A Clever and Witty Exploration of Sweden’s golden age
By Karen Engelmann
ECCO, $26.99, 416 pages
The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann is a delightful historical romp through eighteenth-century Sweden. In 1791, Stockholm was on the verge of great political upheaval, and into the fray enters Emil Larsson, a bureaucrat in the Office of Customs and Excise. He crosses paths with Sofia Sparrow, a local fortune teller and owner of a gaming parlor, and she shares a vision with him that will ostensibly lead him to love and happiness. Intrigued, Emil allows Mrs. Sparrow to lay an Octavo for him, a spread of eight cards that depict eight individuals who can help him realize this vision. On his quest to ascertain the truth behind Mrs. Sparrow’s divinations, Emil encounters a wide array of intriguing characters—from the manipulative aristocratic widow, the Baroness Uzanne, to the mysterious apothecary Johanna Grey, to expert fan maker Christian Nordén—who could potentially help shift his fate. His search also becomes intricately connected with the fate of his country and the political uprisings of a particularly revolutionary period of history.
Clever and exhilarating, Engelmann’s elegant debut weaves an intriguing and suspenseful tale filled with romance, drama and socio-political intrigue.
Reviewed by Laura Di Giovine