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 help him realize this vision—if he can find them.
Emil begins his search, intrigued by the puzzle of his Octavo and the good fortune Mrs. Sparrow’s vision portends. But when Mrs. Sparrow wins a mysterious folding fan in a card game, the Octavo’s deeper powers are revealed. For Emil it is no longer just a game of the heart; collecting his eight is now crucial to pulling his country back from the crumbling precipice of rebellion and chaos. Set against the luminous backdrop of late eighteenth-century Stockholm, as the winds of revolution rage through the great capitals of Europe, The Stockholm Octavo brings together a collection of characters, both fictional and historical, whose lives tangle in political conspiracy, love, and magic in a breathtaking debut that will leave you spellbound.
Here is the review from AudioFile Magazine:
Cartomancy is divination using regular playing cards in a game called the Octavo. This and the language and geometry of fans, as well as several other arcane practices, form the intriguing premise of Karen Englemann’s engrossing debut novel. Mrs. Sparrow, mistress of a gaming establishment in late-eighteenth-century Sweden, predicts a golden future for minor customs official Emil Larsson. Simon Vance does everything right as Emil meets the human embodiments of the eight cards that are destined to assist him. With characters as diverse as King Gustav, a French fan-maker, and the scheming Uzanne, Vance never misses a step. His descriptions of several luscious young women, and of one particular fan thought to contain magical powers, are a marvel of nuance and subtlety. A delicious pairing of narrator and material. S.J.H.