Book Review Historical

The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann

Author: Karen Engelmann
Publisher: Ecco, 2012
Genre: Historical Fiction


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 parlour, 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 realise this vision—if he can find them.


THE STOCKHOLM OCTAVO is a wonderfully written historical thriller full of intrigue, fans—and yes, I mean those kind of fans. Fans women use to use to fan themselves with, and more, with a deft hand, secretly signal to friends and lovers—hinting at mystery, murder, and a dash of romance. A story that is as much about cartomancy is decked out with an unusual cast of characters, ‘The Eight,’ the Octavo who Emil Larsson must find in order to achieve his destiny.

Set in Stockholm, Sweden, at the end of the eighteenth-century, we find out Larsson’s destiny isn’t his own, it’s tied up with that of the King of Sweden. All of which is the author’s way of opening up the various levels of society represented in the story, from seedy gaming houses and tap rooms, to the lofty levels of the government and royal palace and sumptuous world of Gustav III. Revolution is brewing on many levels, as the world in which Larsson finds himself, is undergoing tumultuous change.

Engelmann’s writing is fluid, graceful, and wonderfully nuanced, sucking the reader into the story where the descriptive prose conjure locations, activities, and conversations that evoke this world, perfectly. This is not by any means a fast, action-packed book, but a slowly nuanced complex story told from a number of POV, centred around Emil Larsson. A story that paints a richly detailed world of manners, morals, and a belief a person can rise above the station they’re dealt in life if but given a chance or, dealt the right hand of cards.

An enjoyable, immersive experience. Highly recommended.

6 comments on “The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann

  1. Avatar

    A deft use of fans hu? 🙂 That seems an amazing one.

    • Alex

      It’s fascinating to read about, Sophie. These ladies were taught how to use their fans to flirt, and pass messages, subtle and not so subtle. Like semaphore before semaphore was a thing! 😉

  2. Avatar

    This sounds super intruiging. Awesome review as always.

    • Alex

      Thanks, Yvonne. I love this style of historical murder-mystery, especially when it’s done this well.

  3. Avatar

    Who knew fans were used in so many different ways! This sounds like a very interesting novel and I’d almost dismissed it based on the cover. Great review Alex!

    • Alex

      It’s as much about the society of the time as it is a murder mystery, Inge. And all done in a historical setting thats really captivating as it is interesting. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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