Docile is a science fiction parable about love and sex, wealth and debt, abuse and power, a challenging tour de force that at turns seduces and startles.
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.
Thank you very much to Pan Macmillan Australia for providing me with an advance reading copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
TW: sexual slavery, slavery, sexual assault, discussion of rape, coercion/forced sex, dubious consent, BDSM, forced drugging, attempted suicide, suicidal thoughts, violence.
DOCILE IS SET FOR PUBLICATION 3 OF MARCH
There is no consent under capitalism.
Docile is an unforgettable dystopian novel that will easily be among 2020’s best book releases. This is such an uncomfortable read but it is impossible to put the novel down. K.M. Szpara has created a memorable and haunting masterpiece that will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading.
In Docile, debt has become inherited, passed down to your descendants, and a majority of the population is in serious financial trouble, owning the government and banks millions of dollars. There are only two ways to pay off such a debt: work your entire life with the futile hope of paying off a tiny amount of your debt, or become a Docile. A Docile, through the Office of Debt Resolution, sells themselves to the highest bidder, usually as a sexual companion to the trillionaires. But to ensure they experience no lasting trauma from their days of barely consensual sex work, they have the option to take Dociline, a drug that leaves the Dociles complacent and ensures they will not remember anything that happens to them during the years they are under contract.
Elisha Wilder decides the only way to save his family from their three million dollar debt is to become a Docile. As his mother was a Docile and is still feeling the insidious affects of Dociline years after she stopped taking it, Elisha vows to never take the drug — one of the seven human rights afforded to him once he becomes a Docile — even if that means he will be mentally aware of anything his legal “owner” demands of him. Enter Alex Bishop, trillionaire and heir to the powerful Bishop family who created, and continue to develop in different formulas, Dociline. Alex buys out Elisha’s contract in an attempt to prove to his family and the Board of his company that he has what it takes to be CEO. But then Elisha refuses Dociline …
After today, I will have seven rights.
Elisha is easily one of the strongest, most resilient characters I have ever read and I think its safe to say readers will adore him. As he refuses Dociline, Alex makes it his mission to make Elisha into the perfect Docile without it, manipulating Elisha through sex and love. While you’re reading these scenes, you can’t help but ship Elisha and Alex together as they both come to love one another, and it’s not until Elisha starts to wake up from his manipulation that you’re slapped back into reality and realise that Elisha was not a consenting party. Like Elisha, the reader is swept into a belief and desire of romance and must face the cold hard truth that all that love and adoration was coercion and, even, rape. It’s a horrifying feeling to realise that you shipped a victim with his abuser, but my god, Szpara is an incredible writer to pull that off.
I’ve probably made Alex out to be the world’s worst villain but the truth is, he’s not. He too is swept up into an intense game of BDSM that extends far beyond the bedroom and has no seeming end in sight. Alex forces Elisha and himself into roles of master and slave, and after a terrifying awakening, realises the magnitude of his affect Elisha and the power imbalance in what he thought was a relationship, which highlights the novel’s core message: is there such a thing as consent in a capitalistic society? The answer? No.
In Docile, Szpara masterfully dismantles wildly abusive power structures, while discussing issues surrounding consent and the dangers of capitalism. He handles these difficult topics with nuance and sensitivity, and proves that he is an author that’s going places. At every turn, Szpara forces the reader to ask ourselves uncomfortable questions: does consent exist when someone willingly gives up their rights? What does consent look like in a world run by, not billionaires, but trillionaires? What would life look like if debt were inherited and passed on to our children? What will a wildly abusive capitalistic society, that we are already living in in 2020, look like in the very near future? Because, let’s be honest, Elisha’s dystopian world isn’t very far removed from our own.
You’re going to do just fine without me, Elisha Wilder. You’re going to be amazing.
Although this book is quite difficult to read, a good portion of the novel is focused on healing (which gives the reader a much-needed break). After living and breathing Alex’s whims and desires for so long, it takes Elisha a good while to regain his sense of self, establish boundaries, and begin to put himself first again. His journey of self-discovery was inspiring to read and I think a lot of people will feel seen by Elisha’s experiences. But Elisha isn’t the only one who experiences a complete life-changing view of the world: Alex does too. Alex’s examination of privilege and abuse of power is devastating to read, but so important too. Alex’s journey from an apathetic, dominant trillionaire to a confused, heartbroken man who is forced to question things in his life that he’s always taken for granted is hauntingly real. Don’t be worried that the book is trying to cast Alex as a misunderstood hero: Szpara ensures that Alex understands the consequences of his actions.
And if you think the first half of the book was heartbreaking, then just wait until you read the last half. I do not exaggerate when I say I was in tears for almost the entirety of the final third of the book, as the courtroom drama comes to a head. It’s a powerful culmination to an incredibly compelling book and it will blow you away.
Docile is by far one of the best books I’ve ever read that examines consent and power structures in ways I’ve never seen before. This book is intense, this book is horribly confronting, and this book is achingly beautiful. If you can handle such content, I highly recommend Docile. Trust me when I say it is unlike anything you’ve ever read before.