Life is close to perfect for Emil Larsson, a self-satisfied bureaucrat in the Office of Customs and Excise in 1791 Stockholm. He is a true man of the Town--a drinker, card player, and contented bachelor--until one evening when Mrs. Sofia Sparrow, a fortune-teller and proprietor of an exclusive gaming parlor, shares with him a vision she has had: a golden path that will lead him to love and connection.Read more...
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- [-] Other Available FormatsOur PriceNew & Used MarketplaceThe Stockholm Octavo (Paperback)
Publisher: Ecco Press$11.98The Stockholm Octavo (Large Print Hardcover)
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Life is close to perfect for Emil Larsson, a self-satisfied bureaucrat in the Office of Customs and Excise in 1791 Stockholm. He is a true man of the Town--a drinker, card player, and contented bachelor--until one evening when Mrs. Sofia Sparrow, a fortune-teller and proprietor of an exclusive gaming parlor, shares with him a vision she has had: a golden path that will lead him to love and connection. She lays an Octavo for him, a spread of eight cards that augur the eight individuals who can help him realize this vision--if he can find them.
Emil begins his search, intrigued by the puzzle of his Octavo and the good fortune Mrs. Sparrow's vision portends. But when Mrs. Sparrow wins a mysterious folding fan in a card game, the Octavo's deeper powers are revealed. For Emil it is no longer just a game of the heart; collecting his eight is now crucial to pulling his country back from the crumbling precipice of rebellion and chaos. Set against the luminous backdrop of late eighteenth-century Stockholm, as the winds of revolution rage through the great capitals of Europe, The Stockholm Octavo brings together a collection of characters, both fictional and historical, whose lives tangle in political conspiracy, love, and magic in a breathtaking debut that will leave you spellbound.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-05-14
- Reviewer: Staff
Political and social intrigue are merged through the medium of the mystical card layout called the Octavo in this debut novel of maneuvering aristocrats and striving tradesmen in late 18th-century Stockholm. In the reign of the alternately enlightened and autocratic King Gustav III, his brother Karl and the society doyenne known as the Uzanne scheme to return control of Sweden to the nobility, opposed secretly by the mysterious gambling club owner Sofia Sparrow, whose prophetic visions link Gustav with the doomed king and queen of France. Moving among the conspirators are the beautiful apothecary Johanna Grey, the master calligrapher Fredrik Lind, the obsessive fan maker Christian Nordén, and the up-and-coming customs bureaucrat Emil Larsson, whose personal Octavo links him to players on both sides of the conflict. Neatly mixing revolutionary politics with the erotic tension and cutthroat rivalry of the female conspirators—whose exquisite, one-of-a-kind fans are both weapons and prizes—Engelmann has crafted a magnificent, suspenseful story set against the vibrant society of Sweden’s zenith, with a cast of colorful characters balanced at a crux of history. Illus. (Oct.)
The power in the cards
The “Octavo” is a set of eight cards that, when dealt by an expert, provides all the clues the subject will need in order to chart a successful path through life. One such expert is the visionary Mrs. Sparrow, who runs the Octavo for her well-heeled friends (including King Gustav himself) in the upper room of her famous Stockholm tavern. One fateful night, the subject of the Octavo is neither aristocratic nor regal, but the book’s dashing, scrupulous narrator, Emil Larsson. A customs official for Stockholm’s great port, Emil is doing his best to climb the complex and intrigue-ridden social ladder of 18th-century Swedish society. Mrs. Sparrow has had an urgent vision: She must lay out Emil’s Octavo immediately. The future of the nation itself is hiding somewhere in his cards.
Even the most stalwart fans of the genre would admit that historical fiction often relies on stereotyped characters. In The Stockholm Octavo, debut author Karen Engelmann turns a nifty card trick, transforming this convention into her novel’s supreme virtue. The Octavo encompasses every conceivable type, each one fixed in place within the mystical pattern: The central Seeker, the obscure Companion, the crafty Teacher, the suppliant Prisoner, the all-important Key, etc. Right at the start, through the medium of Mrs. Sparrow’s dealings, Engelmann literally lays her fictional cards on the table. The fascination of the cards’ unfolding gives way to even greater narrative magic, when Emil must wield all his intelligence and resources to identify the actual persons who embody the eight figures of his Octavo.
With flawless instinct, Engelmann conflates mystery and romance, as circumstances conspire to withhold from Emil the cards’ real-life counterparts. Most elusive of all—and most page-turning for the reader—is the identity of the woman he is meant to love and to wed. Misstep follows upon misdirection; it is not even clear which Octavo position his beloved will assume. The only certainty is that if Emil does not act quickly, the treasonous element in King Gustav’s court will have its dark way, sending Sweden, like France, into its own revolutionary nightmare. Is this historical, or is it fiction? The answer—the ace up Karen Engelmann’s sleeve—is yes.
Read a Q&A with Karen Engelmann about The Stockholm Octavo.