Review: Het Stockholm Octavo, Karen Engelmann

The Stockholm Octavo Karen Engelmann cover
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.

Born in Des Moines Iowa, Karen Engelman received her BFA in design and drawing from the University of Iowa. SHe moved to Sweden to do graduate work but never finished. She started working as an illustrator and designer in Malmö Sweden for nine years. After she moved to New York where she continued working in print design and started to write. Eventually she received an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College in Vermont.

When this book arrived on my radar by a tweet from the Dutch publisher I got enthusiastic immediately. I love stories surrounded by mysteries and puzzles. When I opened the book I got a scare though. There was a time-line and a character list in the front of the book. As this gave me the feeling the story would be hard to follow I reluctantly started to read. I soon found out though that the time line and list are just little notes for the story if you need it to hold on too. The characters are not to many and the relationships between the various main characters are clear. The story builds up very fast with the 8 people Emil has to gather on certain positions. It is a nice set up and you start to guess with every person he is meeting if that person belongs to his group and if yes what the spot is. Not all where clear until the end and I liked the way the Octavo grows bigger and bigger and it gets clear what other people are involved.

I loved the folding fan aspect of the story. I did see them regular on images from that period but never knew the history behind them and that they where used in the way as described in the book. I did some google searches after reading and found a lot of extra information and nice facts.
The story is told from different perspectives. If Emil is the one writing down his story he is using I but he is also writing down the stories that where told. Usually I am easily distracted when this is used in a book  but the changing points of view where carefully separated in chapters making it clear for the reader immediately that the point of view would change and it was fluent.
If you are scared of the puzzle books like the Rose Labyrinth or Angels and Demons you can actually pick up this book. It is not as heavy or complicated as those. The tone is lighter and the puzzle feeling can be ignored without losing touch with the rest of the story.

Het Stockholm Octavo
Author: Karen Engelmann
Publisher: Orlando Uitgevers
ISBN-10:  9022962016
ISBN-13:  9789022962015
Pages: 480
Format: Paperback
Original title: The Stockholm Octavo
Orlando UitgeversPaperback

4 star review
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24 March, 2013 delete

I would be scared of a timeline, too! I'm glad it's just a bonus and not necessary, though!

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Melinda
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25 March, 2013 delete

Sounds interesting, Ciska!
On my bookish bucket list, I decided to read a book in Dutch (My first languages is Afrikaans, which is derived from Dutch).

I might not understand the spoken language, but I think I could understand a novel if I read it. Preferably an easy one ;) Any suggestions?

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25 March, 2013 delete

If you would like to try I might advice to start with a book by Thea Beckman (like Crusade in Jeans) This would fit your children's fiction try out and it is a nice historical story and if the Dutch is to complicated you can finish it in English ;)
I really love the writing style and books by this author. They are timeless.

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Melinda
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31 March, 2013 delete

Thanks Ciska I will check it out.

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