Tag Archives: Tor Books

Mending Fences: A Review of A Prayer for the Crown-Shy

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy by Becky Chambers book cover. Image on cover is a close-up painting of a covered wagon travelling through a forest. Title: A Prayer for the Crown-Shy

Author: Becky Chambers

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: July 12, 2022

Genres: Science Fiction, Utopia

Length: 160 pages

Source: I borrowed it from my local library.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

After touring the rural areas of Panga, Sibling Dex (a Tea Monk of some renown) and Mosscap (a robot sent on a quest to determine what humanity really needs) turn their attention to the villages and cities of the little moon they call home.

They hope to find the answers they seek, while making new friends, learning new concepts, and experiencing the entropic nature of the universe.

Becky Chambers’s new series continues to ask: in a world where people have what they want, does having more even matter?

Review:

Content Warning: Theology and religion, but they share little in common with any theologies or religions of our world. I will discuss these topics in my review.

What could be more cozy or wholesome than a Tea Monk and a robot going on a road trip in a utopian world?

I am once again going to need to tread carefully in my review in order to avoid spoilers, but I did want to talk about the theological discussions and religious practices in this universe. Ms. Chambers created such a gentle framework for those beliefs that I was quickly able to relax and follow the characters’ thought processes as they compared beliefs and asked intelligent questions of those who disagreed with them. You should know that Sibling Dex loves and accepts everyone. Their beliefs are sacred to them, but they would never use them against those who have other beliefs or no beliefs at all. Don’t be nervous about reading this if you’re like me and generally avoid stories about religion or theology based on previous negative experiences with those topics in our world. It was important part of the plot for sure, but there wasn’t a single ounce of unkindness in Sibling Dex’s worldview.

My review of A Psalm for the Wild-Built gently criticized the loose plot structure of that book. I’m happy to report that the plot was thicker in this one. Yes, it retained it’s meandering philosophical and religious discussions that are so important to Sibling Dex and Mosscap’s character development, but they faced more conflicts and obstacles to their goals this time around as well. It was fascinating to me to see how they handled abrupt changes to their travelling plans and interactions with other living things that didn’t always go as predicted. This was exactly what they both needed to in order to show the audience how they’d changed as a result as their earlier adventures.

It was exciting to see how the world building was expanded. I finally learned more about how the villages and cities in this world are connected to each other and what their relationships with one another are like. Yes, I wanted to dive even deeper into this topic, but it made sense to stop where we did. I mean, it’s not like I welcome friends to Canada by going on a long monologue about my country’s history, culture, or social customs before asking if they want to try poutine. The important parts are shared as they come up in conversation, so it made total sense for the author to do the same here.

The character development was once again handled beautifully. Sibling Dex and Mosscap changed in all sorts of interesting ways as a result of their journey and their friendship. I chuckled as their assumptions about what humans or robots should be like occasionally bumped up against realities that bore little resemblance to what either of these individuals thought was going to happen. While I did find myself wishing the last scene had been given a little more time to flourish, I’m betting that it was written that way on purpose in order to set up whatever comes next.

This is the second instalment in the Monk & Robot series. I strongly recommend reading it all in order as there were several important scenes in A Psalm for the Wild-Built that are critical to understanding the character development.

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy made me yearn for more.

Gentle Science Fiction: A Review of A Psalm for the Wild-Built

Note: I’m (finally) reviewing the first book in the Monk & Robot series today and will review the sequel next week. Stay tuned! 

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers book cover. Image on cover shows a drawing of a robot, a person pedaling their travelling home, many plants, and winding paths on it. Title: A Psalm for the Wild-Built (Monk & Robot #1)

Author: Becky Chambers

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: July 13, 2021

Genres: Science Fiction, Utopia

Length: 160 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

In A Psalm for the Wild-Built, Hugo Award-winner Becky Chambers’s delightful new Monk and Robot series gives us hope for the future.

It’s been centuries since the robots of Panga gained self-awareness and laid down their tools; centuries since they wandered, en masse, into the wilderness, never to be seen again; centuries since they faded into myth and urban legend.

One day, the life of a tea monk is upended by the arrival of a robot, there to honor the old promise of checking in. The robot cannot go back until the question of “what do people need?” is answered.

But the answer to that question depends on who you ask, and how.

They’re going to need to ask it a lot.

Becky Chambers’s new series asks: in a world where people have what they want, does having more matter?

Review:

Content Warning: Theology. It is nothing like the religions or theologies of our world, though, which I will explain in my review.

If peaceful science fiction is your thing, look no further.

Sibling Dex was one of the most unusual characters I’ve met in a long time. They were an agender tea monk who had already changed their occupation several times and were still not satisfied with it. The desire to learn more about the world was relentless in them even though humanity had created a utopian existence in which half of the land was reserved for wildlife sanctuaries and the other half was carefully managed to provide for everyone’s basic needs. I was intrigued by how this character reacted the changes they brought upon themselves as well as the ones they never could have predicted.

You may have noticed that I haven’t discussed the plot itself in this review. I’m purposefully writing this very carefully in order to avoid any spoilers, but I also want potential readers to know that the plot wasn’t as well-formed as I would have liked it to be. Sibling Dex went on a journey into the wilderness to find answers to their existential questions, but that storyline never quite coalesced in the way I hoped it would. As this appears to be the beginning of a series, I’m hoping that the sequel or sequels will be more assertive in seeking out answers for this character and giving them more conflict to deal with. I loved meeting them and having such a gentle introduction to their unique world, but I was a bit disappointed by how everything suddenly ended for them in the final scene with so many questions still left unanswered.

This story includes numerous references to religion and philosophy, but they bear little if any resemblance to what people in our world think of when they use those terms. Yes, Sibling Dex was a monk as I mentioned earlier, but their religious beliefs and practices were almost wholly centred on their own behaviour as opposed to worrying about what others did. You will find no threats of eternal punishment, long lists of rules to follow, or harsh judgements of non-believers here. That wasn’t how Sibling Dex behaved about at all, and I found it incredibly refreshing. They simply wanted to be the best monk they could be, and their journey was in part related to how their faith and their understanding of philosophy might be able to help them figure out what to do next with their restless soul.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built was a breath of fresh air.

Searching for Answers: A Review of Remote Control

Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor book cover. Image on cover shows a photo of a young Afrian woman superimposed on a tree and some robotic gear on her torso.Title: Remote Control

Author: Nnedi Okorafor

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: January 19, 2021

Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Contemporary

Length: 156 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Blurb:

The day Fatima forgot her name, Death paid a visit. From here on in she would be known as Sankofa­­—a name that meant nothing to anyone but her, the only tie to her family and her past.

Her touch is death, and with a glance a town can fall. And she walks—alone, except for her fox companion—searching for the object that came from the sky and gave itself to her when the meteors fell and when she was yet unchanged; searching for answers.

But is there a greater purpose for Sankofa, now that Death is her constant companion?

Review:

Content warning: Violence, blood, menstruation, death of parents, death of a child. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

There’s never been a meteor shower quite like this one before.

This novella freely wandered between genres and settings. It was a folk tale set in the modern day. The dreamy fantasy elements of the plot sometimes wandered into science fiction territory. It had drones and cell phones, but it also had possibly magical creatures who followed Sankofa around everywhere. I’ve never read anything quite like it, and I was often left guessing what might happen next.

Occasionally, I wished Sankofa would have been more straightforward about the connection between the strange seed that fell from the sky during a meteor shower and her becoming the adopted daughter of Death itself. Getting to know her better eventually changed my mind on this topic. Sankofa was quite young when these events happened, so it made sense that she didn’t explain them the same way an adult would. I won’t stop hoping for a sequel that might dive deeply into this part of the world building, but the way it was explained ultimately did make sense given who Sankofa was and what she’d been through.

Some of my favourite scenes were the ones that explored what the main character learned during the course of her travels. Her experience with the seed gave her magical powers that even many adults would struggle to understand, and there was no one around to teach her how to use or control them. Seeing Sankofa gradually figure out the rules of her abilities was nearly as satisfying as watching her learn to accept what had happened to her and begin to take the first confident steps into adulthood.

Remote Control was a wonderful novella that should be read by new and old fans of Okorafor’s work alike.

Safe Haven: A Review of Everfair

Book cover for Everfair by Nisi Shawl. Image on cover is of a pair of hands holding a globe that's illuminated by gold light and surrounded by flying birds. Title: Everfair

Author: Nisi Shawl

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: 2016

Genres: Fantasy, Alternate History, Steampunk

Length: 384 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 3 stars

Blurb:

From noted short story writer Nisi Shawl comes a brilliant alternate-history novel set in the Belgian Congo.

What if the African natives developed steam power ahead of their colonial oppressors? What might have come of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier?

Fabian Socialists from Great Britain join forces with African-American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo’s “owner,” King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated.

Shawl’s speculative masterpiece manages to turn one of the worst human rights disasters on record into a marvelous and exciting exploration of the possibilities inherent in a turn of history. Everfair is told from a multiplicity of voices: Africans, Europeans, East Asians, and African Americans in complex relationships with one another, in a compelling range of voices that have historically been silenced. Everfair is not only a beautiful book but an educational and inspiring one that will give the reader new insight into an often ignored period of history.

Review:

Content warning: Racism and sexism. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

Strap in for a wild ride.This book has a bit of everything!

Ms. Shawl did a very good job of explaining the political and historical landscape of the setting. I didn’t know a lot about how Belgium colonization of the Congo went so horribly wrong in our world, so I was grateful for all of the details the author provided about why Belgium made that decision and how they expected to make it work before she imaged how things could have turned out much differently for the Congo if they’d already had steam technology when this conflict boiled over.

The cast of characters was massive. Rather than telling this tale from the perspective of one or even a few different people, there were dozens of narrators and other protagonists to sort out as I read. Given the fact that each chapter was written in a form that was pretty similar to a short story and that previous characters often weren’t revisited until many years after their previous entry, I had lots of trouble keeping up with everyone and the plot at the same time. This felt like something that really should have been separated out into several novels or many more novellas. There was so much going on in the plot that nobody got all of the attention they deserved.

There was a list of characters, their relationships to each other, and approximately when and where they lived included before the story began. I was glad to have this information and would highly recommend taking a look at it before beginning the first chapter. As I mentioned earlier in this review, the cast of characters is humongous. Having a basic idea of everyone’s identity and when they lived is crucial in order to understanding the plot, and this list did help with that even though I still believe the plot would have been better served if it were divided into a series and no more than three or four narrators were included in each instalment.

Anyone who loves alternate history speculative fiction should check this book out.