Friday, 14 September 2012

Review - The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann


Author's Name:     Karen Engelmann
Publisher:              Two Roads (Hodder & Stoughton)
Year:                    2012
Price in Sterling:    £10.44 HB / £9.99 Kindle
# Pages:                412
ISBN:                   9781444742695

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 changes forever.  Mrs Sparrow is susceptible to visions and uses a deck of cards to create an Octavo, a visual representation of eight people who will each play a role in the outcome of the vision.  The beneficiary of her vision needs to identify and interact with each of the eight people in order to bring about success or avert disaster.  The spectre of revolution looms over Sweden's ally, France and Gustav is not only pushing reforms through at home, he is working hard to rescue the French Monarchy. 

A mysterious noblewoman, known as The Uzanne, believes Gustav to be weak and begins to manipulate those in high office to precipitate a coup and seize the crown for Gustav's brother Duke Karl.  Using her social skills and persuasive womanly ways, she grooms the young women of local well-to-do families in seductive arts and the language of the fan in order to bring about the outcome she desires.  Emil's Octavo is combined with one that Mrs Sparrow drew for herself and together they realise their fates are entwined with that of the Swedish monarchy itself.


Karen Englemann has created a work of art with this wonderfully written story.  The author is extremely good at describing the minute detail of the costumes worn by her characters and the places they inhabit.  An integral element of the plot is how women wield power over their rivals and the men whose ambitions they wish to help or hinder, by using the ultimate fashion accessory of 18th Century Europe - the fan.  After reading this book, you will never see it as a simple device to cool you on a hot day but as a weapon as deadly as any sword.

I would, however, like to give any buyer a warning - do not purchase an electronic version.  No matter where you live, I urge you to pay the extra delivery charge and I guarantee you will not be disappointed.  From the moment you pick it up, you will fondly remember the pleasure that a beautifully crafted book can give.  The cover is cream with vivid detail engraved in silver blue and the pages are heavy and vellum-like.  The exquisite prose is complimented by beautiful illustrations of the cards used in the Octavo and the first line of each chapter is lightly written in script behind the type.
 I award "The Stockholm Octavo" 5 Crosses and bestow Karen Englemann with the Golden Hammer and Anvil Shield for producing a perfect book and for reminding me, once again, why real books can never be replaced.



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