Present day: When a young anthropologist specializing in ancient technology uncovers a terrible secret concealed in the workings of a three-hundred-year-old mechanical doll, she is thrown into a hidden world that lurks just under the surface of our own. With her career and her life at stake, June Stefanov will ally with a remarkable traveler who exposes her to a reality she never imagined, as they embark on an around-the-world adventure and discover breathtaking secrets of the past…
Russia, 1725: In the depths of the Kremlin, the tsar’s loyal mechanician brings to life two astonishingly humanlike mechanical beings. Peter and Elena are a brother and sister fallen out of time, possessed with uncanny power, and destined to serve great empires. Struggling to blend into pre-Victorian society, they are pulled into a legendary war that has raged for centuries.
The Clockwork Dynasty seamlessly interweaves past and present, exploring a race of beings designed to live by ironclad principles, yet constantly searching for meaning. As June plunges deeper into their world, her choices will ultimately determine their survival or extermination. Richly-imagined and heart-pounding, Daniel H. Wilson’s novel expertly draws on his robotics and science background, combining exquisitely drawn characters with visionary technology—and riveting action.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.40(w) x 8.70(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The age of a thing is in the feel of it. Secrets are locked in the fingerprints of cracked porcelain and the bloom of rust on metal. You’ve just got to pick up a dusty artifact in both hands and squeeze your eyelids shut. With a little thought, the mind-reeling eons of time will stretch out before you like a star-filled sky.
I didn’t learn this feeling in a classroom. No scientist does.
My grandfather, my dedushka . . . he taught me this awe for the forgotten past.
When I was sixteen, Vasily Stefanov caught me hiding in his toolshed, rummaging through his war souvenirs and trying to open the brass padlock on a battered green ammunition box with a screwdriver. He whistled low, like a cuckoo. This was how he’d gotten my attention since I was a little girl, and I froze in embarrassment.
Instead of punishing me, he told me a story.
“You are so curious,” he said, words soaked in the heavy Russian accent he brought to the United States from another life. “What are you looking for?”
“I’m sorry, Dedushka,” I stuttered. “Nothing. I only wanted to—”
He waved me off with a callused palm.
“It’s okay. Curious people learn things,” he said.
My grandfather took the ammunition box from me and set it clattering on his workbench. He unlocked the padlock and opened the dented lid, revealing a few faded photographs, an old pocket watch, and scattered medals. Then, he lifted out an oily cloth with something heavy wrapped in it. Without a word, he dropped the shrouded bundle across my palms.
Inside, I found something metallic and dense, something so intricate and alien that my breath caught in my throat. Etched into a crescent-shaped slice of metal the size of a seashell, I saw a labyrinthine pattern of grooves—a language of bizarre angles.
“This thing,” he said. “This incredible thing. I always meant to share it, you understand? But the years march.”
“It’s heavy,” I said.
“It is a relic from a war. With a story I have never told anyone.”
I remember his face now so clearly, lined with wrinkles that could be scary until the old man smiled and you saw where they came from.
“Do you believe in angels, June?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I responded. “No.”
“Perhaps you should,” he said.
Grandfather cleared his throat, leaned against a creaking workbench.
“I was barely a teenager, same as you, when the second world war came. My family lived in a village near the Ural Mountains. The Germans stormed onto Russian soil and it was decided I was old enough to journey to the front. All the boys in the village were sent. We were excited. Excited.”
He shook his head at the memory.
“Stalingrad. Winter,” he said. “Early in the battle. We were already starving. Frozen. The Germans had pushed a million Soviet soldiers nearly to the banks of the Volga. The women and children and wounded who were left in the city . . . they finally tried to escape across the icy black river. All hope was gone. It was only survival then.
“The Volga was choked with great green military tankers, filthy fishing rigs, civilian yachts, and human beings, thousands of them, a—a . . . mass of them, clinging to anything that would float. And the low gray clouds over the river were screaming with Nazi warplanes. The sky was weeping tears of fire onto the backs of those women and children. Oil and gas had spilled on the water. The river herself was burning.
“I and the other scouts were on the near bank, covering the retreat. Stalingrad itself was already bombed to oblivion. You can’t understand . . . it was a moonscape. Another world. A place of shattered brick and wood. Crumbling walls sagging in fields that were once neighborhoods, empty windows like open mouths, vomiting dust. The fallen froze where they lay and were not buried.
“We boys survived like rodents, climbing through the remains of collapsed basements or abandoned trenches. Nothing aboveground was left. We lived this horror for months . . . months that went on for eternity. Frostbite and thirst and snipers. Early on we had trained our dogs to wear explosives and run under the German tanks. Later, we ate them. And I do not know how to explain to you, vnuchka . . . but over time . . . in that strange cold world, the memory of my life faded to gray ash.
“Foolishly, I came to believe there was nothing left that could horrify me.”
Grandfather blinked, gazing at the open ammunition box and its dangling brass padlock. Lost in the act of remembering, he would not look at me while he spoke.
“A Nazi plane must have called out our position. One minute the other boys and I were lined up in our greatcoats, rifles snapping bullets, stocks laid over a wall of rubble. ‘Not one step back,’ was the saying. Those who ran were shot. We pulled our triggers when forms appeared in the smoke and held our ground. No matter how many German helmets appeared . . . we were ready to make the sacrifice.
“And then our hillside turned to chaos. A German tank had zeroed in on us. It was as if a giant had put his fist into the hill and we were thrown, flung into the sky like rag dolls, helmets rolling. A hunchbacked panzer crawled out of the mist, painted yellow and gray, like a sick tiger, the black eye of its turret searching for us. Lying on my stomach, breathing dust, eyes not focusing . . . I could hear the German crew shouting to each other. Like demons made of smoke and dust, calling out from hell.
“June, please understand. What happened next . . . it is terrible. But you must know. Someday, it may help you make sense of what you hold in your hands.”
My eyes dropped from Grandfather’s face to the sliver of metal lying across my fingers. I couldn’t recognize the symbols etched in its surface. They looked like warped letters, mixed with geometrical shapes, lines and dots. The metal felt strangely warm, the finely carved edges dissolving into fractal curls. In each crescent tip was a small hole, as if the artifact were a small part of something bigger.
“After the shell hit, all the other boys were gone—wiped out. My side was numb, torn by shrapnel and rock. But I could still move. Ears ringing, I rolled onto my back. And by a stroke of luck, I was alive to see what came next.
“A tall man in a Soviet greatcoat and hat came staggering over the broken hillside. His face was in anguish, his movements almost blind. But he had spotted the Germans before they saw him. He dove forward and snatched the sidearm away from one soldier and fired it into his torso until there were no more bullets. In another stride, he grabbed two more soldiers in a bear hug. Then he smashed their heads together—shattered their helmets. The men fell dead. And finally, the Russian turned. I felt his gaze upon me.
“We had been eating rats, June. We were weak. But this man was strong. He was holy. My eyes filled with tears because I knew then he was an avenging angel, righteous, stalking the mists of battle.
“And I remember that I smiled, my cracked lips bleeding. I felt I was somehow witnessing the truth. The very incarnation of justice.
“A hatch on the panzer opened and the Nazi tank commander emerged, firing his tommy gun. Bullets spat right into the angel’s back. He stumbled and fell, like a man, and lay crumpled among the bodies of my friends.
“The commander climbed off the tank, cautious. Trying to look every direction at once. This man had seen the furious vengeance of God and knew he had been judged. I lay still, my breath shallow, watching from beneath the turned‑up brim of my ushanka hat and trying not to shiver.
“The doomed man leaned over to inspect the body. I do not know what he saw, but I will never forget his face as he saw it. His eyes went wide in shock. He spun, coat flapping, and screamed a command to his driver inside the tank, looking away for one second . . . it was enough. The angel rose, taking the man by the face. Those gloved fingers nearly reached around the back of the man’s head, lifting him off the ground. With one squeeze—”
My grandfather yanked his thumb across his throat.
“The tank was still idling, waiting. Then the hatch on top clanged shut and the panzer engine began to rumble. Running away. Imagine. The might of a tank, invincible and armored, fleeing from one man.
“The angel stood up and shook out his tattered coat. Then the thing leaped onto the side of the tank. With one hand, he tore the hatch right off the turret. Reaching inside, he dragged the shrieking German driver out by his collar, thumped his face against the metal, and rolled his body onto the ground. Like it was nothing. Like he was slapping a fish against a rock.
“The angel stood for a moment, head down in despair. Something fell from his hands. Then he walked away, disappearing into the mist. The tank kept rolling toward the river. After some time, I heard a splash. The sting of my injury was growing, but even then, curiosity had not left me. So I dragged myself over rubble and death until I reached the spot where the angel had stood.
“I saw the bullets go into him. But on the ground, instead of blood, I found shards of metal. Bits of leather. Bullet fragments and something else. An object, very old I think, yet more modern than any machinery in that battle.
“That is what you hold in your hands, June . . . this relic is what the angel of vengeance left behind.”
My grandfather stopped speaking. He finally looked up at me, watching as I traced my fingers over the curves of the artifact.
“There are strange things in the world, June. Things older than we know. Walking with the faces of men . . . there are angels among us. Sometimes they will judge. And sometimes they will exact punishment.
“What you hold belongs to their world. Not to ours.”
Under his stern gaze, I understood his message.
Tell no one.
“Most people don’t want to see a hidden world. They are content to live in ignorance. Others are more curious. What kind of person are you, June?”
“I don’t know, Grandfather,” I said truthfully.
With that, he carefully took the relic from me, wrapped it back in its oily cloth, and placed it inside the ammunition box. He pushed the old brass padlock back through the ring and, with a click, he locked it tight.
“Can I see it again, sometime?” I asked.
Grandfather looked at me for a long moment.
“Someday you will,” he said, nodding.
Two years later, at his funeral, my grandmother handed me a sealed envelope. My name was scrawled on it in my grandfather’s rough handwriting. Inside, I found a small thing that changed the course of my life.
A brass key.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I enjoyed"The Clockwork Dynasty". This book told a great tale full of history and was a good read. The characters were well written and I would enjoy a second book to continue the story.
Not his best work, but an interesting idea and great read.
The Clockwork Dynasty’s cover caught my eye when I first viewed in on NetGalley. It’s dark, haunting and promises a bit of steam punk flare–all things that I’ve been gravitating towards recently. Steampunk often allows me to explore new worlds with at least one foot planted firmly in my known world where I’m most comfortable. The Clockwork Dynasty certainly delivers on both these points. What surprised me most about The Clockwork Dynasty was the flashbacks. Oh yeah, this tale uses one of my favorite storytelling devices…flashbacks. And it took me completely by surprise. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a sci-fi/steampunk novel that has employed this device and if I have, apparently, it was done in forgettable way. The way the story is told is my favorite thing about The Clockwork Dynasty. The story jumping between the past and present drives the story forward in an expected fashion. Every jump moves the story forward with just enough mystery to keep you reading and wondering what lost memories will be recovered. The characters, both the good guys and bad guys, are compelling as well. Drawn to each other for reasons other than romance they work together to discover who they are and what their true purpose might be. The theme of family and belonging is a strong message. It’s not necessarily blood that binds us together. While moving forward in a seemingly dystopian world where the secrets of the automatons is unknown, our June and Pyotr, are driven back to their own pasts to discover their own secrets and those of the creation of the automatons. The Clockwork Dynasty is a deftly woven tale of mystery and intrigue that ends with a bang and hope for a continuance of this amazing story about a lost history.
When I picked up this book, I have to admit, I was surprised, because sci fy steam punk fantasy stories is not the type of book I usually read, yet it ended up being so much more than I had imagined. The Clockwork Dynasty is not just a book about a race of human-like mechanical creatures or avtomats that secretly live among us and are fighting a war that has raged for centuries, but it’s a story about life and the constant search for meaning and purpose. This book waffles back and forth between present day Oregon, Washington and other places, and the 1700’s beginning in Russia and taking the reader on a journey through history and time. In present time it follows the story of June someone who has made a career in ancient technology, ever since an encounter she had a child with her grandpa changed her perception of the world and started her fascination with this avtomat technology. A couple years after her grandfather’s death she receives a avtomat artifact that will cause her to team up with an avtomat named Peter, launch her into a great adventure in the secret avtomat world, and ultimately determine this race’s extinction or survival. In the 1700’s it follows the story of brother (Peter) and sister (Elena) two human-like avtomats that were resurrected by a Russian clock maker using something called an anime which serves as the avtomat’s heart and soul. As they live through the years they spend it hiding their secret, trying to blend into society, and fighting a war that has been raging among their own race for centuries. This story explores the character’s constant search for meaning in a way that is both at times sad and extremely insightful. In the book each avtomat’s anime is marked with a Pravda or a special word that is their bond and command. As long as they satisfy their Pravda, they are at peace, otherwise they suffer. In Peter’s case this word is justice. As the book progresses we see his idea of justice shift and change as he lives through the years. Through a fascinating inner dialogue, Peter perception shifts from gaining justice simply by serving rulers in war to something far deeper and more moving, as this quote, when he encounters a dying soldier on the enemy’s side in the battlefield, suggests: “Once Pravda was clear to me. By obeying my emperor all was well. But what was simple is becoming complex. I can see no evil inside this grievously wounded man, only honor. And though no clockwork flutters beneath his throat, I can see the inevitable forces that led him here, through no fault of his own, fating him to die in the shadow of this crumbling wall.” As the book progresses a new perspective of right and wrong emerges leaving him questioning not only who he is but why he was made. Another major theme this story also explores is the theme of war. As Peter recounts from his past, countless experiences on various battlefields throughout his life, and in the present, his own thoughts on his own race’s war; the reality of war is pressed heavy on the reader making this book at times very depressing, sad, and dark. This reality is made even more real by the moving prose, and incredible world-building and character development that takes place throughout the book. Daniel H Wilson does an amazing job of weaving together past and present into an engaging literary story that has something for everyone.
The Clockwork Dynasty is creative and intriguing. It is full of historical nods and futuristic technology. For those looking for something a little bit quirky and different, this one is for you. The Clockwork Dynasty was initially a cover add for me. The synopsis further intrigued me, so when I saw it offered on NetGalley I knew I had to request it. Unfortunately, it took me a while before I was able to find the time to read it. I'm honestly a little glad that I did not rush in to this one. It wasn't a bad read, but just didn't live up to the hype I created in my mind for it. The world building was nice. There was a superb amount of imagery and description used to create the setting for the story. The plot kind of struck me right down the middle, though. I did enjoy the plot, for the most part. I felt like it was unique and had great potential to be astounding. It had aspects that reminded me of watching Interview With the Vampire and Terminator, and reading Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. And, it kept my interest enough to keep reading, but there were several moments where I just felt confused, and felt awkwardness. The characters weren't as developed as I would have liked them to be either. I didn't feel like any one character was fleshed out enough for me to become invested in. The idea behind the automaton characters was incredibly intriguing, and they had some unique qualities that made them feel both human, and inhuman, at the same time. But, the main character, June, just didn't strike me the way I would have liked, and Peter and Elena were still too unknown for me. The writing style itself was descriptive and entertaining. The idea behind the plot was quite fascinating, and had the potential to be a superb steampunk story. I just felt like I didn't relate to this as much as I wanted to. It was worth the read for the thought provoking story line, and I would definitely read this author again. I just wish the story had a little more "oomphf." I would rate this one 2.5 to 3 stars. Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with this free e-copy in exchange for my honest review.
When I first heard about The Clockwork Dynasty, I was very intrigued. The blend of science fiction, historical fiction, and steampunk seemed very promising. I ended up enjoying this book but I do wish that I had been able to emotionally connect with the characters more. The Clockwork Dynasty begins with June Stefanov, a young anthropologist specializing in ancient technology, pursuing an antique clockwork relic. Her story, which soon becomes a series of action scenes, alternates with that of Peter and Elena, two mechanical beings brought to life in 1725 in Russia. The author does a wonderful job of interweaving the past and the present, doling out just enough information to keep you hooked. This book is an intriguing blend of existential musings, high-stakes conflicts, and amazing technology. I liked how the author explored some deeper questions such as the search for a purpose and a sense of belonging. It's very clear that the author has done a significant amount of historical research, the scenes in the past feel incredibly realistic and are beautifully written. Additionally, Wilson continues to write the same fantastic science fiction as he did in the past, albeit with a more fantasy twist. However, the world-building here was slightly confusing at first and I would have liked to have ended the book with more answers than we did, particularly considering that this one is a standalone. I also wasn't really able to emotionally connect with the characters, which made it hard for me to connect with the novel as a whole, despite the excellent plot. The Clockwork Dynasty was a story full of wonder, mystery, and adventure. I would recommend this one to fans of science fiction who are willing to try something a little different. *Disclaimer: 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.
Very Thought Provoking. I was a First Read Winner of this book and I really enjoyed it. I don't read a lot of Steampunk and Sci-Fi, which I definitely need to rectify since I like them actually very much. This book unfolded slowly layer by layer and I was intrigued on how it might end, and now I want more. There was plenty of action and suspense and I hope that there will be more books to come. Another thing that I liked about the book was that each chapter was not too long so it was easy to read it in short spurts, I had trouble putting it down. Very entertaining and thought provoking, Daniel H Wilson has a new fan in me.
I was pulled into this book right from the first chapter. The June, as a teenager, is caught trying to break into her grandfather’s lock-box. She expects to get in trouble. She doesn’t. Instead, she gets to touch an ancient and beautiful fragment of clockwork. Her grandfather can’t explain how technology this advanced can be so old; he can only explain the extraordinary events of the day he found it. June is captivated. Flash forward to June as a young scientist studying mechanical figures. When she gets too close to discovering the secrets that lie behind these figures, the plot ratchets into high gear. The Clockwork Dynasty is one of the best books I’ve received from Netgalley. The pacing is fast and the action scenes are gripping. Both human and automaton characters are written with depth. The interweaving of the historical time periods the automatons live through with the present day action is well done. I highly recommend this book! Note: I usually review young adult and middle grade books. This is an adult book. Readers of The Hunger Games and other YA novels that have violent scenes will probably be fine with the content, but I wouldn’t hand it to a middle grader “reading up.” If you have questions about content, feel free to ask in the comments or email me. I received free advanced reader copy of The Clockwork Dynasty in exchange for an unbiased review. Find more reviews on my blog: writerebeccawrite.wordpress.com.
The Clockwork Dynasty by Daniel H. Wilson is a highly recommended blended steampunk/sci-fi thriller exposing the secret history of the avtomat, or automats/robots, living among us. A secret race of robots has been living alongside humans for centuries. The Clockwork Dynasty tells the past and present story of these beings through two timelines, the present day and in 1725 Russia. June Stefanov is an anthropologist who specializes in ancient technology and she travels the world for her employer, the Kunlun Foundation, looking for rare antique automatons. She wears an old artifact around her neck that she inherited from her grandfather. The artifact is reminiscent of an intricate clockwork assembly and her grandfather told her to keep its existence secret. When she figures out how to activate a three-hundred-year-old mechanical doll, she is told the "wolves" are coming for her. She is rescued by Peter Alexeyvich, a robot, from certain death at the mechanical hands of Talus Silferström. Talus serves the avtomat called Leizu, the Worm Mother, who also seeks to kill Peter. Now the two are on the run together as June learns about the secret robots that live among us. Peter's history begins in 1725 Moscow where Giacomo Favorini, the last mechanic of Czar Peter the Great, brings Pyotr/Peter Alexeyvich to life along with his sister Elena Petrova. Peter resembles a tall man, while Elena looks like a girl of around 12. Circumstances force them to flee Russia (when we are introduced to Talus) and travel to London where they struggle to blend into the world of humans. Peter becomes a soldier of fortune while Elena chaffs under the requirement that she stay hidden from humans - and Leizu. Chapters alternate between Peter's story set in the past and the present day with June. I'm not convinced that the alternating chapters worked well here. It might have been good to develop June's character more while condensing the backstory of Peter and Elena. Currently June is undeveloped for a main character; however the novel is certainly set up for a continuation of the story so perhaps the next book will give us more insight into June and her amazing mechanical skills. The writing is very good and there is a lot of fast-paced action to keep both stories moving along quickly. The battles all seem to have a violent, Terminator feel to them and, admittedly, sometimes it became just a bit too violent for me. It is an entertaining novel that shows an influence from other stories/movies, but still should please fans of robot/steampunk fiction. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.
Do I really need to say how ravishing this cover is? I've read several other books by this author and he has yet to disappoint me. The chapters alternate between past, present, and various settings in history and reveal how Peter and June are connected. The history of the avtomats and how they each live by their 'word' is intriguing and I would have liked more details, but it looks like there's a sequel, so I'm assuming the author plans to expand on that in a future book. With intricate avtomat design descriptions and vivid imagery, the action scenes played out like a movie (especially when June experiences claustrophobia) - and I can easily picture this as a movie. There's no doubt I enjoyed Clockwork Dynasty, but I admit the pacing was a bit slow in a few places and I skimmed through some pages. While Peter's character was well-developed (I kept forgetting he wasn't human), June felt a little flat and other than her engineering talents, I knew next to nothing about her. If you're familiar with Wilson's books, you know they tend to revolve around artificial intelligence and robotics, so if that's your thing, this is your book. If, however, you're looking for more of a steampunk feel, the cover is slightly misleading. In my opinion, this book leans more toward sci-fi. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the digital ARC.