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Editor’s Note

“Spellbinding & Magical...”

Spellbinding & magical, Engelmann’s debut transports readers to Scandinavia’s golden age, a past full of chaos & curiosities.
Mallory F.
Scribd Editor

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.

Topics: Sweden, Scandinavia, Debut, Tarot, Forbidden Love, Treason, Gripping, Kings, Royalty, Politics, Conspiracy, and Assassination

Published: HarperCollins on Oct 23, 2012
ISBN: 9780062190482
List price: $10.99
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Emil Larsson is a young man working for the Office of Customs and Excise in Stockholm at the end of the 18th century. A sworn bachelor, he leads a fairly dissolute lifestyle until his superior sets him an ultimatum: marry or lose your position. Among Emil’s acquaintances is a Mrs Sparrow, a refugee from revolutionary France, owner of an exclusive gaming house and fortune teller practising an obscure form of cartomancy. One day she has a vision relating to Emil and offers to lay the Octavo for him; this would enable him to fulfil his destiny of love and connection if he could find the eight individuals who can help him realise it. But by entering into this agreement with Mrs Sparrow, he gets more than he bargained for as he finds himself embroiled in a political conspiracy to kidnap the king and replace him with his brother.This is a historical novel with a supernatural tinge. It shows how the fates of France and Sweden were closely linked from the 1770s onwards up until the horrors of the French Revolution and beyond to the present day. Its title of The Stockholm Octavo refers to a particular form of cartomancy where the fortune of an individual is predicted by the laying and interpretation of playing cards. Told in the first person from Emil’s point of view, the book tells of his search for the eight, and how this quest develops from a personal to a political one of national importance as the king, Gustav III, is threatened. Karen Engelmann’s prose is a delight, her descriptions of the location and period evocative and atmospheric, and the development of her major characters realistic and believable. The initial pace of the novel is, unfortunately, not sustained all the way through, and while I recognise that the lengthy middle section of the novel, where Emil ponders the possible identities of the eight individuals and we learn about the art of the language of the fan, is probably essential to establish the various characters, it also slowed down the narrative momentum considerably. The book feels impeccably researched (the author spent a few years in Sweden herself), and I was very interested to learn about the historic and political background to the plot that’s described in the novel. I would have welcomed an author’s note in the appendix where she elaborated a little on the historic events portrayed in the book, but that is a minor quibble. A very enjoyable (though not perfect) debut offering by a promising new author, I would recommend this novel to anyone looking for a well-written, skilfully crafted historical novel. If this book is anything to go by, Karen Engelmann's name will be one to watch.(This review was originally written as part of Amazon's Vine programme.)read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Emil Larsson is a contented bachelor living the high life in 1791 Stockholm. He has risen up in the world, managing to purchase for himself the position of sekretaire in the government, and he spends his evenings drinking and gaming in Mrs. Sparrow’s parlor. But when his superior tells Emil he must marry or lose his sekretaire position, Emil is at a loss. Mrs. Sparrow, by now a friend, does a special favor for Emil…a card-based fortune-telling she calls the Octavo. This special layout is meant to define the eight people one must find in order to create the future one desires. Emil is not certain he believes in it, but he goes along with the reading and begins attempting to put together his Eight. In the process, he finds himself caught up, not in a quest for love, but in political manuevering that might end in his death if he is not careful, and King Gustav’s if he cannot prevent it.Fast-paced, colorful, vibrant, and quite unique. The mystical aspect of fortune-telling is subdued with the emphasis on the historical context. Sure to be enjoyed by fans of well-written historical fiction.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
An intriguing conceit, that one's fate is determined by the interaction of 8 people, forms the basis for this intriguing and well-executed novel of Stockholm circa 1791. The idea is well-developed and the author holds the reader's interest as the characters are revealed in their relevant places as the novel progresses.Many interesting and complex characters are explored here, so well that the reader finds herself loving and hating them with quite a bit of fervor.Lots of political intrigue (it is, incidentally, a story about the French Revolution from a Swedish perspective), plenty of historical details, and some surprising plot twists keep one turning the pages.A most suprerior historical novel.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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Emil Larsson is a young man working for the Office of Customs and Excise in Stockholm at the end of the 18th century. A sworn bachelor, he leads a fairly dissolute lifestyle until his superior sets him an ultimatum: marry or lose your position. Among Emil’s acquaintances is a Mrs Sparrow, a refugee from revolutionary France, owner of an exclusive gaming house and fortune teller practising an obscure form of cartomancy. One day she has a vision relating to Emil and offers to lay the Octavo for him; this would enable him to fulfil his destiny of love and connection if he could find the eight individuals who can help him realise it. But by entering into this agreement with Mrs Sparrow, he gets more than he bargained for as he finds himself embroiled in a political conspiracy to kidnap the king and replace him with his brother.This is a historical novel with a supernatural tinge. It shows how the fates of France and Sweden were closely linked from the 1770s onwards up until the horrors of the French Revolution and beyond to the present day. Its title of The Stockholm Octavo refers to a particular form of cartomancy where the fortune of an individual is predicted by the laying and interpretation of playing cards. Told in the first person from Emil’s point of view, the book tells of his search for the eight, and how this quest develops from a personal to a political one of national importance as the king, Gustav III, is threatened. Karen Engelmann’s prose is a delight, her descriptions of the location and period evocative and atmospheric, and the development of her major characters realistic and believable. The initial pace of the novel is, unfortunately, not sustained all the way through, and while I recognise that the lengthy middle section of the novel, where Emil ponders the possible identities of the eight individuals and we learn about the art of the language of the fan, is probably essential to establish the various characters, it also slowed down the narrative momentum considerably. The book feels impeccably researched (the author spent a few years in Sweden herself), and I was very interested to learn about the historic and political background to the plot that’s described in the novel. I would have welcomed an author’s note in the appendix where she elaborated a little on the historic events portrayed in the book, but that is a minor quibble. A very enjoyable (though not perfect) debut offering by a promising new author, I would recommend this novel to anyone looking for a well-written, skilfully crafted historical novel. If this book is anything to go by, Karen Engelmann's name will be one to watch.(This review was originally written as part of Amazon's Vine programme.)
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Emil Larsson is a contented bachelor living the high life in 1791 Stockholm. He has risen up in the world, managing to purchase for himself the position of sekretaire in the government, and he spends his evenings drinking and gaming in Mrs. Sparrow’s parlor. But when his superior tells Emil he must marry or lose his sekretaire position, Emil is at a loss. Mrs. Sparrow, by now a friend, does a special favor for Emil…a card-based fortune-telling she calls the Octavo. This special layout is meant to define the eight people one must find in order to create the future one desires. Emil is not certain he believes in it, but he goes along with the reading and begins attempting to put together his Eight. In the process, he finds himself caught up, not in a quest for love, but in political manuevering that might end in his death if he is not careful, and King Gustav’s if he cannot prevent it.Fast-paced, colorful, vibrant, and quite unique. The mystical aspect of fortune-telling is subdued with the emphasis on the historical context. Sure to be enjoyed by fans of well-written historical fiction.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
An intriguing conceit, that one's fate is determined by the interaction of 8 people, forms the basis for this intriguing and well-executed novel of Stockholm circa 1791. The idea is well-developed and the author holds the reader's interest as the characters are revealed in their relevant places as the novel progresses.Many interesting and complex characters are explored here, so well that the reader finds herself loving and hating them with quite a bit of fervor.Lots of political intrigue (it is, incidentally, a story about the French Revolution from a Swedish perspective), plenty of historical details, and some surprising plot twists keep one turning the pages.A most suprerior historical novel.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
An extremely impressive debut novel, Karen Engelmann's The Stockholm Octavo takes us to the Stockholm of the early 1790s. Emil Larsson, a minor government functionary in search of a wife, agrees to take part in a lengthy, tarot-like process known as the Octavo. If he can locate the eight people his Octavo reading represents, the fortune-telling Mrs. Sparrow tells him, they'll be able to help him meet his goals. But there's more to the Octavo than is immediately apparent, and Larsson discovers that he's just one component in what turns into a much broader story, with far-reaching political and social implications for Larsson and those around him.Filled with political and social intrigue, and using the mysterious "language of the fan" as a key component of the plot, the book makes for absolutely riveting reading, and was difficult to set aside for any great length of time. Engelmann's created some fascinatingly complex characters, a multi-layered plot that weaves its web with great skill and subtlety, and a book that is a thrill to read, from start to finish.
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That night of cards began two years of exceeding good fortune at the tables, and in time led me to the Octavo – a form of divination unique to Mrs. Sparrow. It required a spread of eight cards from an old and mysterious deck distinct from any I have ever seen before. Unlike the vague meanderings of the market square gypsies, her exacting method was inspired by her visions and revealed eight people that would bring about the event her vision conveyed, an event that would shepherd a transformation, a rebirth for the seeker. Of course, rebirth implies a death, but that was never mentioned when the cards were laid. - from The Stockholm Octavo, page 9 -It is Stockholm in 1791 – France has become a constitutional monarchy, and Sweden has won the war against Russia, but not without a huge loss of life and financial disaster. Emil Larsson, a bureaucrat in the Office of Customs and Excise, is single and enjoying success at cards when he meets Mrs. Sofia Sparrow who tells him she has had a vision. She proposes to lay an Octavo for Emil – a spread of eight cards which will identify eight individuals to help him realize the vision of love and connection. When Emil agrees to accept the Octavo, he has no idea it will lead to betrayal, murder and political intrigue as he navigates Swedish society in search of his eight.The Stockholm Octavo unfurls like a beautiful silk fan, slowly revealing the characters and their real motivations and desires. The characters in this debut novel are seductive and gorgeously drawn. There is The Uzanne, a wealthy woman who collects fans and instructs young women in the art of the fan including Engagement and Domination.“Miss Plomgren, you must learn that engagement is a crucial stage in any battle. If you draw close and are at your most enticing, you can extract your husband’s pension before your revenge.” – from The Stockholm Octavo, page 233 -Johanna Grey (aka Johanna Bloom) is trained in the art of apothicaire and finds herself embroiled in a dark plot she has not anticipated. Mrs. Sparrow is mystical, slightly eccentric, and driven to solve the geometry of the Octavo to better understand her visions. The Nordens are Swedish fan-makers who have fled from the upheaval in France. The Plum (aka Anna Maria Plomgren) is a seductress who uses her feminine wiles to ascend the ladder into a world of the wealthy and politically powerful. There are also historical characters introduced: King Gustav III and his brother Duke Karl, and General Pechlin who was a longtime enemy of the King and led the Patriot forces against him.Karen Englemann constructs her novel like a puzzle, adding the pieces, rearranging them, and finally revealing the complete plot while taking her readers on a delicious romp through 18th century Sweden. By mid-way through the novel, I was hooked and intrigued. Englemann captures the era and adds depth to the complicated history of Sweden which was on the brink of revolution by the end of 1791. The women characters in the book demonstrate the power women wielded during that time period (it is interesting to note that in France it was Parisian women who stormed Versailles in 1789 to protest the escalating bread prices).I thoroughly enjoyed The Stockholm Octavo with its political intrigue, romance, betrayal, murder, magic and the snap of a lady’s fan. This is historical fiction at its best. Readers who love original plots and fascinating characters played out against the backdrop of history, will love this debut. I am looking forward to reading more of Karen Engelmann’s work.Highly Recommended.
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Good story about a niche of history I hadn't read about before. Perhaps the Octavo used to build the story about has some historical basis.
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