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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Stockholm Octavo
This intriguing and delightful novel is set in Stockholm during the time of the French Revolution, in an unsettled and tense Europe. King Gustav had taken a provincial outpost and transformed it into a beacon of culture and refinement, but his brother Duke Karl is the leader of a group of Patriots who are trying to force change. They resent the King's attempts to...
Published on 3 July 2012 by S Riaz

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The powers of fans and cards
This is a clever novel, well written, well researched, well constructed but it lacked that `something' that made me love it. The novel follows our protagonist a minor civil servant in the days when posts were bought, and his relationship with owner of a local card establishment in Stockholm. One night she creates for him a reading called an octavo a method for foretelling...
Published 20 months ago by Elizabeth Taylor


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Stockholm Octavo, 3 July 2012
By 
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Stockholm Octavo (Hardcover)
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This intriguing and delightful novel is set in Stockholm during the time of the French Revolution, in an unsettled and tense Europe. King Gustav had taken a provincial outpost and transformed it into a beacon of culture and refinement, but his brother Duke Karl is the leader of a group of Patriots who are trying to force change. They resent the King's attempts to reconstruct the government and grant the commons the majority, turning the nobility against their monarch. Meanwhile, Emil Larsson is a contented man, working for the Office of Customs and Excist, a fervent royalist and a frequent gambler at the tables of Mrs Sparrow. When he is informed that he must find a wife or lose his position, Mrs Sparrow suggests she read his cards to guide him. This leads us to the Octavo of the title - a form of divination unique to her, involving eight cards from an old and mysterious deck, revealing eight people who would bring about the events that Mrs Sparrow sees in visions.

However, all is not as simple as it seems. What begins as the quest for a wife brings together the people from Emil Larsson's Octavo - including the Baroness Uzanne, a fan maker and a calligrapher amongst others. This is a delicious novel, where women wield weapons in the forms of fans, which convey messages and give signals across drawing rooms and salons. Where poisons, intrigue and treason abound and Mr Larsson finds that he must look beyond personal gain to the world outside the comfortable one he had made himself. This is not a novel of action, but rather a skillfully written and entrancing debut which I recommend highly.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The powers of fans and cards, 1 Nov 2012
By 
Elizabeth Taylor (France) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Stockholm Octavo (Hardcover)
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This is a clever novel, well written, well researched, well constructed but it lacked that `something' that made me love it. The novel follows our protagonist a minor civil servant in the days when posts were bought, and his relationship with owner of a local card establishment in Stockholm. One night she creates for him a reading called an octavo a method for foretelling the future involving eight cards dealt from a special pack where each card represents an individual who will play a role in his future. The final outcome is a prediction and from this moment on our leading man has to determine who in his entourage matches which card and how that impacts his future. And moreover how he could use this information to influence his future, so it's a card game played with humans.

This tale of cards is combined with a political court intrigue in Stockholm set against the uncertain backdrop of being a monarch in Europe during the time of the French revolution. Fans are also significant in the tale not as a cooling mechanism but as a prized and subtle mechanism to communicate messages in a stifling court environment. This court intrigue provides context for all our characters, and allows for connections and for additional plot twists as we wonder how our hero's life and the machinations at court will pan out. The novel follows these disparate paths which ultimately combine in a final crescendo.

So, did I like it? Well whilst I was reading I found it in places over wordy and therefore hard going and there are lots of characters some of whom only play bit parts so I was confused by who was who. The end when it comes is pacey and gripping but it felt contrived as the cards and story line up neatly. I also found our hero and central character although narrating the tale to us a complete mystery as we only view him through the eyes of others so I couldn't really build an emotional connection with him and this was the ultimate reason that although I wanted to know what happened next, I didn't care that much what happened to him. Its an interesting tale, and a good example of historical fiction so maybe I'm being a bit hard but only 3 stars for me.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A book that stays with you., 24 Sep 2012
By 
Parm (A bookshop near you) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Stockholm Octavo (Hardcover)
Im still not sure how and why i managed to read this book. Its nothing like any of the books i normally read, and i think i have a fairly eclectic taste in reading. This seems to be part historical fiction, part love story, part crime part mystery book. There are chapters in this book that just talk about fans, how they are made how they are used etc..The plot is quite slow at times, and makes the book very much a slow burn read.
But all of that said, you start with a very attractive book, no dust jacket, but a beautiful design embossed on the book boards. That's draws you in, then there is the Octavo, part maths part mysticism. Then the characters who are surprisingly real, the descriptions of Stockholm are impressive enough that i could feel the cold, at one point one character is slowly freezing at the road side, and i could feel my toes getting cold and a shiver of chill.
The story is one of those involved intricate things that leaves you thinking about it hours after you put the book down.
So even writing this review i cannot tell you why to read it... except that, a couple of weeks later, its still making me think, i still remember the characters and the plot, so its stays with you, long after you finish.

(Parm)

Book Description

In 18th century Stockholm, as the winds of revolution rage through the great capitals of Europe, the key to a nation's fate rests in the hands of an unlikely hero.

Emil Larsson is a drinker, card player and contented bachelor until he is told that his position at the Office of Excise and Customs depends on his settling down and finding a wife. Mrs Sparrow, proprietor of an exclusive gaming house, fortune teller (and confidante of King Gustav III) offers to lay an Octavo for him - a form of cartomancy which can divine his future if he can find the eight individuals who can help him realise his vision.

When Mrs Sparrow wins a mysterious fan in her card game, the Octavo's deeper powers are revealed. No longer just a game of the heart, collecting his Eight is now crucial to pulling his country back from the brink of rebellion and chaos.

A debut novel full of opulent period detail, brilliantly interweaving history, romance and intrigue, in which one man's fortune holds the key to a nation's precarious fate.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cards, Fans, And Intrigue, 2 July 2012
By 
M. Dowden (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Stockholm Octavo (Hardcover)
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This was one of those books that I was offered that I was in two minds whether to get or not. I must admit that I am very glad that I did get it. Set in Stockholm in the latter years of the 18th Century, this blends fiction with some fact. At the very beginning we are told by Emil Larsson that the following tale is taken from him memory, and from information in files, and from other people; this means the tale is told in both the first and third narrative form.

Emil Larsson is a man about town, he is a sekretaire in the Customs and Excise, and likes to play Boston of an evening. His boss tells him he must marry if he wants to keep his job, then Mrs Sparrow, a friend tells him she has a vision about him, leading to love and connection. Mrs Sparrow must do some cartomancy to create an Octavo, so that Emil can see his fortune.

After the Octavo is laid out it then becomes necessary to work out who is going to be the representation of the characters on the cards. Thus Emil is unwittingly thrown into a world of intrigue and treachery, with treason in the air. A divination by cards leads Emil into a very dangerous game, revolving around the future of Sweden itself.

With very strong and believable characters you are slowly drawn into the world of this story, with its intrigues, fans and dangerous games. Is Mrs Sparrow and her cartomancy genuine, or is she just a superstitious woman? You will have to decide for yourself.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Stockholm Octavo- A sparkling, memorable book!, 16 July 2012
By 
Champollion (Shropshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Stockholm Octavo (Hardcover)
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The resurgence in the popularity of historical fiction will gain further impetus from this expertly structured and delightfully written novel, "The Stockholm Octavo" by Karen Engelmann. It is a richly decorated tapestry of a story with a colourful cast of characters, consisting of a beautiful apothecary, master calligrapher, an obsessive fan-maker, not to mention principal player, Emil Larsson, all set in late eighteenth century Sweden under King Gustav.

The Octavo is a theory of the centuries old art of cartomancy in which eight cards signify the eight people essential to the outcome of every important event in a person's life. Emil Larsson, a civil servant, who is only interested in drinking, card player and bachelor has his fortune told, by gambling club owner Sofia Sparrow and informed that his cherished position at the Office of Excise and Customs depends on him finding a wife.

His career is neatly woven into the future of the Swedish court. What will happen?

I enjoyed this book immensely. It is cleverly written, amusing,appealing and makes a fascinating read. There is never a dull moment. The intrigue, gossip,menace, and compelling plot kept me engaged until the last page. Recommended.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Infinity of eightfold delight, 2 Aug 2012
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This review is from: The Stockholm Octavo (Hardcover)
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This is a most wonderful, darkly glittering interlocking puzzle of a historical novel, set in Sweden on the edge of, and then into, the French Revolution. Taking some real events - the factions between liberalism and conservatism in Sweden and France, and the assassination attempt on King Gustave III of Sweden, Author Karen Engelmann creates such a complex, tricksy, cleverly interlocking plot that I believed more to be 'true' than was the case. Her weaving of politics, necromancy, sacred geometry, card playing, the Masonic Order, herbal remedies, the arts of calligraphy, fan-making and fan-using are so deliciously and believably constructed that I was quite surprised, on finishing the book, to discover that so many of the major characters didn't exist. Searches did show that some similar characters must have been springboards for Engelmann's creativity. For example, King Gustave did consult a celebrated medium, several times, who also made, by all accounts, accurate predictions for other members of the Swedish Royal family. She just wasn't the powerful Mrs Sofia Sparrow of THIS novel.

In many ways, this book reminded me in its complexity and ability to steep the reader into another age, and a Nordic country, and into the arts, of Music & Silence. Any appreciative comparison with Tremain, from me, is high praise! And also, in the hinted at interlocking, occult world view of some of Lindsay Clarke's alchemically focused novels, most specifically The Chymical Wedding (Picador Books)

And there are some beautiful woodcut type illustrations of the cards early in the text.

I finished this book with a big sigh of pleasure - and also sorrow. Pleasure in a wonderful piece of story-telling, and a satisfying ending true to the spirit of the book, sorrow that I HAD finished the book. 'This' world looks a good deal flatter than the intricate - but dark, beauty of The Stockholm Octavo.

And the fans - well I can see them clearly in my minds eye, and want one!
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A complex and mystical historical thriller, 29 Jun 2012
By 
Mrs. K. A. P. Wright - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Stockholm Octavo (Hardcover)
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This is a complex historical thriller reminiscent of The Eight by Katherine Neville. It is set in Stockholm towards the end of the Eighteenth Century (there is a handy timeline to tell you what was happening at the time as well as a list of the main characters).

The main character is Emil Larsson who by diligence, cunning and expert card playing has pulled himself away from his humble roots to become an Officer in the Swedish Customs and Excise Department, a position of potential power and wealth. A possible problem arises when he is told that to maintain his position he needs a wife.

Emil regularly plays cards at a gaming house run by Mrs Sparrow an émigré French woman, fervent supporter not just of the French royal family but also of King Gustav. She is also a fortune teller. She tells him his fortune using the mystical and arcane Octavo. He has to identify the eight people who will help him find his fortune and this search embroils him in the politics of the time, more domestic power struggles and the mysterious lore of fans, their language, their magic and their power.

The story is complicated, but the characters are well developed and the sense of time and place is excellent. It is a book to take your time over. If you rush it, you will get lost and miss some of the delights.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Revolution on the cards, 2 Sep 2012
By 
Keris Nine - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Stockholm Octavo (Hardcover)
Based around the assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden, who was murdered by conspirators at a masked ball in 1792, The Stockholm Octavo unveils a fascinating web of intrigue that leads up to the event, all of it connected in a complicated manner to a young man, a Customs Officer, looking to make an appropriate marriage and the right connections to set him on the road to success. That path is illuminated by his encounter with Mrs Sparrow, the owner of a gambling establishment and herself adept at the art of reading the future through cartomancy, who reveals the future connections Sekretaire Emil Larsson will make and must be ready to exploit through the reading of an eight-card Octavo. But Mrs Sparrow has her own Octavo to complete and other important clients to take care of, one of which is the King himself.

The assassination of Gustav III during a period of wider revolution that connected the Swedish crown with the fate of the French royal family, was covered, complete with a gypsy fortune-telling, in Verdi's potboiler of an opera, Un Ballo in Maschera (although the composer was forced to change names and remove references to the assassination of royalty by the censor in the heated climate of Risorgimento Italy). Much of the plotting, the establishment of favourable alliances and the strategic romantic affairs that make Verdi's opera a terrific intrigue are there also in The Stockholm Octavo. Even though the historical outcome might already be a foregone conclusion, much of the interest indeed comes of seeing the pieces and significant colourful characters of Emil's Octavo (most of whom prove to be more interesting than Emil himself it must be said) move into place, and not always in the way he expects.

But Karen Engelmann has another card up her sleeve, so to speak, and the stakes are very high indeed. Mrs Sparrow recognises that through Divine Geometry, not only is her Octavo connected with Emil's, but that it forms only a small part of a mystical conjunction of many others at this crucial time in history, a Stockholm Octavo. The aligning of these destinies and how to control them then becomes an event of even greater complexity - and the character motivations and actions do consequently become somewhat difficult to follow towards the end of the book - but there are also other forces at play where even the etiquette of a fan in the hand of a skilled owner has mystical powers.

The Stockholm Octavo works successfully then as a historical intrigue with real depth, one where there is a sense of the real implications of the failure of the monarchy in Sweden in the 18th century and how it is connected to and will affect the lives of lives of ordinary people. A potentially difficult subject made all the more involved due the number of characters and their natures, each with different and changing roles to play as the drama unfolds, Engelmann's writing nonetheless weaves them all together with great skill, making this a highly readable intrigue of great originality.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Fan-tastic Swedish story!, 2 July 2014
By 
Linda C. Wood (Glasgow, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This story is an unusual mix of a tarot reading leading to all sorts of intrigue in late 18th Century Stockholm. Most enjoyable!
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4.0 out of 5 stars You have to read it, it sort of grows on you, 25 Mar 2014
By 
Peter Coupe (North Yorkshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Stockholm Octavo (Hardcover)
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This is clearly a well researched novel. Set in the time of European revolutions (late 18th century) and following the fortunes of a man with a mission - to secure an advancement in his place of work by securing a wife.
Well, that's what the story tells us it is about. In truth there are far more complex undercurrents at work, and the plot really does thicken in this story.
The Octavo is a sort of card prediction - a bit like Tarot I suppose - which gives clues as to the identity of 8 people who will be useful in the life of the protagonist - once he has worked out who the 8 are.
I was unsure about the amount of time taken up with the fans, but I got there in the end and enjoyed the whole, so it can't have been too bad.
Worth a read.
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The Stockholm Octavo
The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann (Hardcover - 13 Sep 2012)
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