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The Stockholm Octavo

3.42  ·  Rating Details ·  2,851 Ratings  ·  512 Reviews
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 lea ...more
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published October 23rd 2012 by Ecco (first published October 21st 2012)
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21st out of 100 books — 66 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Richard Derus
Aug 13, 2016 Richard Derus rated it really liked it

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: 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
On the outset, this seemed to be a book tailored for divination + mystery buffs like me. And historical fiction has always held its charm for me as I'm quite fond of ye olde days settings involving historical figures that add a layer of realism to a fantastical backdrop of a time long gone by.

Alas, the offerings fell short in this book, although it began very promisingly. The Stockholm Octavo narrates the adventures of a certain Emil Larsson, a sekretaire in 1791 Stockholm, in finding the 8 infl
Feb 11, 2013 Emily rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2013, fiction
This book starts quite promisingly, but I abandoned it two-thirds of the way through. It tells the story of Emil Larsson, an ambitious bureaucrat in Stockholm in 1791 who lacks only for a wife to solidify his social ascendance. At a fashionable gambling party, he meets Mrs. Sparrow, who lays a tarot-like "octavo" for him, which alludes to eight people who will influence his future. Now he has to discover who those eight people are and find out how they will connect him to his future wife. Meanwh ...more
S.J.A. Turney
Sep 08, 2012 S.J.A. Turney rated it really liked it
The Stockholm Octavo is a complex piece to consider or review. My opinion of the book has been high all the way through, though I have had trouble nailing down why I enjoyed it as much as I did.

Engelmann’s writing is fluid, graceful and highly emotive. It is very hard not to get sucked into the story and the prose that conveys it, and the descriptions, locations, activities and conversation evoke a feeling of another time and place, totally removed from the reader’s world. I suspect that this is
Mysterious  Bookshop
Jan 30, 2013 Mysterious Bookshop rated it it was amazing
Although Ms. Engelmann has received numerous rave reviews for this debut novel, I wasn’t sure it was a book that would appeal to me. Boy was I wrong! Much like Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind, Engelmann’s The Stockholm Octavo covers a lot of ground: mystery, conspiracy, romance, adventure, etc., and it does so masterfully. The novel follows bureaucrat and man-about-town Emil Larsson in 18th century Stockholm. In an attempt to raise his station in life he contacts a fortune-teller named Mrs. Sofia Spa ...more
Dec 29, 2012 Kathy rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. I read it during the holiday season and found it to be exactly the “escape into the past” that I wanted. The plot is interesting and fun and well-paced throughout the novel, which by the end, is a stay-up- and- finish- it page- turner. On top of that (and for me, what makes this novel an absolute must-read), is the quality of writing. Engelmann has mastered the art of the sentence in a way that sets her apart from most modern authors and puts her up there with writers ...more
Robin Carter
Nov 01, 2012 Robin Carter rated it really liked it
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 dus
I have very mixed thoughts on this book. I wanted it to be awesome but found myself disappointed. I should note that this was not bad and I did enjoy the book, I just thought it could have been better. It has an intriguing premise: a set of 8 cards specific to an individual, each card being a person and knowing every individual one can turn an event in their favor.

We are introduced to our protagonist - Emil Larsson, a Sekretaire in Customs and Excise, who has a talent for cards and keeping secre
Gregory K.
Jan 03, 2013 Gregory K. rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
This book will reward the patient reader. Although the title suggests magic and the back cover suggests action and adventure the magic is rather subtle and the action and adventure take up only a small part of that narrative way back in the book towards the end. Instead this is primarily a book about relationships and the power that can be found in making, exploiting, and breaking the bonds between people. All of this is embellished with excellent written descriptions and set on a very well rese ...more
Sep 13, 2012 Nick_britten rated it liked it
This is a seriously good looking book and it is almost to nice to read…It is unusual in that it doesn’t have a dust cover but it is a stunning design. A big plus mark!

I must say this was a very strange book for me. First off I won’t say too much about the plot because I don’t want any spoilers.

Suffice to say, Card playing, Divination, Conspiracy, Courtly love and suspense feature quite a lot.
The positives were that, it is very well written, the story is intelligent and engaging and the plot is w
Feb 11, 2013 Chris rated it really liked it
It’s impossible to dislike a novel that has the following sentence – “The Uzanne and Cassiopeia fit together like lovers on a too small settee, knowing just how to move for maximum effect” (35).
It’s all the better because one of the characters above is a fan.
This is a book about fans, cards, Stockholm, and plots. It is all the more beautiful for not being perfect and for being about art in terms of craft and craft in terms of assassination.
Like the cards that are discussed in the book, the end
Maya Panika
Oct 18, 2012 Maya Panika rated it really liked it
Fans and cards, prophecy and history mingle in the tale of Emil Larsson and his pursuit of a future predicted for him by the enigmatic Mrs Sparrow. An interesting and original story, though far from flawless, and more like 3 and a half stars than 4.

I enjoyed the story. I loved the cards, the prophecy, the location – 18th century Stockholm is certainly an unusual setting for a novel, and adds greatly to its strangeness and charm. The history – which was all new to me – was never dull. The large
Oct 23, 2015 Bandit rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The art of cards and the art of fans (yes fans, ones you fan yourself with) bring late 18th century Stockholm to life in this entertaining and only occasionally rambling picaresque. Engelmann picked a fascinating historical time and did it justice, her descriptions are lively and vivid, although entirely too elaborate when it comes to fans. Who knew they had such a social and political significance. The title refers to a fortune telling card layout, eight cards for eight characters to shape one' ...more
Disappointing after a great start; very slow and while the adventures out hero and the magic cards he uses are of some interest, the book is really for people interested in the minutia of Swedish history which i am not really

The prose is good overall, so I kept turning the pages to see what happens, but the problem is that the answer to that is nothing much; this would have worked wonderfully either as sff with world shaking events or set in a more consequential time and place (eg in Revolutiona
Lynn Grant
May 14, 2012 Lynn Grant rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: fiction readers, historical fiction
Recommended to Lynn by: reviewed
Review: Stockholm Octavo
By Lynn Wiley Grant

Karen Engelmann’s soon to be released (October, 2012) novel is wonderful.
And I mean this in the strictest sense of the word—the world she creates is one of wonder. Stockholm, under King Gustav, in the 1790’s is gritty and fantastical, a place of intrigue. How often are we granted a vibrant, idiosyncratic, mystical heroine who lies behind the making of history? How often are we dealt full, complex, flawed but redemptive characters that you wish were rea
Stuart MacAllister
Emil Larsson is a Secretary of Sweden's Customs & Excise who is hanging onto his position by his fingertips. He lives the life of a professional gambler, using his evenings at the card table to bring him an income. His superior is not impressed by Emil's lifestyle and pressures him into securing a betrothal, even going so far as to giving him a deadline in which to secure a wife or face losing his position.

It is at the exclusive gaming house run by the enigmatic Mrs Sparrow that Emil's life
Oct 01, 2013 Sandie rated it it was amazing
The year is 1791, and change is in the air. In country after country, the population is rising up against the idea of being ruled by the nobility. Sweden is no different. King Gustav is popular but some of his political moves are creating dissent. He has given rights to the common man and while they eagerly accept, those who have been in power due to their birth are definitely opposed. Soon there are two camps and individuals who never thought much about politics must decide which camp they belo ...more
Dec 02, 2011 Mike rated it it was amazing
The Stockholm Octavo is an excellent historical novel, set during the final years of King Gustav III, before he was assassinated in 1793. He was a great king for Sweden and ushered in an era of enlightenment when he decreased the power of the nobility and increased that of the commoners. This of course set him up for a target by nobles who were not happy with this state of affairs.

We meets Emil Larssen, a Sekretaire in Customs and Excise. This is a plum position that he has bought in the civil s
May 04, 2013 Leah rated it really liked it
Love and connection...

This beautifully written novel hides its dark heart under a multi-layered confection of sweet scents, glowing colours and dazzling displays of the art of attraction. Our hero, Emil Larsson, is ordered by his superior in the Customs Office to marry and is guided in his quest for love and connection by his friend Mrs Sparrow, cardsharper and mystic. It is she who lays the Octavo, a form of divination based on cards, sending the seeker to look for the eight people who will inf
Mar 19, 2013 Lyndsay rated it liked it
Lately I've had a run of books that are super interesting to read, but don't hold up in the end. I didn't mind the slow pace of this book, because the story holds enough promises to keep you wondering. I felt it would all wrap up correctly in the end.

And it did? I don't know. The book said it ended correctly. I don't really believe that. I actually felt like the author is asking to reader to have a lot of faith in this idea of the octavo. Just go with it. Don't ask questions. I honestly don't fe
Rick F.
Oct 24, 2012 Rick F. rated it it was amazing
"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 hel ...more
J.S. Dunn
Mar 17, 2015 J.S. Dunn rated it really liked it
An adept debut novel that succeeds where so many from the Big House publishers fail: world building. A refreshing look at the French Revolution from the vantage of a different country, with bonus interest from including tarot and the art of womens' fans in the plot.

Engelmann's prose is smooth while never suffocating nor is it cloying or overblown. The atmosphere of late 18th century Stockholm is vivid and engaging. Characters interact in ways true to their time and their idiosyncrasies, with som
Diane S ☔
Oct 30, 2012 Diane S ☔ rated it really liked it
3.5 A unique read both about the subject matter and the history behind the novel. Stockholm, in the late 1700's, Gustav is king and conspiracies abound. Cartomancy, horoscopes and other superstitions abound. The church is all powerful. Fans are weapons and a way to pass secret messages. Not much overt action, this is very much a novel that relates time and place brilliantly. It definitely helps if the reader is into cards, fortune-telling and of course attempts to take the throne with two woman ...more
Feb 25, 2013 Stacia rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fans of historical fiction
Shelves: 2013, europe
Fabulous historical fiction taking place in Sweden in the late 1700s (around the time of the French Revolution). Though I thought I could see where the story was going very early on (& I was worried it might not be too engrossing if I could already see big plot points), I was pleasantly surprised as the novel took some unexpected turns, taught me about various topics (some Swedish history, the history of fans, etc...), & kept me enthralled until the end. Definitely recommended, especiall ...more
Maureen Ruiz
Apr 03, 2013 Maureen Ruiz rated it really liked it
To all my St Paul and AHS friends especially... Karen Engelmann is a family friend. She attended the same grade school and high school as I did and is a friend of my brother. The story is very unique and the characters are entertaining. I was very impressed with the historical events that were intertwined with the fictional story. It was fun to read a book by an author I know and I look forward to Karen's next book.
Tanja Berg
Rating 3.5 out of 5*. This was very interesting historical fiction, but fell short on enjoyment. At some points I was very deep into the story, but at no point was I entirely in its thrall. Very good, nonetheless. No regrets.
Aug 23, 2016 Ubiquitousbastard rated it really liked it
Why am I only reading books related to the French Revolution? This will be my third of the year, and the third book I've read this year. Okay, enough of that, on to actual reviewing.

Firstly, I'd admit that the cover and the title almost simultaneously grabbed my attention and interest. I have a thing for tarot for some reason, and I have a thing for Stockholm because I'm nearly half Swedish. Then I read the description for the book, and I was even more on board than before. I'm a huge Gustav III
May 26, 2013 Marti rated it it was ok
As someone who enjoys historical fiction, I thought I would really enjoy this book and the great reviews, both editorial and reader ones reinforced that belief. However, I wound up being quite disappointed. For one thing, with so very many characters populating the book with almost equal emphasis, I found that I wasn't really getting to know any of them and the only one I really cared about, The uzanne, was in hoping that she would get the comeuppance she deserved before the novel ended. A custo ...more
C.P. Lesley
From the blog post that accompanied my interview with the author, available at

"It’s 1789, and despite the troubles in France, Emil Larsson, a sekretaire in the Customs Office in Stockholm, has life pretty much where he wants it. His job brings him lucrative under-the-table deals with pirates, smugglers, and innkeepers—not to mention a dashing red cape that appeals to the ladies—and he has managed to parlay his skill as a gambler into a partnership with th
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I was born, raised and educated in Iowa, concentrating on the visual arts. I have a BFA in design and drawing from the University of Iowa in Iowa City (missed the Writers Workshop altogether... too bad!) I then moved to Sweden to do graduate work in scene painting. I never completed that degree or painted a single set, but worked as an illustrator and designer in Malmö, Sweden for nine years. New ...more
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“But there was change in the air, and whether for good or ill, change always quickens the pulse and sharpens the senses.” 0 likes
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