Review: A Prayer for the Crown-Shy, by Becky Chambers

Russ Allbery eagle at
Sat Aug 20 21:10:50 PDT 2022

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy
by Becky Chambers

Series:    Monk & Robot #2
Publisher: Tordotcom
Copyright: 2022
ISBN:      1-250-23624-X
Format:    Kindle
Pages:     151

A Prayer for the Crown Shy is the second novella in the Monk & Robot
series and a direct sequel to A Psalm for the Wild-Built. Don't start

I would call this the continuing adventures of Sibling Dex and Mosscap
the robot, except adventures is entirely the wrong term for stories
with so little risk or danger. The continuing tour? The continuing
philosophical musings? Whatever one calls it, it's a slow exploration
of Dex's world, this time with Mosscap alongside. Humans are about to
have their first contact with a robot since the Awakening.

If you're expecting that to involve any conflict, well, you've
misunderstood the sort of story that this is. Mosscap causes a
sensation, certainly, but a very polite and calm one, and almost devoid
of suspicion or fear. There is one village where they get a slightly
chilly reception, but even that is at most a quiet disapproval for
well-understood reasons. This world is more utopian than post-scarcity,
in that old sense of utopian in which human nature has clearly been
rewritten to make the utopia work.

I have to admit I'm struggling with this series. It's calm and happy
and charming and occasionally beautiful in its descriptions. Dex
continues to be a great character, with enough minor frustration,
occasional irritation, and inner complications to make me want to keep
reading about them. But it's one thing to have one character in a story
who is simply a nice person at a bone-deep level, particularly given
that Dex chose religious orders and to some extent has being a nice
person as their vocation. It's another matter entirely when apparently
everyone in the society is equally nice, and the only conflicts come
from misunderstandings, respectful disagreements of opinion, and the
occasional minor personality conflict.

Realism has long been the primary criticism of Chambers's work, but in
her Wayfarers series the problems were mostly in the technology and its
perpetual motion machines. Human civilization in the Exodus Fleet was a
little too calm and nice given its traumatic past (and, well, humans),
but there were enough conflicts, suspicions, and poor decisions for me
to recognize it as human society. It was arguably a bit too chastened,
meek, and devoid of shit-stirring demagogues, but it was at least in
contact with human society as I recognize it.

I don't recognize Panga as humanity. I realize this is to some degree
the point of this series: to present a human society in which nearly
all of the problems of anger and conflict have been solved, and to ask
what would come after, given all of that space. And I'm sure that one
purpose of this type of story is to be, as I saw someone describe it,
hugfic: the fictional equivalent of a warm hug from a dear friend, safe
and supportive and comforting. Maybe it says bad, or at least
interesting, things about my cynicism that I don't understand a society
that's this nice. But that's where I'm stuck.

If there were other dramatic elements to focus on, I might not mind it
as much, but the other pole of the story apart from the world tour is
Mosscap's philosophical musings, and I'm afraid I'm already a bit tired
of them. Mosscap is earnest and thoughtful and sincere, but they're
curious about Philosophy 101 material and it's becoming frustrating to
see Mosscap and Dex meander through these discussions without
attempting to apply any theoretical framework whatsoever. Dex is a
monk, who supposedly has a scholarship tradition from which to draw,
and yet appears to approach all philosophical questions with nothing
more than gut feeling, common sense, and random whim. Mosscap is asking
very basic meaning-of-life sorts of questions, the kind of thing that
humans have been writing and arguing about from before we started
keeping records and which are at the center of any religious
philosophy. I find it frustrating that someone supposedly educated in a
religious tradition can't bring more philosophical firepower to these

It doesn't help that this entry in the series reinforces the revelation
that Mosscap's own belief system is weirdly unsustainable to such a
degree that it's staggering that any robots still exist. If I squint, I
can see some interesting questions raised by the robot attitude towards
their continued existence (although most of them feel profoundly
depressing to me), but I was completely unable to connect their
philosophy in any believable way with their origins and the stated
history of the world. I don't understand how this world got here, and
apparently I'm not able to let that go.

This all sounds very negative, and yet I did enjoy this novella.
Chambers is great at description of places that I'd love to visit, and
there is something calm and peaceful about spending some time in a
society this devoid of conflict. I also really like Dex, even more so
after seeing their family, and I'm at least somewhat invested in their
life decisions. I can see why people like these novellas. But if I'm
going to read a series that's centered on questions of ethics and
philosophy, I would like it to have more intellectual heft than we've
gotten so far.

For what it's worth, I'm seeing a bit of a pattern where people who
bounced off the Wayfarers books like this series much better, whereas
people who loved the Wayfarers books are not enjoying these quite as
much. I'm in the latter camp, so if you didn't like Chambers's earlier
work, maybe you'll find this more congenial? There's a lot less found
family here, for one thing; I love found family stories, but they're
not to everyone's taste.

If you liked A Psalm for the Wild-Built, you will probably also like A
Prayer for the Crown-Shy; it's more of the same thing in both style and
story. If you found the first story frustratingly unbelievable or
needing more philosophical depth, I'm afraid this is unlikely to be an
improvement. It does have some lovely scenes, though, and is stuffed
full of sheer delight in both the wild world and in happy communities
of people.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2022-08-20


Russ Allbery (eagle at             <>

More information about the book-reviews mailing list