How much history is hidden? Our understanding of the past comes with a back-story that we all supposedly subscribe to, a theory that sounds good but which we know to be incomplete at best. Everyone has a different idea as to how we got to where we are today, and there are plenty of places in written history within which one might hide quite a bit of story that remains untold. June is a specialist in re-assembling ancient automatons, old clockwork dolls with fine machinery. When she rebuilds a Russian artifact, a writing doll, it inscribes a message – the first sentence in a story we have yet to hear.
The Clockwork Dynasty begins carefully and economically, but not slowly. Wilson expertly crafts a scene out of time, immersing us in the scents and sounds of age. But as we become comfortable, he ups the urgency. In the present, June has happened upon a story she was not supposed to see, bringing her and all those around her into peril. As she flees, we are taken to another perspective in 18th century Russia, that of Peter, an automaton created to help and perhaps replace Peter the Great. He too, must flee, and clearly his path will cross June’s, a meeting that is likely to make things worse for both rather than better.
Given Wilson’s written history, it ‘s tempting to think that what you’re getting in The Clockwork Dynasty is a steampunk novel., but that is not the case. You will get a lot of the scenery of steampunk, specifically clockwork robots, but Wilson’s storyline aims squarely at the sense of wonder and hits on all axes. Combining terror and awe, June’s journey is much more in a Lovecraftian vein of ancient survivals and secret histories. Behind what we think we know is something we do not know at all, and our ignorance could be our undoing.
Expect to find one super-thrilling scene after another with a plot spanning centuries that you’d like to read in seconds. Importantly, Wilson spares us the usual romance and focuses on the characters and ideas, with the result being that even as he writes a blockbuster action scene, the action is matched by the ideas and the character arcs. For this reader, at least, Wilson has moved from a science fiction feel to a horror fiction feel sans the supernatural machinations. The upshot is that Wilson’s latest feels fresh and original, even as the page-turning-thriller vibe keeps you up late reading. This is a novel that were it a movie (and it should be), every scene would prove to be a good part. It not only keeps you in the present it creates, it makes you remember it after you have finished reading.
Consequently, this is a novel that might seem to have a more specialized appeal than proves to be the case. Don’t be fooled. The Clockwork Dynasty is big-scale crowd-pleaser with smarts and heart. It admits a sequel, but not from the edge of a cliff. Even if it proves that your motives for doing so are not your own, even if our destiny has been shaped by beings we do not know to exist and could not comprehend if we did, your time reading The Clockwork Dynasty is time well spent.
The clock is ever ticking when one sits down to interview an author with books as stuffed with ideas and good writing as those of Daniel H. Wilson. He and I have been talking for over a decade, a deepish sort of time that can seem a little bit scary. As we sat down for The Clockwork Dynasty, I also wanted to discuss Robogenesis, a novel that breaks new boundaries in body horror. Forget the post-apocalypse, etc, and settle down for a chat that includes a brief look at having your body town to shreds by tiny bits of smart metal embedded in your spine. Feel them crawl up your spine as they entwine your nerves. Follow this link to the MP3 audio file of our brief discussion, or listen below.