Autonomous Automatons


Robots seem to be the way of our future, but they’ve also been an integral part of our past, too. Daniel H. Wilson’s The Clockwork Dynasty explores a world where automatons have become nearly indistinguishable from humans.

June is fascinated by machinery, spurred into studying mechanical dolls and automatons after her grandfather gave her a relic from a World War II “angel” to protect and keep secret when she was a young girl. While examining a three hundred year old mechanical doll that was a gift to Tsar Peter, June learns the term avtomat, which is what these living machines call themselves. Learning their name draws June unknowingly into a war between these machines over the relic she wears around her neck. Saved from being killed at the hands of one avtomat by another called Peter, June works with Peter to find the vessel for the relic she carries in an effort to end the centuries-long war.

Alternating between June’s experiences in current time with those of Peter throughout the centuries of his long life, the story intricately unfolds details in its portrayal of the hidden world of avtomats. I found it a bit annoying that there were things about Peter that were reiterated without adding meaning or anything new to his character, such as what his Word is and what it means, and describing in detail his rather unique dagger. Spanning across thousands of years, the continued presence of avtomats didn’t seem too far-fetched and is quite an exciting prospect to consider given the contemporary growing dependence upon robotics and artificial intelligence.

Overall, I’d give it a 4 out of 5 stars.



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  2. blablablaandgabbler · August 7

    I’m curious to know why Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and king of Spain isn’t a focus of the book rather than Peter the Great. Charles V was known to commission actual automata, including a clockwork monk he had made after is son, Prince Phillip, recovered from a brain injury. …Or does Wilson mention him in the book? I don’t know much about Peter the Great, but does he have a real historical connection to robots?


    • Jen Paul · August 7

      I didn’t know about the connection to Charles V, but that’s interesting. I don’t have the answers as my historical knowledge doesn’t quite extend to this area, but I think your questions might be best suited for Wilson to address.

      Liked by 1 person

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