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The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann

The Stockholm Octavo (2012)

by Karen Engelmann

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3892927,583 (3.58)97



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English (25)  Dutch (1)  Spanish (1)  Swedish (1)  German (1)  English (29)
Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
Took a two-week break with this one while I read The Drafter. ( )
  Heather_Brock | Nov 23, 2016 |
Not bad, but it drags. ( )
  ehines | Oct 18, 2016 |
This is an amusing novel set during the 18th c. rule of Gustav III, King of Sweden and Finland. Gustav, an admirer of Voltaire, was a patron of the arts, establishing the Swedish Academy, the Royal Opera, and the Royal Swedish Dramatic Theatre. He was also a believer in absolute monarchy and in the 1789 Act of Unity and Security granted wide-ranging rights to commoners and almost totally curbed the power of the nobility, thus gaining a powerful set of enemies.

While political power plays are central to The Stockholm Octavo, the novel, it is at core a historical romance. The protagonist, Emil Larsson, is a bureaucrat in the Customs Office, an inveterate gambler, and in need of a wife if he is to keep his position. He seeks the aid of Sofia Sparrow, a French ex-patriate who runs a gambling house with a famous Tarot-reading business on the side, patronized by the King himself. She agrees to a fortune-casting octavo for Emil, and he becomes her agent of sorts. She needs information about what is going on at the soirees of the Uzanne, Baroness Kristina, arch foe of the King, champion of the aristocracy, and maven of the language of fans. Emil as an eligible young bachelor has entree and serves as her spy.

The plot becomes very involved, and if the reader has no patience for tarot-lore or the intricacy of fan usage in 18th c. courts, I would advise him/her to avoid this one (my husband started and stopped reading after about 50 pages). I did find much of it intriguing, and I enjoyed eaves-dropping (with the help of Wikipedia) on the life of Stockholm in the 18th c. ( )
  janeajones | Dec 19, 2015 |
I enjoyed it overall. The amount of time spent on the fans was excessive. I wish she would have spent more time on the octavo. I think if you like historical fiction it will be an enjoyable read. ( )
  bibliophile_pgh | Jan 13, 2015 |
A young man called Emil Larsson decides to seek for help when he is told by his boss of a new policy wherein he needs to find a wife in short order to keep his post as a bureaucrat. He puts his hopes in a French-born fortune teller who goes by the name of Mrs. Sophia Sparrow, known to give counsel to King Gustav III himself, over the course of eight days she sets out a spread of eight cards, known as the Stockholm Octavo, which are to indicate to him the eight people who are to help him along his path to fulfilling his future. But young Emil Larsson can't be sure who the eight are, and he gets lost amid the turmoil of late 18th century Stockholm, when the whole Western world is rocked by the revolution in France, and King Gustav III of Sweden is at pains to try to save Louis XVI and his wife Marie-Antoinette from the guillotine, and his own skin as well from the plots and conspiracies surrounding him. Among young Emil's eight individuals is a baroness, knows as the Uzanne, who with her connections might well lead him to his future wife. But the Uzanne is a dangerous woman and has a singular obsession with hand-held fans, which she collects in the hundreds and which she claims to manipulate with such skill that she is able to perform magic with them. The Uzanne has one goal in mind, which is to bring down King Gustav, and before he knows it, Emil Larsson is involved in a plot which suddenly has much further ramifications than the need to find a wife so he can simply hold on to his post as a sekretaire and his satisfying life of drinking and playing at cards.

This novel held promise for me. I'm a great lover of historical fiction for a start, and this story is based on true events and dangerous times: the plots against King Gustav III of Sweden and his eventual maiming by a gunshot in 1792, leading to his death when his wound got infected less than two weeks later (though here his death is attributed to other factors). The character of Mrs. Sophia Sparrow, who in the novel is obsessed with the King and acts as a foil of sorts to the Uzanne, is based on the real-life Ulrica Arfvidsson, a famous medium of the Gustavian era, who had more or less predicted to the King the attempt on his life. Engelmann devotes much of the narrative to the fans themselves, so that they become a character in their own right, what between the Uzanne and her obsession with one particular fan from her collection called Cassiopeia which she loses at cards and is then willing to literally kill for in order to reacquire, and a fan-maker from France called Nordén and his Wife who are also part of young Larsson's eight. I found this focus on fans interesting at first, but the problem I ended up having with the book is that, unlike Karen Engelmann, I haven't grown up admiring a collection of folding fans as she has, and they simply seemed to take up too much room in the narrative, so that what already seemed like a difficult story to keep together, considering the wide cast of characters encompassing various story tangents, became unwieldy. There were plenty of interesting details and incidents to keep going, but none of the characters felt especially well developed or seemed to want to lift off the page, and the whole felt somewhat disjointed, much as Emil Larsson's quest appeared to fall flat in the end. But then, I don't seem to take to devices in novels, and just as I didn't appreciate the astrological aspects in Eleanor Catton's Luminaries, I found the aspect of the Octavo distracting and perhaps didn't read into it as much as another more discerning reader might have.

I found the NY Times review pretty great: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/09/books/review/the-stockholm-octavo-by-karen-eng... ( )
1 vote Smiler69 | Sep 10, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
" ... an irresistible cipher between two covers — an atmospheric tale of many rogues and a few innocents gambling on politics and romance in the cold, cruel north."
added by JBD1 | editNew York Times, Susann Cokal (Dec 7, 2012)
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Stockholm is called the Venice of the North, and with good reason.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061995347, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:38 -0400)

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.… (more)

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