The Stockholm Octavo
The Stockholm Octavo is set in 18th-century Stockholm against the background of the last years of Sweden’s Golden Age and the spread of revolution throughout Europe. Its hero, Emil Larsson, wants this era to last forever, but of course nothing will remain as it was – a significant theme in this work.
Emil is a drinker, card player and contented bachelor until informed that his position at the office of Excise and Customs depends on finding a wife. He turns to Mrs Sparrow, proprietor of a gaming house for the nobility, an exclusive club which even hosts King Gustav III. A fortuneteller, she also offers to lay out an Octavo for Emil. The Octavo is a form of cartomancy which can divine the future if only he can discover the eight individuals it enigmatically reveals. To make events more interesting, Mrs Sparrow wins a mysterious fan in a straightforward card game. This links the Octavo with Larsson’s future, and gathering the eight people into his life becomes not just about finding a marriage partner but crucial to pulling Sweden back from chaos.
This novel is beautifully written. Every sentence is measured. The narrative is intriguing and filled with fascinating characters such as the ruthless Uzanne, a noblewoman who plots murder, and Johanna, her protégée. Uzanne is a teacher of the language of fans, which she puts to use in her most dastardly plot, aimed to destroy King Gustav himself. Tension constantly increases with the cutthroat rivalry of the female conspirators, the terrifying and amusing situations into which Larsson is placed, and the revelations concerning the Octavo and its characters’ positions in Larsson’s personal fate.
The Stockholm Octavo is an engaging novel through which an important and significant moment in history is animated through a set of unusual characters and the deployment of a fabulously original plot.