The Stockholm Octavo

The Stockholm Octavo

3.4 18
by Karen Engelmann

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
…once it gets moving, there's a full deck of piquant pleasures in this arch novel about late-18th-century Sweden in the final months of King Gustav's reign. Engelmann captures Stockholm at a turbulent confluence of political and social upheaval, a moment when new forces of capitalism and democracy were crashing against old aristocratic ideals. The fact that she embroiders this adventure in satin and kid leather only makes it all the more elegant and precarious…Engelmann emphasizes what historical fiction too often skimps on: She captures the lost enterprises and values of another time, the weird customs that strike us as alien and foolish.
—Ron Charles
Publishers Weekly
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.)
Boston Globe
“A dizzying story of political intrigue and forbidden romance, all played out in an array of lost arts, from the reading of cards to the language of ladies’ fans to the healing power of plants. Each has its own delicious vocabulary and in Engelmann’s debut, each word is savored.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Blends political intrigue, fortune-telling, alchemy, skullduggery, high treason and love. The plot is so compelling it will keep you up at night, and the characters so well-crafted you will gladly follow them through the streets and alleys of 18th-century Stockholm”
Real Simple
“Layered, absorbing, and rife with interesting fictional characters and genuine historical detail, Engelmann’s work kept me in suspense from this first page to the last.”
Plaxpena Blog
“The best novels are the ones that keep you up until 4AM ... Karen Engelmann’s The Stockholm Octavo is a true gem that manages to accomplish the above through a compelling storyline, simple yet beautiful prose, and a thought-provoking exploration of the Divine.”
O Magazine
"A juicy page-turner…Engelmann’s intellectually playful take on the mathematics of love and power proves irresistible."
New York Times Book Review
“[A] deliciously sly first novel...The Stockholm Octavo is 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.”
Washington Post
“A full deck of piquant pleasures...elegant and precarious...Engelmann captures the lost enterprises and values of another time, the weird customs that strike us as alien and foolish. . . . [and] craftily unfolds her fictional story pleat by pleat within the real history of 1792.”
Portsmouth Herald
Dangerous Liaisons meets Charles Dickens. . . Intrigue, lust, poisonous potions, murder, missed opportunities, misunderstandings, artisan French fans, cards—all combine deftly and, sometimes comically, to create a royal drama and a reading romp through the streets and back rooms of Stockholm. . . terrific fun.”
Christian Science Monitor
“Karen Engelmann’s absorbing debut doesn’t traffic in mystery so much as Mystery with a capital “m.” . . . . As she deftly shuffles characters, Engelmann’s hand moves faster than a reader’s eye in a thoroughly engaging story of intrigue and gamesmanship.”
“Karen Engelmann’s The Stockholm Octavo is a bonbon box filled with treats designed to appeal to lovers of literary historical thrillers.”
Sena Jeter Naslund
“Delicious…the essence of witty intelligence. Readers will delight [in] every element in this Swedish weave, from the brutal winter weather to the unfurling of a lady’s fan. The plot is an urgent one, and the characters mysterious, appealing, and memorable….I felt a real kinship with author Karen Engelmann.”
Charlotte Rogan
“If you like novels that work on many levels at once, read this stunning tessellation of a book, where fortune is the flip side of intrigue and where history is the flip side of chance.”
Eleanor Brown
“A delicious page-turner that brings 18th century Stockholm to vivid life, complete with scandal, conspiracy, mystery, and a hint of magic. Karen Engelmann’s spectacular debut drew me in....A captivating tale, beautifully told.”
Shelf Awareness
The Stockholm Octavo, Karen Engelmann’s impressive debut, is as marvelously and intricately constructed as the mysterious form of divination it’s named for. A true pleasure from beginning to satisfying end.”
"Mysterious, suspenseful, and, at times, action-packed."
Booklist (starred review)
“Mysterious, suspenseful, and, at times, action-packed.”
O magazine
“A juicy page-turner…Engelmann’s intellectually playful take on the mathematics of love and power proves irresistible.”
Library Journal
In her debut novel, set in 1790s Stockholm, Engelmann features a card game called Octavo. When the fortune-telling Mrs. Sophia Sparrow foresees a golden future for smug bureaucrat Emil Larsson, she lays an Octavo so that he can find the eight people who will help him realize that vision. Soon, it's evident that his search is linked with the fate of his country. With a 50,000-copy first printing and rights sales to ten countries.
Kirkus Reviews
Elegant and multifaceted, Engelmann's debut explores love and connection in late-18th-century Sweden and delivers an unusual, richly-imagined read. Stockholm, "Venice of the North," in an era of enlightenment and revolution is the setting for a refreshing historical novel grounded in a young man's search for a wife but which takes excursions into politics, geometry (Divine and other), numerology, the language of fans and, above all, cartomancy--fortunetelling using cards. Emil Larsson, who "came from nothing" and now works for the customs office, is under pressure to marry. Offered advice by the keeper of a select gaming room, Mrs. Sparrow, he is introduced to the Octavo, a set of eight cards from a mysterious deck representing eight characters he will meet who will help him find the fiancee and advancement he seeks. As they appear, these characters each have their own story to tell, like Fredrik Lind, the gregarious calligrapher, and the Nordéns, refugees from France who fashion exquisite fans. But Emil's Octavo overlaps with Mrs. Sparrow's own, and his ambitions become enmeshed in a larger scenario involving a plot against King Gustav himself. Another of Emil's characters, an apothecary fleeing a violent fiancee, who is taken on and groomed by a powerful but cruel widow, holds the key. The setup is wonderfully engrossing; the denouement doesn't deliver quite enough. But this is stylish work by an author of real promise.
Barnes & Noble Review
“Karen Engelmann’s novel brims with historical detail and timeless magic.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.42(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.34(d)

Meet the Author

Karen Engelmann lived and worked in Sweden for eight years. She has an MFA from Goddard College in Vermont. She lives in Dobbs Ferry, New York.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

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The Stockholm Octavo: A Novel 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Totally absorbing,on so many levels!! There are books for historians, for lovers of mystery, for romantics, and for those intrigued by politics - this book has it all.  This novel invites the reader to savor the subtleties of life in Stockholm of the late 18th century and to explore the nuances of court life and the magic of the Octavo. The novel unfolds, layer by layer, and is best read while in a good reading chair, for time will fly in this absorbing story.  I loved it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I highly recommend this book without reservation. It's a real page turner with suspense, humor, intrigue and history. I appreciate Engelmann's way with words and found myself transported to another country during a different era. Look no further, if you're searching for a unique tale cleverly constructed by a true artist!
ReaderRaven More than 1 year ago
I savored every page of this beautifully written, many-layered story.  Engelmann expertly weaves the various story threads and characters into a solid, spellbinding tale of political intrigue, romance, revolution. sinister villains and mysterious heroes - all leading up to the assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden.  I was particularly fascinated by the Octavo itself - a spread of 8 cards that help people realize their dreams. Loved the way the author incorporated the language of fans and how, for purposes of this book, women used them to captivate...and kill. I found myself limiting the number of pages I would read each evening....just so I could make the book last.  The Stockholm Octavo is one of thosebooks that weaves a spell around the reader as they read - it is a matter of pure magic! Fabulous job, Ms. Engelmann.  I hope we get to see more of your work - soon.
jsbmd More than 1 year ago
I read scientific and technical writing voraciously. And most of why I do is to understand the "what", "how" and "why" of things. If you are curious, then this book is for you. The Octavo character development is amazing, written so that you feel and believe you are in the room with these characters from Gustavian Stockholm. And once drawn in, the book/story provides a fascinating tale of intrigue and human relationships. What drives ambition? How do people resist and/or use temptation for advancing their agenda? Why do people behave as they do? I realize this is written as a piece of fine literature, and perhaps the publisher and author don't realize it, but it is also a terrific study of human character and behavior. Don't start with a textbook, dig in here and you get those insights with some serious entertainment. Look forward to more enthralling insights from this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The journey stops at the last page, but the imagination continues to massage the ideas contained in this compelling story of intrigue, magic and romance.  I stopped frequently, because I wanted to savor the concepts of the Octavo, and because I did not want the book to end.  Sadly, the novel ended, but I can play the Octavo still, I can imagine the future for the characters, and I can dream of a sequel.  I treasure this story.  Thank you Karen Engelmann, for the gift.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love 'not quite knowing' where the author is taking me while still being thoroughly engaged. The writing is uncluttered, imaginative and smart. It 'felt' similar in style to The Night Circus. Certainly if you enjoyed that, read this!
Anonymous 11 months ago
Just a bit too long - middle of the book dragged and almost lost me.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm only halfway through, but would definitely recommend this for anyone who likes historical novels. Lots of good cultural detail.
WindOwl More than 1 year ago
Writing was good but story unraveled and left me very dissatisfied with ending. Midway through the book the characters simply fell apart. Not enough explanation of the Octavo or the parts. This could have and should have been an excellent book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was really looking forward to delving into some labyrinthine twists & turns of plot, with the subject of card divination being one that seemed rife with possibilities. I followed the twists & turns until the subject matter turned to a weird & stuffy obsession that these women of the upper class had with their fans. I was totally turned off to think that they had nothing better to do than to play cards & covet each others' elaborately decorated fans, even to the point of theft & murder. This left me hung up halfway through the book. Hate to not finish a book, but couldn't get past these self-centered, trivial & repulsive characters! Sorry. It seems the author has some genuine potential, given a more reader-friendly subject!
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AnneTressa More than 1 year ago
You'll love it!
blondemd77 More than 1 year ago
why is the Kindle ebook $11.99?