[A] deliciously sly first novel...The Stockholm Octavo is an irresistible cipher between two covers—an atmospheric tale of many rogues and a few innocents gambling on politics and romance in the cold, cruel north.
New York Times Book Review
A full deck of piquant pleasures...elegant and precarious...Engelmann captures the lost enterprises and values of another time, the weird customs that strike us as alien and foolish....[and] craftily unfolds her fictional story pleat by pleat within the real history of 1792.
A dizzying story of political intrigue and forbidden romance, all played out in an array of lost arts, from the reading of cards to the language of ladies’ fans to the healing power of plants. Each has its own delicious vocabulary and in Engelmann’s debut, each word is savored.
Blends political intrigue, fortune-telling, alchemy, skullduggery, high treason and love. The plot is so compelling it will keep you up at night, and the characters so well-crafted you will gladly follow them through the streets and alleys of 18th-century Stockholm
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Karen Engelmann’s absorbing debut doesn’t traffic in mystery so much as Mystery with a capital “m.” . . . . As she deftly shuffles characters, Engelmann’s hand moves faster than a reader’s eye in a thoroughly engaging story of intrigue and gamesmanship.” (Christian Science Monitor )A juicy page-turner.... Engelmann’s intellectually playful take on the mathematics of love and power proves irresistible.
O, The Oprah Magazine
Layered, absorbing, and rife with interesting fictional characters and genuine historical detail, Engelmann’s work kept me in suspense from this first page to the last.
(Starred review.) Political and social intrigue are merged through the medium of the mystical card layout called the Octavo in this debut novel of maneuvering aristocrats and striving tradesmen in late 18th-century Stockholm. In the reign of the alternately enlightened and autocratic King Gustav III, his brother Karl and the society doyenne known as the Uzanne scheme to return control of Sweden to the nobility.... Neatly mixing revolutionary politics with the erotic tension and cutthroat rivalry of the female conspirators...Engelmann has crafted a magnificent, suspenseful story set against the vibrant society of Sweden’s zenith, with a cast of colorful characters balanced at a crux of history.
The Stockholm Octavo, Karen Engelmann’s impressive debut, is as marvelously and intricately constructed as the mysterious form of divination it’s named for. A true pleasure from beginning to satisfying end.
(Starred review.) In her debut novel, set in 1790s Stockholm, Engelmann features a card game called Octavo. When the fortune-telling Mrs. Sophia Sparrow foresees a golden future for smug bureaucrat Emil Larsson, she lays an Octavo so that he can find the eight people who will help him realize that vision. Soon, it's evident that his search is linked with the fate of his country.
(Starred review.) Mysterious, suspenseful, and, at times, action-packed.
Elegant and multifaceted, Engelmann's debut explores love and connection in late-18th-century Sweden and delivers an unusual, richly-imagined read. Stockholm, "Venice of the North," in an era of enlightenment and revolution is the setting for a refreshing historical novel grounded in a young man's search for a wife but which takes excursions into politics, geometry (Divine and other), numerology, the language of fans and, above all, cartomancy—fortunetelling using cards.... The setup is wonderfully engrossing; the denouement doesn't deliver quite enough. But this is stylish work by an author of real promise.
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