Sometimes you just hit on the perfect book to read right now. Becky Chambers’ new book, A Prayer for the Crown-Shy, happened to be that book for me this week, possibly this year.
It’s the sequel to A Psalm for the Wild-Built, and this is one of those sequels where you really are better off reading the books in order (and why shouldn’t you? Neither one is very long, and both are warm and charming), so you know who Sibling Dex, the tea monk, and Mosscap, the robot, are, and why all the people they encounter react so strongly to seeing Mosscap.
Sibling Dex is a nonbinary monk, one of the most gentle characters I’ve come across in fiction in recent years. Their job is to drive around their world in a person-propelled cart, stop in different villages and places and let people come in and drink the tea Dex makes and talk to Dex, not as a therapist, not as a confessor, but as a fellow human being who listens and cares.
Mosscap is a robot. A long time ago, all the robots left the humans who built them and exploited them. The robots went elsewhere and set up their own civilization and the humans learned how to live without the help of robots, which turned out to be a good thing for humans. Mosscap reveals itself to Dex, and to the world of humans, with a seemingly simple question: what do you need?
The first book introduced the characters and the setting and started them on their way. This book takes them into the world of Panga, where people have the opportunity to meet and interact with Mosscap and with Dex as Mosscap’s – guide? Friend? Helper? To some people, Mosscap is a celebrity, or as close as you can get to a celebrity in this culture which doesn’t have the same mass media fixation as ours. To some people, Mosscap is a symbol of bad times in the past which we want to forget or get over. Those people, I hasten to add, react by ignoring Mosscap, not by taking any violent action against it (there is no violence in this book whatsoever, which is a major point in its favor).
Mosscap has a unique curiosity about the whole world of humans. As it looks at both the natural world and the human constructions with wonder and delight, we the readers get to see the world through its eyes, as does Dex. It is a wonderful place, a place where I, for one, would love to live, between the low technology and the social organizations (Dex’s family is intensely complicated but there’s lots of love and connection among the members).
I don’t think there’s going to be another book in this series, because the ending of this book feels right and settled as if there’s not much more to say, but I also think if Becky Chambers wants to write more about Dex and Mosscap, I would be delighted to pick up the next book.
If you’re in the mood for a gentle, optimistic novel about an alternate society and a world healing from the kinds of mistakes we’ve made in this one, I recommend A Psalm for the Wild-Built and A Prayer for the Crown-Shy. You won’t regret it.