September 23, 2022

Review: A Prayer for the Crown-Shy

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy A Prayer for the Crown-Shy by Becky Chambers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Becky Chambers has made a very successful career for herself by writing what are basically warm, fuzzy comfort reads. There are no Big Bads or world-shattering stakes in her stories. She concentrates on the characters and their interactions, and the plots, what there are of them, are usually aimless and rather meandering. For that reason, I like her at shorter lengths. I've read some of her novels, but the novellas (this book is only 152 pages) seems to me to be her sweet spot.

This is the second Monk & Robot novella, and I like them both more than anything else I've read by her. They are set on the inhabited moon Panga, a terraformed world of a gas giant that was apparently settled by Earth and abandoned centuries before. The human settlers have undergone an environmental awakening of sorts, as their culture and society is built around sustainability rather than growth, and their so-called "Factory Age" is behind them. This "Awakening" also applies to the robots who once worked in said factories, who simultaneously, or nearly so, Awakened to sentience and walked off into the wilderness of Panga, never to return. Until in the previous book the tea monk Sibling Dex, reaching a point of being unsettled with their life, took off into the same wilderness and ran across the robot Mosscap, who stated it wanted to visit human settlements and ask a question: "What do humans need?"

This book is the story of Dex and Mosscap touring the towns and villages of Panga and asking the people they meet that question, and what each of them discovers along the way. Both Dex and Mosscap's characters undergo some satisfying evolution, as each grapples with existential, philosophical life decisions. Mosscap realizes it can never get a complete answer to its question, and the very fact of venturing into the human world to ask it has fundamentally changed it from the rest of its brethren. Dex comes to understand they maybe don't want to be a traveling tea monk anymore, although they're not sure what they want to do next. But whatever new paths each of them may take, they want to do it together.

This is a kind, gentle, thoughtful story. It also has a few instances of laugh-out-loud humor (such as when Dex hooks up with someone at one of the villages they visit and Mosscap greets them the next morning with a hearty "Good morning, Sibling Dex! Congratulations on having sex last night"), and one can't help but be caught up in Mosscap's childlike enthusiasm over all its new experiences. The story doesn't so much end as fade away, like the last scene in a movie, with the knowledge that these two are going to continue their travels out of our sight. I much prefer these shorter stories from Chambers, and I hope she keeps writing them.

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