Cover of A Psalm for the Wild-Built, featuring a road through a forest, a robot, and a figure sitting on a covered wagon

About the Book

Title: A Psalm for the Wild-Built (Monk and Robot #1)
Published: 2021
Series: Monk and Robot
Swoonworthy Scale: 2

Cover Story: Winding Road
BFF Charm: Yay
Talky Talk: Cozy
Bonus Factors: Non-binary Representation, Robots, A Utopia That’s Actually a Utopia
Relationship Status: Traveling Companion

Cover Story: Winding Road

This is the kind of illustrated cover I wanted to see more of in the world. I love the depictions of Dex and Mosscap, and the road they travel. My only nitpick is that the white outline around parts of the wagon make it look poorly cropped from a white background and/or less “organic” than the other parts that make up this whole.

The Deal: 

Dex is dissatisfied with their life, but can’t figure out why. Their life as a monk is fulfilling, but living in the city no longer brings happiness. So they decide to make a change and set out to travel around the countryside and serve tea to folks in need of respite. At first, this change makes them happy and fulfilled again. But soon, they find themselves wondering more and more about the wilderness and what they might find if they left the confines of human society.

When they do eventually leave the path well-traveled, they’re surprised by the appearance of a robot named Splendid Speckled Mosscap who’s left robot society—the first one to do so in centuries—to speak with humans and discover what it is that they “need.” Dex isn’t sure that they’re the right person to re-introduce Mosscap to humanity, but when Mosscap offers to lead them through the wilderness to an old hermitage, where Dex believes they might finally find what they’ve been searching for, Dex reluctantly agrees to a very unexpected traveling companion.

BFF Charm: Yay

Yay BFF Charm

Dex is a kind, thoughtful, complex individual. They are supremely confident in some aspects of their life, but floundering in others. I liked how real this made them feel; I, too, feel this way about various parts of my own life. I envy their willingness to make big changes on the chance that they might find happiness and fulfillment and appreciate their reluctance and stubbornness when things go a bit sideways. They’d absolutely deserve a BFF charm, although I fear they’d always keep me at an arm’s length, given their penchant for solitude. That said, I’d totally be OK with just hanging out, in silence, drinking tea.

Swoonworthy Scale: 2

There’s exactly no actual swoon in this book, but Dex finds themselves occasionally thinking about attractive people they meet on their travels in ways that were certainly swoon-adjacent

Dex swallowed a wistful sigh as they saw their next visitor approaching. Mr. Cody was a good-looking man, with arms that split logs and a smile that could make a person forget all concept of linear time. But the two babies strapped to his torso—one squealing on the front, one dead asleep on the back—made Dex keep any thoughts about the rest of Mr. Cody’s anatomy completely to themself.

Talky Talk: Cozy

Although I’ve been meaning to read one of Chambers’ books for ages, it wasn’t until I happened upon A Psalm for the Wild-Built in a list of “cozy” reads that I took the time to do so. It’s not my typical fare—and not YA—but it was short, and I needed a quick break from the books I need to read to review. Not even halfway through, I knew Psalm was one of those books that would reset my brain and change me ever so slightly forever. It’s certainly cozy; even when Dez is braving the wilderness with all the dangers that forests hide and coming to terms with being the first human in centuries to chat with a robot, reading about their “adventure” is like sipping a cup of warm tea. That’s not to say it’s in any way sleepy, but there’s something about this story that makes a person feel peaceful while reading. 

On a couple of occasions, I got a bit confused with Dex’s they/them pronouns and someone else in a scene in that I wasn’t quite sure who was being spoken about, but my confusion never lasted long. And I’m grateful to have read a book with such well-formed characters and world. I could very easily picture the various settlements and the places Dex and Mosscap went in the wilderness, and all of the folks involved felt distinct and individual, even if they were just extras.

Bonus Factor: Non-binary Representation

Photo of a table with a sticker on it that says "Binary is for computers" with an illustration of a smiling computer

As I hope you’ve surmised from the way I’ve mentioned them throughout this review, Dex is non-binary. Where other monks in their order are called Sister or Brother, Dex is called Sibling. It was wonderful reading about a society in which non-binary folks are not seen as “other,” and Dex being the main character, rather than a side one, was a nice change of pace. I’m not sure if Chambers meant Dex’s lack of gender to make it easy for all readers to put themselves in their shoes, but it certainly was easier to imagine myself in their place rather than if Dex has been a tall white man with dark hair and rippling pectorals or a skinny blonde girl with blue eyes. 

Bonus Factor: Robots

A Star Wars robot sits among dirty machine parts

The robots in Psalm aren’t exactly what you might expect from a science fiction novel. Through some twist of fate or science, robots in this society became self-aware centuries ago and left, en masse, telling humanity that they would someday return. This departure and promise had long turned to myth before Mosscapp met up with Dex, and they spend much of their travels figuring each other out. Instead of working in factories or making technological advances, robots in Psalm spend their days doing whatever they like in nature, from studying the life cycles of birds to watching stalagmites grow. They’re named for whatever it is that they see when they first open their eyes—in Mosscap’s case, a mushroom—and are content to meander and be one with the wilderness in which they’ve made their home. We could all take a lesson from Mosscap and his fellow robots.

Bonus Factor: A Utopia That’s Actually a Utopia

A zoomed-out look at Future London from Brave New World

Don’t get me wrong, I love me a good dystopian novel, but it’s nice to read about a society that realized the error of its ways before nuclear war and/or environmental collapse and/or the rise of a despot “with good intentions.”

Relationship Status: Traveling Companion

I would leave the beaten path and wander with you any day, Book. Please take me on more adventures. I will bring the tea!

Literary Matchmaking

The Boneless Mercies

April Genevieve Tucholke’s The Boneless Mercies has murder instead of tea service and a terrible beast instead of a friendly robot, but it’s similarly lush.

Blue Highways

William Least Heat-Moon’s nonfiction Blue Highways also goes on a road trip through areas less traveled.

Defy the Stars (Constellation #1)

Claudia Gray’s Constellation series features an unlikely team-up between a human and an android.

FTC Full Disclosure: I bought a copy of this book with my own money and got neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. A Psalm for the Wild-Built is available now.

Mandy (she/her) is a manager at a tech company who lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, son, and dogs. She loves superheroes and pretty much any show or movie with “Star” in the name.