For the holiday season, the bookstore I work at is making a display of all the employees’ favorite books of 2020. Each of us had to pick 5 favorite to put on there. My own list was pretty extensive, so choices had to be made. In the process of deciding what to choose, I left out sequels such as Harrow the Ninth, or massive cultural successes that obviously didn’t need my help to sell, such as Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste.
With that in mind, I am very happy with the end result. It unintentionally ends up promoting small press, debut authors, and queer identities, and this feels like the little bit that I can do to help this year suck a tiny bit less.
To clarify, this is not a ranked list. I love each of those five titles for different reasons, and I am not looking to pit them against one another. Feel free to click on each title to read my review.
I first heard of Linden A. Lewis’ The First Sister when a coworker at the bookstore showed me the freshly arrived hardcover, and said “You’re the science fiction guy, tell me what this is”. To my shame, I hadn’t even heard of the book, and went on to correct the lapse. I ended up listening to the audio version, and I am incredibly glad I did. But more on that later.
In this stellar (teehee) debut, the future Solar System is torn between two factions. The Gaeans are the desperate Union that came out of a century-long war between Earth and Mars. Rich in population, but poor in resources and technology, they are driven by the dual powers of the secular Warlord and the religious Mother. On the other side are the Icarii — the people of Mercury and Venus. Descendants of scientific research missions, they have built a militaristic society based on reason and discipline. Using the unique element Hermium, found on Mercury, the Icarii have the technological advantage to counter the Gaeans’ superior numbers.
Three people on opposite sides of this conflict find themselves instrumental to its culmination.
The First Sister has no name. Sold to the Sisterhood as a child, she is a priestess and a courtesan. Her role is to offer peace to Gaean soldiers by listening to their confessions, and giving them her body. Her superiors have taken her voice, so she would not be able to betray their secrets. When the captain of the space ship she serves on abandons her, she finds herself mired in Sisterhood politics. Tasked to break all the sacred rules of her order, she is to spy on the new captain. One she finds herself inexplicably drawn to instead.
Lito sol Lucius is a “Rapier” of the Icarii — an elite duelist warrior trained to fight in a pair. A year ago he was split from his “Dagger” Hiro after the loss of the planetoid Ceres to the Gaeans. He is pulled out of his forced retirement, and tasked with an impossible mission. He must find Hiro — now a covert agent on Ceres — and kill them for supposedly turning to the enemy side.
The First Sister boasts lush worldbuilding and truly spectacular characterization, especially for a debut novel. There are three viewpoints — alternating chapters with Lito and First Sister, as well as interludes of recordings by Hiro. This is also where the audiobook shines, as those are all voiced by three separate actors, expressing the feminine, masculine, and non-binary vibe of each character.
The story itself is only the beginning of a larger conflict, but one that still reaches a satisfying conclusion. Lewis is fantastic in setting up and paying off emotional stakes, as each character deals with a metric fuckton of issues. There is also a wonderful duality between First Sister and Lito. Where she begins as a tabula rasa with simple desires, who slowly recognizes the complexity of the world around her and her role in it, he starts off as someone bogged down by trauma and self-doubt, and has to learn how to shed some of it, and channel the rest. Hiro, meanwhile, plays a balancing act. An elusive off-screen character who knows exactly who they are, and what they were born to do.
The First Sister is one of those HURTFUL debut novels that make you feel like you could never write anything remotely as good. Particularly for someone like me, who regularly struggles with structure, seeing how deftly Lewis weaves the strands of the story into an exciting narrative, was a source of tar-black envy. But of course, that only serves to the reader’s benefit. The book is an absolute gem, and I cannot wait to see where the story will go next.
Tamsyn Muir’s debut novel Gideon the Ninth was an absolute revelation to me. Unapologetic and audacious, it easily became my favorite book of 2019. If I could have “Queer Baroque Necropunk” be a legit genre, I would likely buy anything published in it. And as for the sequel, I would have been perfectly content to read another story like Gideon.
But that would be too easy.
The following review contains spoilers for Gideon the Ninth.
Right from the get go, Harrow the Ninth aims to confuse. You see, this is not the Harrow we remember from the first book. Gone is the viper wit, the withering confidence, the precocious bone genius. Instead, we are offered a Harrow that somehow bungled the Lyctoral process. One who is beset by physical frailty and the gravitational pulls of anxiety and depression. She is a young girl, alone and trapped on a space station with teachers who despise her — one of whom is even trying to murder her! — and a God who feels sorry for her, and has no answers to her questions.
This is also a Harrow who went to the First House with Ortus Nigenad as her cavalier primary. But…
Is this how it happens?
Harrow the Ninth is a brave new frontier that flirts with the post-modern. Tamsyn Muir has earned the reader’s trust, and soon the maddening mystery of Harrow’s sorry state, as well as the inconsistencies of her existence begin taking shape. The novel alternates between two types of chapters. Some are in second person, in which she is being told how the present is unfolding by a mysterious narrator. The past tense makes them an interesting experiment of storytelling, as if Harrow herself was not present for these events. The rest are in traditional third person, and retell the story of her journey to the First House. Except, it’s all wrong. Nothing happens the way it was described in Gideon the Ninth. Characters are not who they appear to be, and at sudden moments people will question the reality around them.
The cast of said characters is just as colorful as that of Gideon, though in a completely different way. Everyone carries their own unique damage. Harrow’s new sister Ianthe Tridentarius — formerly Princess of Ida, now Lyctor of the First House — has murdered an unwilling cavalier to achieve her sainthood. Now struggles with a sword hand that won’t obey her. God himself and his three surviving original Lyctors are creatures who have known each other for ten thousand years, They have accumulated civilizations’ worth of grudges and emotional baggage, deliciously opaque for any reader who has not been alive for a myriad. Meanwhile, Ortus Nigenad — failed cavalier primary of the Ninth House in Gideon the Ninth — seeks redemption in the eyes of the reader, as he tries to fulfill his role in a story that never happened.
Harrow the Ninth throbs with the disquieting feeling of paranoia and an almost Gene Wolfean puzzle box quality. Things are not as they seem, the world is not as it should be. This is not how it happens. The wrongness permeates not only the inaccurate retelling of the events at the First House, but also the present in the Mithraeum — the Emperor’s space station, 40 billion light years away from Dominicus and its Houses — where a dead Lyctor stalks the hallways seeking vengeance, while a living one bears the name of the wrong cavalier, as well as an inexplicable thirst for Harrow’s life. In the twisted hallways of God’s home, she is not simply frail and confused. She is haunted.
That this mystery is absolutely maddening, is a given. But Tamsyn Muir uses it brilliantly to tell a story of a girl on the brink of mental breakdown. It is a story of depression and inadequacy, and of injustice. And as Harrow tries to understand her failures, and overcome them, it also becomes a story of heartbreaking intimacy and truly heroic emotional openness.
Harrow the Ninth is an absolute masterpiece, just like its predecessor, while being twice as ambitious. It takes a bold new trajectory, but still retains the baroque darkness that makes Muir’s universe so enticing. What it lacks in contemporary humor, it more than makes up for in far more complex storytelling and character development. The book makes you emotionally invested not only in the current plot, but also in a messed-up retelling of a story you already know. And it the process, it gives wonderful center stage to characters you thought you’d never meet again.
Which is outrageous, as well as absolutely delightful, just like everything about Tamsyn Muir’s writing! To be fair, I wish that the first few chapters were a little more welcoming. The story is extremely confusing at first, and the reader is thrown into a labyrinth with no clear exit. But in the end, there was never a doubt in my mind that the book would deliver on its mysteries. I just didn’t anticipate how incredible it would be in the process.
As I have already written here, I was less than happy with J.K. Rowling’s continuing quest to invalidate trans people. Of course, Rowling is in a tax bracket where nothing mortal can really impact her, but the same is not true of the people she is putting in danger through her willful ignorance.
There is very little I can do to help, other than be an ally myself, but I found a nice way to express my feelings.
Recently, I started work at my local indie bookstore (“Unabridged Books” in Chicago). It is smack in the middle of our gay neighborhood Boystown, so I convinced them to set up a display of trans and non-binary authors of fantasy and science fiction. So far the support has been overwhelming, and we are ordering other titles that we didn’t have in stock at the time.
If you too feel grossed out by Rowling’s transphobia, and wonder what you can do, supporting a SFF trans or non-binary author is a great first step.
We live in tumultuous times. COVID-19 is here to stay, with incompetent governments mistaking wishful thinking for policy, exposing us to it on purpose. Massive global protests have finally forced us to face point blank the reality of police brutality against people of color. The economy is working for no one but the richest few.
Pandemic, economic collapse, MURDER HORNETS!
But nothing in this apocalyptic year so far is nearly as bad – nearly as horrifying – as… *checks notes*… uh, people who menstruate, according to J.K. Rowling.
In his original essay, La morte d’auteur, French literary critic Roland Barthes argues that the text is an independent entity from its author. His claim can be boiled down to ‘there are too many dimensions to any work of literature, for interpretation to be limited by the context of authorial intent’.
We live in an era of social reckoning. Trying to come to terms with how – frankly – awful many revered writers actually were (or still are). ‘The death of the author’ has acquired a new meaning. It is now used as a reason to continue enjoying works by shitty people. ‘The work is not the author, so why should I forsake both?’ There is merit to this position, but there are legitimate counter-arguments as well.
For one thing, it is easy to not care about the author when the author is no longer around. Sure, Wagner was a scamming homewrecker and a virulent anti-Semite. But Wagner is also incredibly dead, and his works are free domain. Ditto good old Howie Lovecraft, who may have been so shockingly racist, that even fellow racists of his time were like ‘Dude, come on…’, but plenty of wonderful people have since used his work to create diverse art that absolutely rejects his personal worldviews.
But what do we do when the author is very much alive? When they actively profit from our consumption of their work? Yes, I am very obviously referring to the newest TERF-y bullshit of J.K. Rowling. Who is apparently living through, and I quote, ‘the most misogynistic period I’ve ever experienced’. And seems to think it’s trans people’s fault. A horribly tone-deaf position from a person who has had every possible opportunity and privilege to learn better. She is not unique, of course. Plenty of artists have revealed themselves to hold one bigotry or another, be it because they were exposed, or because they wear it proudly on their sleeve for all to see.
There is no point in naming names. If you are part of ANY kind of minority, you know a bunch of living creators who think you are not entitled to the rights and dignity they have. Or that by you gaining anything, they will lose something.
So, do you want to give them your money? I know I don’t. But does their awfulness surgically remove all the experiences you’ve had with their works before you knew who they were? I do not believe that it does. Or at least not automatically.
I learned about Orson Scott Card’s rampant homophobia at a very intense period of my life. I was still adjusting to my own coming out as gay and my place in the world. The shock was too big. I’d had a lot of love for his books, but I could no longer read them without feeling grossed out. It affected me personally.
But Harry Potter has had a far bigger place in my growing up than Ender’s Game ever could. And I am not trans. I try to be as good an ally as I know how, but ultimately Rowling’s awfulness is not personal for me the way it is for my trans friends. And even to some of them, the messages, joy, warmth, and feelings of safety they’ve derived from these books are still there.
Are they wrong? Should they hate the books, now that the author has shown herself time and again to be garbage? Should I?
No. In the end, there is no ‘should’ here. Liking things is subjective. Supporting things has many levels. Nobody should be forced to reject something they love if they haven’t lost that love on their own. Having to separate the creator from the creation is already trauma enough.
I love Harry Potter. It is a flawed work from a flawed author, but it’s been with me for a very long time. I have too many good memories associated with it, and rejecting it would mean rejecting them as well.Will I give Rowling more money in the future, be it for books, or the movies based on them? Honestly, I don’t think I will. But this is a separate issue from appreciating a series I already own.
Art is subjective on every level. From its creator, through the work itself, to the one it’s meant for. It has to be considered on a case by case basis, or it stops being art. If J.K. Rowling is your Orson Scott Card, and your feelings of her works are too tainted to maintain any positive emotion for them, that’s ok. If you are disgusted by her, but you still love Harry Potter, that’s ok too. If her behavior has inspired you to find and read fantasy and science fiction from trans and non-binary authors – that’s AWESOME!
There is no rule for how to deal with disappointment, and anyone that tells you there is, doesn’t understand what art is.
My Vorkossigan Saga re-“reading” project on Audible just covered a book I had never read before. Ethan of Athos is a side story that only mentions Miles. Furthermore, it wasn’t even published in Bulgarian back when I read the series as a teenager. So, it was fun to experience something new in that universe.
It’s a lukewarm spy action story on a space station. We’ve all read those (and if you haven’t — what’s the matter with you?!), and Ethan delivers nothing new. With that said, it is also a story of a gay man, coming from an all-male planet that relies on technology for procreation. It does it awkwardly, with outdated ideas of bigotry that already aren’t all that prevalent, and are unlikely to survive a galactic expansion.
Now, we can all agree that the Vorkossigan Saga isn’t the most progressive series in the galaxy by today’s standards. The rigid duality of male and female, the cringe-inducing use of “it” to describe in-between genders. The overtly patriarchal and classist undertones. It doesn’t hold up when placed next to works like Ancillary Justice for example.
But most of the Vorkossigan Saga was written a long time ago, and by those standards, it is staggering how progressive it actually is.
Ethan of Athos was published in 1986. For all that I find Ethan himself to be obnoxiously naive, snooty, and annoying, he is a sympathetic portrayal of a gay man dealing with homophobia and misguided prejudice. And thriving. What’s more, Bujold gave him to us in the midst of the AIDS epidemic, in the year when the term “HIV” was created. In a mainstream entertainment genre, as part of an already successful series.
When viewed through the lens of that time period, Ethan of Athos is a truly remarkable work. And while it will never get near my favorite list of stories in that universe, I am very happy to have read it. Apparently, I could love Lois McMaster Bujold more.
Disclaimer: This is going to get opinionated. I want to preface it with saying that I am a massive fan of Harry Potter, and I utterly adore Bonds of Brass. What I am about to say should be taken as a broad commentary about the nature of fiction, rather than dissing either work, or its author.
There is something that has been chewing on the sides of my brain ever since I wrote my review of Bonds of Brass.
No, just kidding (kind of). It was Emily Skrutskie’s tweet (and comments in other places), stating that the two main characters of the book were bisexual, when they were not coded as such in the book itself. I have been trying to examine why this statement bugged me so much, and I realized it has nothing to do with identity.
Instead, it’s about what is on the page, and what isn’t.
Now, if the title hasn’t forced your mind in that direction, let me just remind the world that, at present, J.K. Rowling is the undisputed champion in extra-literary revisions. With every new tweet about the Wizarding World, she erodes our love for her books a tiny bit more, but it goes further than that — she adds information that was never part of the narrative of those books. That is not a problem for some people, but it is a massive issue for others.
I think there are two fundamental approaches to perceiving fiction (just kidding, there are a million. But stay with me on this one). You can treat it as an alternate reality that you are viewing form the window of the book/screen/whatever; or you can treat it as a work of art, with its internal rules and limitations — a sort of fourth-wall approach, in which you are aware of your role as a spectator. The two are not mutually exclusive, of course. In fact, I think they always intertwine to an extent. But in their extremes, they lead to different perceptions of the reality of the work.
If you see the fictional story as something real and independent of your perception, you can easily incorporate any piece of external information into the work. Such as — you guessed it! — Dumbledore being gay. It’s not in the Harry Potter books. It’s not hinted at, it’s not implied. There is literally nothing you can even retrospectively point at, and say “This codes Dumbledore’s sexuality”. If anything, he is the quintessential ace character — a wise old mentor archetype with no sexuality whatsoever.
But if you think of him as a real person, existing independently of the books that tell his story, he could easily be gay. The narrative isn’t about his personal life, after all, right? It’s plausible that it wouldn’t come up.
I don’t think in those terms. And I won’t claim that my approach is “the right one”, because hey — who am I, really, to tell you how to enjoy fiction? But I have always been on the opposite end of the spectrum. I hate fan theories with a fiery passion. I avoid forums that discuss ongoing fantasy series like the plague. No, Tyler, Daenerys is NOT secretly Tyrion’s niece. Jaime didn’t kill his mother. Arya doesn’t have a secret Braavosi lover.
You know why? Because they don’t exist.
These people are made up. Their experiences only ever occur in the fiction that features them. They don’t have independent life outside of it. I will not speculate as to the secret thoughts and actions of non-existent people, because the writer can, at any point, choose to take them in any direction they please. Sometimes — sadly — they do it specifically to subvert the expectations of fan speculation.
This is why the bisexuality of the Bonds of Brass boys bugged me so much. Because that is a story based around romance, and that romance is same-sex. That’s what is presented inside the book, and that’s all that exists of these two entities. Claiming otherwise, even as the writer, implies that they have a life outside of the work, that there are further dimensions to them that I am not privy to. And for all I know, maybe future books in the trilogy will blast their bisexuality in my face. I won’t love those two disasters any less for it.
But in the mean time, I believe that the work is the work, and only the work is canon. It doesn’t matter whether my story is about any particular kind of identity or circumstance. If it matters to me that my readers perceive my characters in any specific way, it is the simplest thing in the world to code them that way, without ever making it a focus of the narrative. A stray thought. A random line of dialogue. Someone casually noticing the attractiveness of someone else.
We are writers. The world of our own work is our butt-monkey. There is nothing we can’t make known to the reader, if we so choose.
In the actual real world that we live in, labels are still important, and identity is the nexus of social and political fights that have defined generations. Hetero is still the norm. Same-sex relationships still read “gay” or “lesbian”. Therefore, if we want to paint our characters in more complex colors (even when we are placing them in a post-identity world), we have to code them as such within the work.
I shouldn’t have to read J.K.’s tweets in order to know something so profound about one of her series’ most important characters. But BOOOOY would I love some hot and steamy prequel story about young Albus getting it on with another dude!
I found out about Bonds of Brass by a random Twitter-induced happenstance. Someone I followed had liked a tweet by Emily Skrutskie, in which she described her upcoming YA novel. And the promise of a M/M romance, set in a space opera of imperial intrigues and starfighters, was all I needed to pre-order. Luckily, I also snagged an ARC of it at C2E2, and I devoured it in two sittings.
Bonds of Brass takes place in the distant future, in which humans have spread out into the galaxy and formed vast empires that now challenge each other. Ettian is a young pilot, training to fight for the brutal empire that destroyed the one he was born in. Having shed the past during two grueling years of living on the streets, he now only has eyes for his own future. As well as his handsome bunkmate and best friend Gal. But when an almost successful assassination attempt reveals Gal to be the heir to the empire that made him an orphan, Ettian has to decide whether his loyalties lie with the ghosts of his shattered past, or his feelings for a boy who is destined to inherit the most horrifying power in the galaxy.
I loved, loved, loved this book! Skrutskie’s effortless prose, kept in a tight first person from Ettian’s perspective, tells an exciting tale of adventure with anime undertones (coming accessorized with power suits, for extra otaku points). The action is fast-paced, the language — extremely evocative. We can smell and feel the world on every page, be it confined to the cabin of a space ship, or a vast cityscape.
But what’s even better, the novel paints a beautiful relationship between two boys, persevering despite being designed to fail in all manner of spectacular ways. Ettian’s feelings — and through his eyes, Gal’s as well — are raw and earnest, unfiltered by his telling of the story, and the adventure the two are forced into puts those to the test. In moments of intimacy, the painful ache of desire also takes on a very physical, if adorably chaste, tone. Skrutskie takes us all the way into the eyes of Ettian, as they hunger over the details in physicality and mannerism that made him fall for Gal.
Bonds of Brass is fast paced and action packed, but somehow, there is always time for character building. Both of the book’s heroes are complex, neither one falling into black-and-white stereotypes. If anything, both get up to some highly questionable shit, ethically speaking, and the ending left me with a deep sense of uncertainty as to who I was actually rooting for. On that note, it bears noting that this is only a first part of a trilogy, and it is wide open.
If I have one problem with Bonds of Brass, it is extra-literary, and personal, and has nothing to do with the book’s merits. On Emily Skrutskie’s pinned tweet, she describes the characters as “two bisexual disasters”. And I have no problem believing that Gal is bi. But, um, as a gay man, Ettian reads gay to me. This is a made-up character, and everything that exists of him is in this book. And in this book he is coded as fully focused on a single person, who happens to be male-identified. No hints are given of any interest he has ever had in other people, not even a throwaway sentence or a stray thought. The only other relationship he has, is aggressively platonic, and firmly defined by shared experiences. The only time, in fact, when he has any romantic/sexual thought not focused on Gal, it is to observe two boys making out in a cantina, and feel jealous.
I recognize that this is not a real issue, and labels aren’t terribly relevant in a made-up future space opera. And to be absolutely clear, I love reading about bisexual characters. But to me it read somewhat like “Dumbledore is gay”, as well as made me a bit sad on a personal level. It seems there are barely any gay male-identified protagonists in current SFF, confusing though that might be, considering how progressive the field has become in recent years. And not that I am that desperate for explicit identification, but it still felt nice when the novel was giving me a very clear signal that this was what I was getting. And then it seemed that the author herself did not support that signal.
This is, however, my own personal issue, and ultimately it only rubbed me the wrong way for a moment, before being drowned by the sheer awesomeness of Bonds of Brass. If royal intrigue, space warfare, planetary adventures, and boys in love are your game, then this book plays it perfectly. My only problem at present is that it isn’t even out yet (release date is 4/7), and I am already itching for the second part of the trilogy.
I first heard about K. M. Szpara’s Docile on an Our Opinions Are Correct episode titled “The New Anti-Capitalist Science Fiction”. My speculative passions tend to go in a different direction from the exploration of social justice themes, so I was initially only mildly interested. Then, as I listened to the interview and Szpara’s passion in describing his work, I became more and more interested. And when I was lucky enough to get an ARC of Docile, I jumped on the chance to read it early.
The story takes place in a maybe-future, maybe-alternative reality, where debt cannot be negated by bankruptcy or death, but is instead inherited throughout generations. The United States have been separated into trillionaires, the people who work for trillionaires, and the destitute, who are bent under backbreaking debt. A new system allows those to sell part or all of their debt to corporations or rich individuals in exchange for a portion of their life. They become a “Docile” — read, indentured servant — and retain only seven rights, most of which do them little good, since almost everyone opts to take Dociline. The drug makes one into an obedient blob of blandness, perfectly able to follow commands, but otherwise oblivious and unable to retain memories of the time when they are on it.
However, Elisha Wilder knows that Dociline is not as harmless as advertised. His mother once sold ten years of her life to chip away at the family’s debt, and the drug never left her system. So, when he decides to sell his entire life away to absolve his father and sister of what’s left, he uses one of his seven rights to refuse the drug. The problem? His new patron is heir to the pharmaceutical empire that makes Dociline. And once Alex Bishop realizes what he has inadvertently gotten himself into with Elisha, he sets on a mission to house-break his new Docile through a system of rules, punishments, and rewards. But this leads to effects neither of them could have anticipated.
Docile is a work of dystopian fiction. It is also, in a certain sense, a romance. But at its core, it is a story about agency, consent, and power dynamics. With a lot of butt stuff! The tag line on the front cover reads “There is no consent under capitalism”, and that theme permeates every page of the story. The relationship between Elisha and Alex is so unbalanced from the get go, that any argument pertaining to consent is blown out of the water. For Elisha, the “choice” is between signing his body autonomy away (and he is well aware the transaction will involve sex), or allowing his parents to go to debtor prison, or his 13-year old sister to take his place. It is a false choice.
However, Szpara does us dirty and makes us sympathize with Alex as well. Docile is written in the first person, present tense, alternating chapters between its two main characters. Were the story only told from Elisha’s point of view, it would be easy to think of his young patron as the villain. But we get to be in Alex’ head so often that it becomes impossible not to understand what forces have shaped him. And that’s where the tag line shows its brilliance. Because Alex has no more real freedom than Elisha does. He has to own a Docile to satisfy his family and board of directors, or he risks losing everything he has worked so hard to build. To him, this is just as much a “choice” as it is to the person whose life he has purchased.
Docile however treads delicately around this dynamic. Szpara never quite “excuses” what Alex does to Elisha, even if he helps us understand him. While he is not a full on “villain”, he is certainly in the wrong for a large portion of the story. And once the dynamic is broken — in a development that I found not only unexpected, but tremendously satisfying — there are no easy answers to the predicaments both characters have found themselves into.
Docile does its best to explore the complex layers of consent honestly, but Szpara does something that I have already seen criticized — he makes the sex scenes arousing. Like, really arousing. He is good at writing sex. Not the alluded, romantic, or symbolic type of sex either, but the smutty, borderline pornographic, things-are-called-what-they-are type of sex, with some kink as the cherry on top. However (and this is where Docile should probably come with some content warning), as the book makes it clear that Elisha’s “consent” is anything but, what Alex does to him is… well, rape. Should rape be “sexy” then?
No, it should not. But things are not as simple as that. As Szpara keeps us so close to the characters that we can taste their sweat, he allows them to experience what happens to them through their own senses. Elisha experiences his own breaking in a fog of confused arousal, and so I appreciate the author’s ability to convey that in the description of the act. Now, does this explanation work for everyone? No. Should it? Maybe not. But it did work for me and in a certain way, it heightened the experience of reading the story.
In the end, Docile is very clear about what its goals are, but it goes beyond the call of duty. I expected some exploration of late stage capitalism, some romance (though I was surprised at how complex Szpara’s approach to that was), perhaps a whiff of slave-fic. What I did not expect, was how well the book would be written. The nearly 500 pages flow with ease, the voice of each character so engaging, the plot so well paced, that I could not put the damn thing down. The book delivers on its promises, but more than that, it is entertaining as all fuck, smart, just the right amount of sexy, and both brutally, and tenderly honest. It is a big recommendation from me, and I cannot wait to see what Szpara does next.
If you’ve been with me in all three seconds of this blog’s existence, you will remember the very first Reading Update and the shameful admission that followed. ‘Tis true, I suck at planning and adhering to plans once I make them. BUT! Things happen — ARCs, and Cons, and I-Saw-Something-Else-In-A-Bookstore-And-Had-To-Read-That-Instead. Anyway, I am happy to report that despite my many failures as a human being, I have now covered half of the books I set out to read back in that first post, despite the process being interrupted by reading a ton of other stuff. This blog has already fulfilled one of its purposes, which is to keep me accountable. Even if I end up being the only one reading the account.