ARC Review: Docile by K. M. Szpara

Docile

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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 children’s 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.

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CW: dubcon/noncon, rape (sometimes written in the first person POV of the rapist), depression, suicide ideation and attempt, torture and punishments

Docile has been on my highly anticipated list of 2020 since the first time I saw its tag line “There’s no consent under capitalism”. And all my excitement quadrupled when I got a chance to attend a panel by the author and also have some great interaction with him, during which he gave me a personalized ARC copy. This is my first ever physical ARC and one I know I’ll cherish for a long long time. And when I finally decided to pick it up, i didn’t even wanna put it down to go to sleep because it was such an engaging experience.

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To be honest, I’m someone who prefers simple straightforward writing style, something I can follow easily and read quickly without having to parse the metaphorical meanings behind it all. And this book was exactly that. It was just so easy to read and I became so engrossed in it that I didn’t even realize that the time was way past midnight. Obviously it helped that the story itself was extremely compelling, making me eager to know what was gonna happen next despite the fact that there were so many uncomfortable scenes to get through. This is also probably the first book I’ve read which takes place entirely in Maryland (where I live), so I just loved that fact. I also remember from the panel discussion I attended that the author is very insistent about creating queer normative worlds and it was lovely to see a gamut of sexualities as well as some great representation of polyamory.

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It is surely the book’s marketing fault, but I was definitely expecting a much more realized world that what we actually got. This near future dystopia where everyday people literally have to sell themselves because they are being crushed by their enormous debt, while the 0.1% are trillionaires who exploit this debt system felt too close for comfort and was downright terrifying to contemplate. But we never really get a glimpse into how other states of the US or the rest of the world is dealing with the same issues. It almost felt like a local issue which in reality it is not. There were some necessary conversations about privilege and consent and power dynamics, but I think I was expecting so much more of such commentary. I don’t wanna dismiss it as being superficial about the issues but it definitely could have gone a bit more in-depth.

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My heart goes out for Elisha. He decides to take on the huge debt of his family so that they may have a secure future, and in the process loses his agency and voice completely. Watching him transform from a slightly angry and defiant young man to a brainwashed version of himself who exists just to please Alex was heartbreaking to read. Equally painful was him trying to survive and unlearn and recover. To tell the truth, his journey of trying to find himself again after all the trauma he has been through was some of the most difficult part to read through but I only admired him more for it, and I think the author did a brilliant job with his characterization. In the author’s own words, he really is a cinnamon roll of steel.

Alex on the other hand is a product of extreme privilege, who believes in the system created by his family and other wealthy people like them. He really thinks he is doing good and helping Elisha by taking him on as a Docile, and it’s frankly this utter cluelessness of his that made me hate him a little less. The first half of the book, especially from his POV was extremely tough to read a lot of the times, but the author writes his character in such a compelling manner that even when you hate him, you wanna know what is going to happen to him next, and you keep some hope that maybe he will change.

It’ll be disingenuous to call their relationship a romance because there is a massive power differential between them, with Alex hanging Elisha’s family’s entire financial future as a sword on his neck. It’s also undeniable that there’s a connection between them, but is it really love is a question that lingers in the back of our head all the time. The author does a great job examining and deconstructing their dynamic in the latter half of the book, and I really found it very interesting to read.

There are a lot of other side characters who play important roles and I appreciate the author for giving all of them such memorable and distinct personalities. I both hated and liked Dutch for his actions, but also understood some of his choices. His and Jess’s friendship with Alex was actually quite fascinating to read about. Mariah on the other hand infuriated me, as well as Alex’s super douchey father. On the other hand, I kinda understood the pain of Elisha’s dad but still hated him for the way he mistreated Elisha. Dylan brought some fun banter to the proceedings even though it was few and far between, and her mom Nora was such a supportive mother figure. There were quite a few others as well but I don’t wanna go on and on.

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To conclude, I feel uncomfortable using the word enjoy for this book because of its themes but it was completely unputdownable. The author writes an engaging story with well written characters and I can’t wait to read more of his work. But I genuinely can’t say who will enjoy this book. The only thematic comparison I can make is to the first book in the Captive Prince trilogy, so if you liked reading that book, you might like this one too. And if you do decide to pick it up, I think it’s better going in knowing about the content warnings. It does make you think, especially about privilege and consent and I really appreciate the author for the way he ended the book. It’s a terrifying dystopia but maybe there’s still hope.

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PS: Thank you so much to the author for providing me with this advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.

6 thoughts on “ARC Review: Docile by K. M. Szpara

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  1. Wonderful review! I both can’t wait and dread reading this book. I have the eARC for some time but I still haven’t got to it and keep putting it off (and probably will still do that for some time because this whole pandemia thing is not doing the best for my mental health already and such topics wouldn’t be the greatest idea to get into but I digress…)
    I love books tackling capitalism and classism though and they are important as well as books on the rape culture so one day, one day!!

    Like

    1. Ya… definitely take care of yourself and prepare before you read this. It’s very tough to read. I stopped once and then picked back up again after a few weeks because I wasn’t ready.
      I almost would’ve abandoned it but the author was amazing when I spoke to him at a book festival and gave me the ARC, so I wanted to give it a chance. And he is also the only local Maryland author I know, so I wanted to support him 😊😊

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Loved your thoughts! I really enjoy it, but this has definitely been a divisive one. Like you, I thought the author did a great job of calling out how toxic the relationship is and the power imbalance. I also could not put it down, I read it in like 3 days.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve seen all the criticisms and I agree with them as well. But I can’t deny that I couldn’t put it down because the writing was so compelling…. Thank you for reading my review !!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!!! It’s not a book I can enthusiastically recommend, so you may want to check few more reviews before you read it. It does have a lot of valid criticisms too 😊😊

      Liked by 1 person

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