Peter doesn’t know how old he is. He only remembers waking in the dim light of the basement of the palace of Peter the Great. Peter and his sister Elena do not recall how they came to be in this place, at this time. They are avtomat, human-looking beings animated by a mysterious clockwork device. The device not only keeps them alive, but provides them with a specific purpose for living.
Peter and Elena soon learn that danger haunts their existence. Avtomat have lived side-by-side with humanity for millennia, always keeping themselves secret. But now the avtomat have begun to disappear, and time may be running out to save them.
In the present day, young June Stefanov finds an odd relic among her grandfather’s things, a mechanical device of unknown purpose. He tells her a fantastic tale of an angel who left the device behind on a WWII battlefield. The story sparks a lifelong interest in ancient clockwork devices, tiny marvels of engineering of civilizations past.
June stumbles into a war between avtomat as the race is beginning to die out and is unable to repair the most essential parts of themselves. June may be the key to their survival, but Peter will need to keep her alive long enough to do so.
June and Peter’s stories are told chronologically, and in parallel. This means that Peter’s story begins three hundred years ago and June’s story is present day. This leads to uncomfortable pacing as June’s action-laden chapters are interleaved with Peter’s backstory chapters. I don’t know how I feel about this; the fits and starts require the reader to be committed to see the story through. I didn’t see how the two stories fit together–aside from Peter appearing in both–until about half-way through. In my opinion, Wilson handles this well, and I didn’t even once consider putting the book down. However, I could see a less interested reader putting the book aside before things get good.
I really, really liked this book. I found the story engaging, and I loved the characters. June was difficult and pig-headed; I rooted for her from the first page to the last. I found Peter sad and sympathetic, and I wanted more Elena, a brilliant avtomat constrained by her child’s body. I want more of the world. Who were the First Men who built the avtomat? To what ends? Are they coming back? What happens now that June knows who they are?
The book had its problems. I’ve already talked about the pacing. Another would be the reader’s willingness to suspend disbelief. While it’s relatively easy to imagine a present-day avtomat readily passing for human, it’s harder to imagine that leather skin pulled over a skeleton of unknown material would fool anyone three hundred years ago, even in dim lighting.
Ultimately, I didn’t care. I enjoyed this book. I’ve read it three times already. If Wilson writes more in this series, I’m absolutely here for it.
I was given an advance copy of The Clockwork Dynasty via Netgalley in exchange for a review.