Author: K.M. Szpara
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre(s): Speculative Fiction
Subject(s): Consent, BDSM, LGBTQ+ (main and secondary)
Release Date: March 3rd, 2020
Page Count: 464 (hardback)
To be a Docile is to be kept, body and soul, for the uses of the owner of your contract. To be a Docile is to forget, to disappear, to hide inside your body from the horrors of your service. To be a Docile is to sell yourself to pay your parents’ debts and buy your childrens’ future.
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.
I tried writing a long review for this. I really did. On my first attempt I stared at the screen for a few hours and wrote a poem about it instead. On my second attempt I wrote a rambly essay that got way too personal and I figured I should just save that for therapy.
This is a book I feel deserves a long review, but well–sometimes my brain says, “I don’t think so.” And who knows? Maybe it’s right.
My favourite formula for storytelling is “Present it big, but tell it small.” As in, I love stories that offer a grand concept, but instead of focusing on the big pieces, it goes through the intimate details–the minutiae of everyday life. That’s one of the main reasons why I love this book so much. Because Docile commentates on a broken system that feels too-adjacent to our own–a Black Mirror-ish look at class divides and capitalism–but it does it through a story about healing and self-discovery, and a relationship that was built terribly wrong and brittle but nonetheless became real.
The other reason is Elisha.
It’s funny, because I don’t really know who Elisha as a person. He’s not as present or as bold as Alex is on the page. Which is, to be fair, kind of the point, as he spends most of the book getting scrubbed away, and the rest trying to figure out who he is as an individual. But a blank slate is a blank slate, so there’s really no reason for me to be attached to him, or relate to him. Except I am and I do. It’s his journey that I looked at and said, “Oh, this rings a bell.” Not the rape and the mindfuck, thankfully, but the aftermath and the healing process. The pain of being lost and looking over your emotions and feeling like you can’t trust any of them. And the use of bondage and power play to help reclaim his sense of control and autonomy (seeing BDSM in a therapeutic context in fiction makes me a happy otter). This was a case of the journey shaping the character, rather than the character shaping the character. If that makes sense.
I broke for him. And I was proud for him.
“I’m still in here.” I curl my finger against my sternum. “I need help. I need someone to love me and be patient with me.”
The thing with stories about sexual servitude is that there’s a very fine line that you need to toe, otherwise the whole thing devolves into an uncomfortable cousin of torture porn, and the point you’re trying to raise about consent–if that was even a point you set out to make–becomes moot (Bliss by Lisa Henry and Heidi Belleau is one example).
Docile toes that line decked out in Wes Anderson pastels and vintage floral prints.
It heats things up, but never condones. It presents you with kindness and care and love, and then asks how much they’re worth when, at the end of the day, your body isn’t yours and your mouth is sewn and there is never an option to say “No.”
Review copy provided by the publisher for an honest review
Very intriguing! I really like your review, passionate and personal and still very much focused on the book. Looks like this one stayed with you for a long time, Kathy!
Oh thank you, Ola!! Sometimes I write a review and I worry that I’m being too personal, and other times that I’m not personal *enough* (and then the two voices fight for a bit lol) so that means a lot! 😊
Kathy, I’m so glad you loved this book. (You’d also probably love Kellan if you ever met him, he’s fantastic and a joy to be around.) I can’t wait to get to this one myself, I’ll be reading it in April!
I’m getting to this late, sorry Lisa!! The quarantine has completely messed up my schedule and I’m trying to adjust. Haha I’ve been bugging Kellan in his DMs about random stuff and he is WONDERFUL. Would love to actually meet him in person one day!! I’ll just nervously babble and trip over chairs. 😛
Hope you’re doing okay!! Hugs and kisses! <3
No need for apologies I completely understand! We’re currently throwing a virtual convention on r/fantasy because of the pandemic and also starting a podcast which I spent all last week editing so things have been crazy hectic even though I’m working from home–stuff has been nuts!
Hope you’re doing well! I’m sure if you get the chance to meet Kellan you’ll be fine he’s super down to earth. 🙂
Take care of yourself! ❤❤
This sounds really good tbh. I think I’ve already seen it somewhere before (sorry, can’t recall exactly where) and the premise did intrigue me. I shall add this to my wishlist.
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This was an amazing review! I don’t know if I would read the book, because it is not my cup of tea, to be honest, but I won’t discharge it completely because I read a couple of reviews (and yours is one of them) that make me think that this is a book that deserves to be read nonetheless!
Aw thank you!! And yeah, for sure, it’s definitely not for everyone. I think it might appeal to queer romance readers more than typical sff readers, but I’ve been happily surprised at the positive reception from bloggers who I KNOW don’t normally read these types of books. So you might want to try it someday! 😁