A PRAYER FOR THE CROWN-SHY by Becky Chambers

a prayer for the crown-shy by becky chambersRenowned tea monk Sibling Dex and wayfaring robot Splendid Speckled Mosscap have come out of the wilderness of Panga. Putting their search for fulfillment on hold, Sibling Dex accompanies the eager and inquisitive robot on its mission to find out what exactly, if anything, humanity needs. To that end they hit the road, stopping at the various and radiantly diverse human communities of the moon and taking with grace and gratitude the experiences and lessons they each have to offer.

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A Psalm for the Wild-Built was my favorite read of last year, what with its gentle, quiet story about two lost souls trying to understand one another as well as themselves speaking to this particular lost soul in a way few other stories have. It’s no surprise that its follow-up, A Prayer for the Crown-Shy, was my most anticipated read this year. I’m not great with series, usually, often finding them to be a bit too inconsistent for my liking. But it’s a testament to author Becky Chambers’ talent (or rather, perhaps, to my undying love for her writing) that I had absolutely no concerns or anxieties over this book prior to its release — no worries about whether it was going to live up to any expectations my brain may have thought up. Only a certainty I was going to enjoy it immensely. It was more of a feeling than anything, which is, I think, the appropriate approach to the kind of books Chambers writes. 

Part of that assurance was due to the inherent plotless nature of these Monk and Robot stories. Chambers has doubled down on her most common criticism that “nothing happens in her books,” arguing that reading about people simply living life, in all its intricate and complex threads, can be as compelling as any conflict-laden drama.

When I think about my life in the real world that I find most interesting or most captivating, they’re all the most ordinary things. Life is interesting. 

— FanFiAddict, “Author Chat with Becky Chambers” 

Both Psalm and Prayer are slice-of-life in the truest sense of the term — more vignettes than they are full episodes dense with schemes and action. These books feel less like you are reading than you are just having a conversation with a couple of  friends (albeit of the particularly empathetic and reflective sort), but that’s part of their charm and their oh-so-comforting appeal. Your mileage may, of course, vary with this style of storytelling, but I find myself gravitating to these book-shaped warm embraces the older I get and the more weight of the world I feel. 

Which is all a roundabout way of saying I loved reading this book. I loved spending time in its warm solarpunk world. Loved the themes it explores of listening to what your body and your spirit need, and how that may or may not relate to your perceived purpose in life. 

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I finished Psalm last year thinking it was the book I needed to read at that particular moment in my life. I wasn’t expecting this book to do the same, to have my life reflected in such a stark, revealing manner again — but even in that aspect Prayer managed to deliver. I’ve been through a lot these past couple of months, my personal life subjected to much change and upheaval. Most of these developments are for the better, but I still find myself feeling tired and weary and uncertain (not to mention guilty for feeling all of this in the first place). 

They’d spent too much time around tired folks to not recognize the same condition in themself. They were running up against a wall, and it didn’t matter whether they understood where the wall had come from, or what it was made of. The only way to get through it was to stop trying, for a while.

This prayer, like the psalm before it, is another reminder (and a promise): Whatever it is you’re going through is valid, and doesn’t need to be justified, to neither anyone nor yourself, and that it’s okay —  and vital and necessary — to just give your boisterous brain and rattled, anxious body a damn break sometimes.

You don’t have to have a reason to be tired. You don’t have to earn rest or comfort. You’re allowed to just be.

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These books mean a hell of a lot to me, so you can imagine my sadness upon learning that Chambers has no imminent plans to continue writing further Monk and Robot books, choosing to focus on other creative projects. Although I supposed it was to be expected, endings being such a prominent theme in Prayer. There’s Mosscap grappling with its own mortality after a piece of its body breaks down and it struggles over the ethics of having it repaired or replaced. Most poignantly, in the final chapters, we see the robot admit to not wanting to reach the final destination of its tour with the monk, fearing it would mean the end — of their travels together; of their talks; of their companionship. Sibling Dex feels very much the same. Neither of them wants their time together to come to a close. Neither did I. Indeed, when the ending did finally arrive in such a breviloquent manner, it caught me so much by surprise that my immediate reaction was just to sob. I simply wasn’t ready. I adore so, so many things about these books, but these two characters are the true gift Chambers has given us. I miss them already.