Jenia's Reviews > Docile

Docile by K.M. Szpara
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did not like it

I received an ARC of this book from the publishing company Tor.com in exchange for a fair and honest review. Content warning: rape (also from the POV of the rapist), dubious consent, sexual harassment, attempted suicide.

Docile is set in near-ish-future Maryland, at a time when people who’ve amassed debt can erase it by selling themselves into (usually temporary) slavery. Most slaves take “Dociline”, a type of drug that makes a person highly obedient and keeps them from forming long-term memories. This way, they don’t have to remember what happened to them. For Elisha Wilder, however, Dociline isn’t an option. His mom had taken it while serving her ten-year sentence, and she never fully recovered; he’s terrified of losing himself as she did. Elisha is bought by Alex, whose family invented Dociline. When Elisha refuses to take the drug, the shocked Alex is determined to turn Elisha into the perfect slave without it.

Okay. Right. The tagline for this book is, There is no consent under capitalism. I think that gave me pretty incorrect assumptions about what it would be, and I guess that’s on me. In short, this book is standard slavefic.

For those of you not in the fanfic community, slavefic is… exactly what it says. A story that focuses on how one character is enslaved to another. Such stories generally come in two broad varieties: a (hot) master breaking in a new slave, or a slave recovering from past abuse (usually with the help of a (hot) new master who’s actually against slavery). Because slavefic is a proper subgenre, like e.g. farmboy fantasy, it comes with its own tropes. The master-who’s-never-wanted-a-slave suddenly needs to acquire one for vague “societal pressure” reasons! Crazy rich people parties where the slave is rented out to the master’s friends! (Alternatively, the master may growl they’re mine! and refuse to rent them out.) The master’s jealous ex who hates how obsessed the master is with their new slave! The recovering ex-slave gets to choose their own clothes for the first time and is overwhelmed by the experience! Bucketfuls of angst about whether the master-slave relationship can truly be called love! Buttplugs!

And Docile is, well… a very by-the-numbers slavefic. Because it’s a super niche subgenre, I’m struggling with how to word my critique for a broader audience. If you’ve never encountered slavefic before, then the broad question the book asks is quite compelling: is love possible when there is monetary pressure involved? If you do know the genre, then the book’s blandness makes it hard to take that question seriously. I’m just saying, I think it’s possible to examine the issue of consent without Alex taking Elisha’s virginity a couple hours after they meet and then sticking a buttplug up his butt to hold the semen in him for the night. But you can’t write slavefic without it, jazz hands.

(Side-note: I know you think I’m some world-weary pervert, but Alex “locks” the buttplug with a fingerprint lock and I was so confused by how that mechanism would work that I ended up questioning two friend groups about it. Which led to some fierce buttplug debate. With diagrams.)

Once I readjusted my expectations to slavefic, I also readjusted what I wanted out of the book. The goal of slavefic is, of course, Feels-with-a-capital-F. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any of the characters likable. I did feel bad for Elisha, but he spends most of the book as a severely traumatised slave in love with his abusive master; the feeling was more pity than sympathy. I was sincerely hoping that super-privileged, super-naïve, self-pitying Alex would get murdered in a slave revolt by chapter 7. I actually quite enjoy asshole love interests, like Laurent in Captive Prince or Cardan in Cruel Prince, but I do need them to be entertainingly awful. For me, Alex was not evil enough to like for his evilness, but took way too long to learn the lesson that Poor People Are Human Too to like for any other reason.

The other characters don’t get that much focus. Special shout-out, however, goes to Elisha’s dad, who bullies him for having learned fancy-pants big-city piano playing skills while being a sex slave to save his whole family from debt. Second special shout-out goes to the secret anti-slavery group who continuously ignore and undermine whatever little bit of agency Elisha has left as a slave. I keep stumbling on the trope of the out-of-touch activist who seems to bring as much harm to the people they want to help as their active oppressors. While criticising activists is valid, I guess I wish it was explored with more nuance. It often feels like a simple way to add “moral ambiguity” to a situation that’s pretty fucking black-and-white (i.e. slavery), and I wish the moral ambiguity could be added from an angle that didn’t involve throwing activists under the bus wholesale. (To be clear, ambiguity as in e.g. violent resistance vs peaceful protests, not ambiguity in regard to slavery itself.)

I think Docile would have worked better for me if the world was fleshed out more. People inherit their family’s debt and if they don’t pay up by a certain point they get thrown in “debtor’s prison”. (Not sure which point specifically: Elisha’s family is already three million in debt when he sells himself, but some guy who “only” has 200k college debt is also selling himself.) I think the point of the debtor’s prison is to make it clear that Elisha is becoming a slave “by choice”. But I never quite got what choice B is — what horrible tortures are happening in prison that make sex slavery preferable. Also, in general I struggle to imagine that it makes much economic sense to have a significant portion of the population be brainwashed slaves in a futuristic, post-industrial, presumably mostly-automated society. I suppose that means The Cruelty Is The Point, but that just didn't come across to me while reading.

I had other questions too. What does the rest of the world think about the US (or, well, specifically Maryland) bringing back slavery, this time with brainwashing drugs? What’re the wider ramifications within the US, seeing as how it’s a country that historically had institutionalised race-based slavery? (As I'm a white Ukrainian, I don’t think I’m the right person to pick this topic apart. But please check out this review that does discuss the book in regard to race, as well as this piece that discusses how reactions to Docile mostly avoid grappling with it in relation to the history of race and slavery in the US.) In a society that seems really great in terms of LGBTQ+ rights, I didn’t quite get why there’s societal pressure for Alex to be partnered with either a boyfriend or slave; what about, like, asexual people? Finally, the 200k college debt guy went to uni for philosophy — how has academia not collapsed yet?! (I realise Americans nowadays also go into severe debt for uni, but at the moment the answer to, “What’s the worst that can happen if I follow my dreams instead of studying something ‘practical’?” isn’t “Spend 10-odd years as a drugged-to-the-gills sex slave”.)

One last note I want to emphasise again is that there is a lot of explicit non-consensual and “dubiously consensual” sex in this book. A fair amount is kink-based (some of the kink-based play is consensual, with safewords). If you’re not comfortable with that for whatever reason, definitely stay away. This is pretty typical for slavefic, but one aspect in particular really bothered me. Spoilers: (view spoiler)

Anyway, in short. If you thought the book was gonna be some in-depth critique of capitalism where commies pop out from behind the bushes and yell, “Ahaaa, but isn’t all work slavery because of the implicit threat of starvation otherwise, vive la Universal Basic Income!”, Docile is not for you. If you’ve read more than, say, three slavefics before and get the basic idea, Docile might or might not be for you. But if you’re curious about slavefic and aren’t sure how to navigate AO3, maybe pick up Docile? I guess?
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
July 13, 2019 – Shelved
July 13, 2019 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-50 of 54 (54 new)


Para (wanderer) That's a YIKES from me.


Jenia Yeah um well now you know 😅😅😅


message 3: by Krista (new)

Krista D. Well. That's probably not for me. lol


Jenia Haha yeahhh uh not for me either 😅


message 5: by Ron (new)

Ron 😨...
..
.
😅


Jenia Ron wrote: "😨...
..
.
😅"


You know, I think the oddest part of the book for me (which I should put in the review lol) is that the guy with 200k college debt who's selling himself majored in philosophy. And even admits it's not a major that leads to a well-paying job. I know people in the US don't always go for the best-paying major despite college debt nowadays, but at the moment "what's the worst that can happen if I follow my dreams" isn't, like, sex slavery. I'm genuinely shocked there's apparently enough people still willing to risk studying things that don't 100% lead to steady employment that academia hasn't collapsed entirely.


message 7: by Ron (new)

Ron Hmm. It could be that the author never intended this to be a deep examination of the socioeconomic issues in their world. 🤔

Or it could be that the author exhausted their world building efforts on fingerprint-locked butt plugs. 🤣


message 8: by Eli (last edited Jul 30, 2019 01:49AM) (new)

Eli I feel like you're the only reviewer out there who actually knows about slavefics and isn't anticipating this release just because "gay-books-hype" and "The-I-read-50-shades-and-now-love -BSDM" trend. They're all in for one hell of a surprise.


Jenia Eli wrote: "I feel like you're the only reviewer out there who actually knows about slavefics and isn't anticipating this release just because "gay-books-hyoe" and "The-I-read-50-shades-and-now-love -BSDM" tre..."

Lol yeah, I'm curious to see how "the general public" will react to the actual content. It probably reads completely differently for people who've never heard of slavefic before. (I don't know if it'd read better or worse for them, but definitely different.)


Nomadic Reader (Baba Yaga) Wow...thank you for your review. I just took this book off my TBR with zero regrets 😨


message 11: by Jenia (new) - rated it 1 star

Jenia Nomadic Reader (Baba Yaga) wrote: "Wow...thank you for your review. I just took this book off my TBR with zero regrets 😨"

Yeah uh, may be worth looking at the reviews of people who liked it I guess, but personally I can't recommend it.


message 12: by Martina (new)

Martina DF the amount of times i said YIKES out loud…


message 13: by Jenia (new) - rated it 1 star

Jenia Martina wrote: "the amount of times i said YIKES out loud…"

Yeah idk, everybody else with an ARC seems to love it so "maybe it's just me"... But I don't think I summarised certain book events unfairly and I left out quite a bit because the review was getting waaay too long...


message 14: by Martina (new)

Martina DF yeah i mean, it sounds pretty bad. as you said, this type of genre i can only enjoy in specific cases. i did enjoy captive prince mostly but this seems a bit much. and i also don’t understand how that buttplug things works and neither do my friends so there’s that i guess… i’m so confused


message 15: by Jenia (new) - rated it 1 star

Jenia Martina wrote: "yeah i mean, it sounds pretty bad. as you said, this type of genre i can only enjoy in specific cases. i did enjoy captive prince mostly but this seems a bit much. and i also don’t understand how t..."

LOL ok so one of my friends googled it and it's apparently a thing irl: it's a special plug that can open further via a mechanism once inserted, and then you can lock the mechanism so you can't close it to pull it out safely. (Not to kinkshame but um it's made of steel and looks like a medieval torture device.) This.. isn't how it's described in the book at all iirc, but I guess buttplug technology in the future is better than ours? Or maybe it was all some crazy mindgame and actually it was just a normal buttplug?

....I've spent WAY too much time thinking about this


message 16: by Martina (new)

Martina DF lsdoufsljhdfuj THIS IS INSANE WHO CAME UP WITH THIS AND WHY IM SO. im scared to google……………… i really can’t compute


message 17: by wishforagiraffe (new)

wishforagiraffe I don't understand how this only just now showed up in my feed and I missed it earlier.

Two comments - I liked Captive Prince but this still seems like whoa, and yeah based on the blurb I'd expect more introspection about capitalism, etc. I'll probably pick it up on ebook sale because I'm curious, but definitely no first day release here.


message 18: by Jenia (new) - rated it 1 star

Jenia wishforagiraffe wrote: "I don't understand how this only just now showed up in my feed and I missed it earlier.

Two comments - I liked Captive Prince but this still seems like whoa, and yeah based on the blurb I'd expec..."


I rewrote a couple sentences yesterday, and I thought I'd unchecked the "add to update feed" box buuut I guess it didn't work haha.

Anyway, yeah, tbf most of the other reviews are really positive so far, so maybe I'm just way more picky with my (published) slavefic than the norm, idk. I'm definitely curious to hear your reaction if you do pick it up!


Simeon Tsanev It seems that the key issue you had was not liking the characters. I thoroughly loved them and found them both compelling and complex. I’m unfamiliar with slavefic, so maybe that’s a norm there. But approaching the book as a science fiction fan, I absolutely loved it.


message 20: by Jenia (new) - rated it 1 star

Jenia Simeon wrote: "It seems that the key issue you had was not liking the characters. I thoroughly loved them and found them both compelling and complex. I’m unfamiliar with slavefic, so maybe that’s a norm there. Bu..."

For better or for worse, the book reads very differently if this is your first encounter with slavefic or your 100th. My main problem was that it was genuinely very bland to me, both in terms of the characters + their development and in terms of the plot points. I think it's like when, say, a modern fantasy book gets noticed by the mainstream and everyone gushes about how there's no elves in it, omg how innovative!!, while actual fantasy fans need way more to be impressed. Neither reaction is incorrect but I don't think it's possible for the two sides to fully see eye-to-eye haha

If you liked Docile, you might be interested in trying the Captive Prince trilogy by C.S. Pascat.


message 21: by Eve (new)

Eve I think this is something I'll never bother with, holy...


message 22: by Jenia (new) - rated it 1 star

Jenia Z471 wrote: "I think this is something I'll never bother with, holy..."

Lol yeah I don't think you'd like it :')


message 23: by Lola (new)

Lola Tarantula Thank you for taking this bullet on my behalf.


fridge_brilliance I feel deeply gratified to have found this review where I hit a miserable 30% of this book and had to pause, wandering about this endless misery (and buttplug mystery. On that note, thank you for sparing me the need to google it XD)


message 25: by Jenia (new) - rated it 1 star

Jenia fridge_brilliance wrote: "I feel deeply gratified to have found this review where I hit a miserable 30% of this book and had to pause, wandering about this endless misery (and buttplug mystery. On that note, thank you for s..."

Okay, after reading a bunch of other reviews and seeing nobody else mention the locking buttplug, I actually went back to the book to see if I'd misread something. :V I guess the other people critiquing it just have smarter things to say while I was still stuck on "but what does it lock on to, are there like..... hooks????"


message 26: by Jenia (new) - rated it 1 star

Jenia Lola wrote: "Thank you for taking this bullet on my behalf."

Haha... glad to help!


message 27: by Thesincouch (new) - added it

Thesincouch I cannot believe I didn't realise this was slavefic! You're completely right and I did expect a deeper critique than I got so you're also extremely on point. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and what a great review!


Kate (Feathered Turtle Press) oh god. slavefic. *that's* what it is. it kept giving me certain vibes but I couldn't quite place them.


message 29: by rafaela (new)

rafaela im not reading this book but u mentioned capri 🥺 love that coz im a simple girl i see captive prince i like


message 30: by C. (new) - rated it 1 star

C. I am glad that after scrolling through quite a number of reviews, I finally found one that mentions philosophy major guy. Like, what the f...? 🤣
Excellent review, btw, I agree wholeheartedly!


message 31: by Simone (new)

Simone This is an excellent review and helped me so much in regards to whether to read or not read it! I thought it might be just a slave fic but since everyone is absolutely raving about it I thought there MUST be more to it. Guess not. Thanks a bunch!


Konstanze Huh, thanks for this review! I’m halfway in, didn’t get the societal criticism I expected and actually wondered if there’s a genre-thing I’m missing (like even - is this a genre? Now I know).

I can’t like either character, I don’t think Alex could ever redeem himself, I believe they have to burn that entire society down. And yet I want a happy end, which means I’ve already shut certain parts of my brain off while reading.


message 33: by Edson (new) - rated it 1 star

Edson Castilho Great review. I just finished this book and endured all the way through hoping for something about the evils of capitalism. Definitely not in this book. I recommend a pass.


message 34: by Tina (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tina I just finished this book and I don’t know how I’ll review it.... you pointed out the issues with it perfectly. Great review!!


message 35: by Chloe (new) - rated it 1 star

Chloe thank you! i keep seeing glowing reviews about how this was such a takedown of capitalism... a trillionaire sex slave owner is literally a /sympathetic/ character. there was no critique to be found. you’re exactly right that this is just slavefic.


Heather Coming from someone who has never read anything in this niche before who actually really enjoyed this one- it sounds like you might be able to recommend something better that I might enjoy if I liked this?


message 37: by Jenia (new) - rated it 1 star

Jenia Heather wrote: "Coming from someone who has never read anything in this niche before who actually really enjoyed this one- it sounds like you might be able to recommend something better that I might enjoy if I lik..."

Captive Prince by CS Pascat is probably the "big" one. But I'm not joking about AO3 haha. That's the fanfic site www.archiveofourown.org - search for the tag "slavefic". Of course there's good and bad stuff on it, but if you sort by most kudos (i.e. likes) or most bookmarks I'm sure you'll find something you enjoy :) You can filter it for original works only if you're not into fanfic.


message 38: by Steph (new) - added it

Steph Sorensen Spot on.


Megan You put it perfectly!


message 40: by Anna (new)

Anna Thank you for this!!! I got 4% in, was like, hmm this feels like slavefic, and found this. Nothing against slavefic but don't advertise it w that good good social commentary!


Sabin Wow, Jenia, thanks for bringing me out of the hole with this review. I was desperately looking for nuances that might have flown past me when I wanted to review the book a few days ago.

Great review, very enlightening and great arguments.


message 42: by blaine (new)

blaine This is one of the best reviews I’ve ever seen on GR! I have no interest in the book but you sure did make it entertaining 😂


message 43: by Lori S. (new)

Lori S. Thank you for confirming my thoughts on this book. The blurb alone sounded like a lot of freebie fics I've read.


Judah_Slater Super lacking plot, no world building, no research on slavefic and didn’t cleverly incorporate it into capitalism. Bad book, actually.


Toramona Excellent review. I had the same if not more criticisms with this book. It’s funny since I was reading it and thinking there are better versions of this idea on AO3 too.


message 46: by Ivy (new)

Ivy This review saved me a whole lot of wasted time and made me chuckle. Thanks!


message 47: by Jem (new)

Jem ah, bless you - I couldn't put my finger on it, but knowing my way around the world of 'fic tropes, I made it like 20 pages in and thought "yikes, does this get any better?" and clearly the answer is a resounding 'no.' oy vey.


message 48: by Emily (new) - added it

Emily Why Tor thought this should be published as a $28 hardcover is beyond me. It’s a shame because it’s a pretty high-quality example of what it actually is and could have raked in those erom dollars.


message 49: by Jenvile (new)

Jenvile Fantastic review, hun! I was a few chapters in when I realised this one was just not for me, and I’m very open with slavefics/niche sub genres in the MM dark romance / romance realm. I think it was the characters, the way it was written as well as the general world building and setting. Though, I love this cover - just wish what was inside matched it...


L A i N E Y ~back in a bit~ I love this review so much I wish I could like it 10 times more!


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