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The Stockholm Octavo: A Novel Hardcover – October 23, 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; First Edition edition (October 23, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780061995347
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061995347
  • ASIN: 0061995347
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (94 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #536,833 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“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.” (Sena Jeter Naslund, New York Times bestselling author of Ahab's Wife and Abundance: A Novel of Maire Antoinette)

“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.” (Charlotte Rogan, bestselling author of The Lifeboat)

“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.” (Eleanor Brown, New York Times bestselling author of The Weird Sisters)

“Neatly mixing revolutionary politics with the erotic tension and cutthroat rivalry of the female conspirators...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.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“Fantastic . . . This rollicking adventure story reads at times like a fairy tale, with Good Guys and Bad Guys and obstacles to be recognized and overcome. It’s all quite fun. As either historical novel or adventure story, this clever first novel should appeal to a broad range of readers. (Library Journal (starred review))

“A juicy page-turner…Engelmann’s intellectually playful take on the mathematics of love and power proves irresistible.” (O magazine)

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.” (Shelf Awareness)

“Mysterious, suspenseful, and, at times, action-packed.” (Booklist (starred review))

“Elegant and multifaceted, Engelmann’s debut explores love and connection in late-18th-century Sweden and delivers an unusual, richly-imagined read...The setup is wonderfully engrossing; this is stylish work by an author of real promise.” (Kirkus)

“Karen Engelmann’s The Stockholm Octavo is a bonbon box filled with treats designed to appeal to lovers of literary historical thrillers.” (Salon.com)

“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.” (Boston Globe)

“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” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

“Karen Engelmann’s novel brims with historical detail and timeless magic.” (Barnes & Noble Review)

“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.” (Real Simple)

“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.” (Plaxpena Blog)

“[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.” (New York Times Book Review)

“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.” (Washington Post)

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.” (Portsmouth Herald)

“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.” (Christian Science Monitor)

From the Back Cover

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.


More About the Author

Karen Engelmann was born and raised in the American Midwest, then moved to Sweden after completing university studies in drawing and design. The city of Malmö was home base for eight years, where she began her working life as a coat check girl and spotlight operator at Club Trocadero,then went on to work as an illustrator at daily newspaper Sydsvenska Dagbladet and at IKEA as an art director. New York City was next, where she continued working in design. Writing eventually took over. She now lives just north of New York City with her husband and two daughters. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College in Vermont. The Stockholm Octavo is her first novel.

Customer Reviews

I don't care about the characters, the plot moves too slowly.
golfer
This is one of the most fascinating historical novels I've read, full of great characters, interesting plot twists and atmosphere.
Jeanne M.
Karen Engelmann weaves a wonderful tale, rich with vivid details and enticing characters.
Christie Lavigne

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

60 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Keris Nine TOP 500 REVIEWER on September 2, 2012
Format: 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.
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31 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Carla Norton on October 23, 2012
Format: Hardcover
THE STOCKHOLM OCTAVO is a full-blown feast. I wanted to gobble it up nonstop, but made myself slow down to savor all the elements--the delectable characters, the savory settings, the confection-like details. This is a big, juicy page-turner. I loved the weave & texture & heft of the story. So atmospheric! So richly imagined and original! Every scene is a work of art (and war). Karen Engelmann breathes life into the period and her characters dance off the page. Extraordinary!
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Richard S. Friedman on October 24, 2012
Format: 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."

Utterly amazing book...a most unique and magical tale- and utterly engaging from page one!!! Remarkable in it's originality, THE STOCKHOLM OCTAVO is that rare book one cannot forget after reading..it is that darn good!!!..and powerful!

Karen Engelmann is a top notch writer and her command of plot and character is something to behold! The attention to detail is superb and I absolutely recommend this most amazing novel to all who seek true adventure and wisdom in their reading!!

AN OFFICIAL JAMES MASON COMMUNITY BOOK CLUB MUST READ

RICK FRIEDMAN
FOUNDER
THE JAMES MASON COMMUNITY BOOK CLUB
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on June 3, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
This has all the ingredients of a gripping period piece suspense thriller - a unique, largely unexplored setting (Sweden, late 18th century), a shadow struggle for the crown, a cast of colorful characters, the dark arts of tarot reading and divination, masquerade balls, etc. But I found it simultaneously hard to follow with too much going on at once - and ploddingly slow with too little going on.

Maybe it's the structure of the "octavo": the main character, a low level bureaucrat, is told that eight people will fill certain predefined roles in his life (the teacher, the trickster, etc.) and once they all come together, er, his destiny will become clear or something like that. So he spends most of the book trying to fit everyone he meets into one of those roles. "Ah, she's my companion. Or wait, maybe the prize? Or the prisoner? But stuck in what prison??" It's never clear how this all fits together, although the last chapter does a decent job drawing a conclusion.

The other problem is that in order to fit eight roles, the author needs to flesh out more than eight semi-major characters, which is tough to do in a 400-page book with a lot of white space in between short chapters. As a result, some of the "eight" are pretty two-dimensional. A few, however, are compelling in their own right.

And finally, fans play a very big role in this book. You've got to care about the look, feel, and aesthetics of fans to merrily work your way through some of the chapters. And not just fans, but an entire language of motions and moves through which a fan can be used, apparently, as everything from a primary communication channel for potential suitors and ladies to a weapon of assassination. In the world of this book, apparently, fans are more important than the wizarding wands of Diagon Alley.

I did ultimately enjoy this book, although I had to force myself to continue at points.
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