Review: A Prayer for the Crown-Shy
by Justine Norton-Kertson
Becky Chambers continues to set a high bar for solarpunk science fiction with the second installment of her Monk and Robot series. The books—set in a future utopia where economic systems like capitalism are a thing of the past—are not only a pleasure to read, but are a great exercise in imagining better and more sustainable futures.
Ever since her novella, A Psalm for the Wild-Built, came out last summer, I’ve been telling people it’s the best book I’ve read in years. Book one itself is a wonderful adventure that, with important themes about the value of therapy and the relationship between people and nature, will likely be counted among the classic examples of comfort literature. And while there’s no hyperbole in that opinion, I’m also no longer able to say that book one is the best book I’ve read in years.
I just read the sequel, A Prayer for the Crown-Shy, which is scheduled for release on July 12, 2022 from Tordotcom, and I have to say, this second installment of the Monk and Robot series blew straight through my already high expectations. It didn’t stop there though; it kept going, and I was grateful. Together, the two books tell a tender, hopeful story of empathy and healing, like a soft blanket that keeps you warm on a cold night.
Like book one, A Prayer for the Crown-Shy follows the tea monk Sibling Dex as they travel the tiny moon of Panga with Splendid Speckled Mosscap. Mosscap is the first robot to make contact with Pangans since robots attained consciousness and departed for the rewilded half of Panga countless years before. Whereas book one has Mosscap guiding Dex through an exploration of the mysterious wilderness, book two flips the script and brings the unlikely companions out of the wilderness. Sibling Dex now guides Mosscap from village to village, navigating their newfound fame while the robot seeks an answer to its primary question, “What do humans need?” which is the question he has been tasked with exploring and answering by the robot population.
As the pair travel from place to place, they encounter folks who have adapted—over what are presumed to be millenia—to the absence of robot labor in a variety of different ways, leading to the development of unique communities. Aside from meeting new people, having new experiences, and seeking the answer to its question, in each new village they visit, Mosscap—through its interactions with the villagers and its reflections on those interactions—is presented and faced with a philosophical question. From the nature of existence and consciousness, need and want, to experiencing and contemplating the reality of entropy and decay, the philosophical musings and ponderings often lead to some kind of existential dilemma, presenting Mosscap and Sibling Dex important opportunities to make choices as they as they learn about themselves, each other, and the communities of Panga.
Particularly relevant examples of this come when a small but vital piece of Mosscap breaks, and when the robot meets a baby for the first time. Through both encounters, Mosscap’s reflections and conversations with Sibling Dex reveal engaging ponderings on the realities of entropy and decay. In the same way, conversations in both book one and two about the history of the robot population lead to fascinating musings on the nature of sentient consciousness and how it develops.
Reading like an intimate and heartwarming adventure filled with philosophical exploration, A Prayer for the Crown-Shy is at the same time fun, contemplative, and touching. I’ve enjoyed very little over the past year more than following the relationship between Sibling Dex and Mosscap as it has developed throughout their adventure. I feel like they’re my best friends, and I already miss them.
I think it’s time to make a cup of tea, sit back, and listen.
Justine Norton-Kertson (they/he/she) is an author of stories, games, poems, and music, as well as a community organizer. Editor-in-Chief of Android Press, and co-Editor-in-Chief of Solarpunk Magazine, their work has been featured in over a dozen publications including Jupiter Review, Struksurriss, and Serious Flash Fiction. His most recent is in the current issue of Utopia Science Fiction Magazine. She can be found on Twitter @jankwrites.