I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Clockwork Dynasty by Daniel H. Wilson
Published by Doubleday Books on August 1 2017
Genres: Adult, Steampunk
Format: Finished paperback
Buy on Amazon
The nitty-gritty: Part nail-biting historical journey and part Terminator-like thriller, The Clockwork Dynasty will surprise readers with its unexpected emotion, violence and unputdownable, page-turning storytelling.
“We cannot succeed,” she says, and her voice is a melody, the chirping of clockwork birds. Indeed, the mechanism that speaks for her was created from a singing wooden clock that came from the German Black Forest.
Beautiful noises that signify an ugly truth.
The Clockwork Dynasty has got to be one of the best surprises I’ve found all year, and I hope this review convinces you to read it as soon as possible! This is my first book by Daniel H. Wilson, but now I’m determined to read his backlist.
The story alternates between two timelines. In the present day, an anthropologist named June Stefanov has searched the world for examples of the mysterious avtomat, intricately built clockwork creatures that look and act eerily like humans. June carries around her neck an old relic from her grandfather, found in battle and given to June when she was just a young girl. Now June seeks the truth about the relic and suspects the avtomat she has just discovered may hold the key. But June isn’t the only one searching for the elusive avtomat, and before she knows it, she unwittingly finds herself in the middle of a war, fighting for her life.
Beginning in 1709 Moscow, the second timeline follows avtomats Peter and Elena, created (or rather, brought back to life) by a mechanician named Favo, who instills a “Word” in each one that will guide them throughout their many years of existence. Peter is named after the Emperor, Peter the Great, and he is bound to serve him. But when the Emperor dies, Peter finds his life is forfeit, as Catherine, the heir to the throne, declares that all avtomat must be destroyed. On the run, Peter and Elena try to stay one step ahead of those who would end them, and Peter knows they must disguise themselves in order to survive. Living in secret, Peter still feels the pull of his Word, which compels him to serve truth and justice. But Elena wants nothing more than to live a normal life, a human life, something that Peter can’t give her.
The two stories converge when a mysterious man comes to June’s rescue and helps her on her quest. As the two begin their journey, they eventually learn the purpose of June’s relic, a secret that could save—or destroy—the future of the avtomat.
Readers who have trouble with dual timelines may find this story challenging, but I urge you to try it anyway. I happen to LOVE dual timelines (I’m sure I’ve said that in every single dual timeline review I’ve posted here!), and Wilson does a great job keeping the two strands of his story separate yet inching ever closer together. It’s a toss-up as to which timeline I enjoyed more, because they are so different from each other. I adored Peter’s and Elena’s story, which is steeped in European history and describes in detail the horrors of war, and life in general during the 1750s. Their relationship was emotional and bittersweet, and I’m quite certain the author was channeling Interview with the Vampire as he was writing this book. (Elena seems to be an homage to the eternal child-vampire Claudia, and Peter, her protector, reminded me so much of Louis.) Their story broke my heart. Imagine, two outsiders, created long ago, who can only rely on each other because they are completely unique. And yet, their relationship goes through a myriad of changes over the years, as they inevitably betray each other.
On the other hand, readers who love action and thrillers are going to love June’s story line, which takes place in the present day. June is a historian, and discovering the secret of the avtomats has become her life’s work. June’s chapters are chock full of Indian Jones-like action, as she tries to keep her relic hidden from the avtomat who is chasing her, all the while searching for its true purpose. For a mild-mannered history buff, June finds herself in big trouble more often than not during the story, and I especially loved that she doesn’t have any physical skills to keep her safe. She’s not a karate expert, or a fighter, and she’s not particularly good at defending herself, all of which make her a believable character in the midst of some pretty outrageous action sequences.
I was not expecting the vivid and horrifying descriptions of war between the pages of this book, but Peter spends many years in various wars, and Wilson gives us “in the trench” descriptions as Peter makes his way through battle after battle. The author is so good at evoking time and place: I literally felt as if I were in the middle of the fighting. During Peter’s time in India, I could feel the leathery skin of the war elephants, and when Peter and Elena end up in London, I could smell the stink of the sewers and hear the noise of the crowds. Even in June’s chapters, the story gets quite violent at times. And don’t be fooled by the seemingly indestructibility of the clockwork characters: there is plenty of cringe-worthy violence as limbs are torn off and later, faces stitched up. It was all quite wonderful!
One of the best parts of The Clockwork Dynasty is piecing all the different stories together. The avtomat are a wonderful invention, and Wilson has taken the kernel of an idea based on real automaton to create an inventive and fascinating tale of creatures who can literally live for thousands of years. The only drawback for me was an over-the-top ending that felt more like a blockbuster movie finale. But although most things are resolved by the end, Wilson leaves us with several unanswered questions that will hopefully lead to a sequel. Highly recommended!
Big thanks to the publisher and Wunderkind PR for supplying a review copy.