much power differentials and D/s dynamics. Even down to cruel punishments and brainwashing schemes, this books runs a gamut through BDSM content even into some more healthy, healing depictions later on. And it does every single scene with such soft emotionality and good dramatic flair that the whole book feels like a dream. Sometimes a warm, cozy dream, and sometimes a nightmare, but that’s part of the fun of the emotional roller coaster.

All in all I very much enjoyed Docile. It’s only real flaw is in perhaps getting a bit too blatant with its messages, but that’s a rather small drawback in an otherwise wonderfully woven story. I very much recommend this book if you’re looking for a good slavefic that doesn’t romanticize it’s subject matter, you won’t be disappointed.

Have you read Docile? Let me know what YOU thought by leaving me a comment!

One thought on “REVIEW: Docile by KM Szpara

  1. I liked Docile, but the worldbuilding felt racist in the sense that it dodged around race when the premise, location, and relating history feel so inherently racially charged. Still enjoyed it, though!


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