22 August 2012

The Stockholm Octavo; Karen Engelmann

The Stockholm Octavo: A NovelThe Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Books set in Sweden seem to be dark mysteries with some seriously twisted people at the heart of them. This isn't that - this is historical fiction, set in the 1790s, during the time of revolution (American and French), war (with Russia, Prussia and others) and great upheaval. King Gustav is supposedly one of those enlightened monarchs, one who stages his own coup that gave power to the people, much to the dismay (and displeasure) of the nobles. Those dismayed include his brother, Duke Karl, who leads the Patriots.

Our hero, Emil, is a Customs and Excise Secretary who is a bit of a card sharp, and unmarried. His supervisor disapproves of both, and gives Emil an ultimatum: marry or find another job. In a little distress, he talks to Sophia Sparrow, a Frenchwoman who runs a private gaming room and a sideline as a Seer. Mme. Sparrow is a cartomancer, using cards to divine the future. And here we get to the Stockholm Octavo. The Octavo is a divination method much like Tarot cards mixed with Jungian archetypes, with the cards standing in for various people (a Trickster, a Magpie, etc.). Once you have found your eight, the events you're trying to influence will happen. Emil, fixated on his need to find a wife, consistently misidentifies the people in his Octavo, only finding his eighth at the very last moment. Somehow his Octavo is intertwined with that of Mme. Sparrow's and combined they become the Stockholm Octavo, fortelling the future of King Gustav's reign and possibly those of the French monarchs.

There's also a lot of fan information - the Cassiopeia fan plays a major role, as do fan makers, fan collectors and the proper use of a fan. I only wish there'd been more on that, perhaps with an afterword with illustrations showing what some of the positions mean. The language of fans, like that of flowers, is one of those lost languages we should strive to bring back.

This intermingling of history and the fiction of the Octavo makes for a very interesting book (there's a part of me that would like to have someone do my Octavo!). And what I knew about Swedish history was, well, limited is putting it nicely.

ARC provided by publisher.

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