A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers
Published by Tor
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Becky Chambers is one of those authors whose books are so adored, I was convinced I’d love her work even before I had tried any of it for myself. Thankfully, reading this confirmed that belief was well founded
In A Psalm for the Wild-Built, we follow Dex, a tea monk whose vocation requires them to travel Panga (the moon they call home), providing those who need it with an impartial ear, words of comfort, and custom blends of tea. Despite being good at their job and relatively content with life, Dex comes to wonder if it’s enough. One day, craving solitude, adventure, and a break from routine, Dex heads into the untouched wilderness. Here, they become one of the first people for centuries to encounter one of the many robots who, upon gaining consciousness, chose to leave human civilisation and live free in the wild. Together, they wrestle with ideas of identity, purpose, and connection.
The role of a tea monk is such a lovely concept in and of itself; a charming play on the very real notion that a good cup of tea and a chance to offload can make everything seem better. This society having people whose very lives are dedicated to bringing such comfort to others is emblematic of the overall tone established by Chambers: one of warmth, kindness, and hope. On a grander scale, there is a clear sense of respect for the natural world, with “green” practices very much the norm. It is repeatedly implied that this harmonious, gentler way of life is a response to the impact of climate change, with humans having redressed the balance and reduced their impact on the environment before it was too late. This is something we could clearly learn from ourselves, but while most speculative sci-fi paints a dim view of our future relationship with nature, it was genuinely refreshing to read something optimistic.
I also loved the way gender identity and religion were handled, both having evolved to become far more fluid and inclusive in ways that felt natural and right. And yet, nothing was ever forced or preachy, with Chambers’ worldbuilding cleverly structured to show rather than tell. The prose itself is also gorgeous. Chambers paints her characters and their world so vividly, but she also has a knack for simple yet effective turns of phrase that feel perceptive and true: Birds aren’t singing, they have “melodic opinions”, while skyscrapers are “endless stacks of humanity”.
A poignant, necessary reminder that we’re all just doing our best to be happy, the book extends such a loving hand to anyone who may at times feel unmoored; questioning who they are or what they want from life. And yet, despite navigating big, philosophical ideas of place, purpose, and satisfaction, the story never feels dry. In fact, I can’t think of many books that have as much heart as this one. Without wanting to sound trite, it too functions like a comforting cup of tea and the reassurance of a friend, which is something most of us could benefit from now more than ever.
It’s rare I get invested in a series these days, but I fell instantly for Dex, Mosscap, and the reassuring way of life on Panga. I can’t wait to spend more time with them in future instalments.