Sweden is revolting
Well not quite, but it could have been, in the 18th century. I’ve just finished this:
The Stockholm Octavo is a complex piece to consider or review. My opinion of the book has been high all the way through, though I have had trouble nailing down why I enjoyed it as much as I did.
Engelmann’s writing is fluid, graceful and highly emotive. It is very hard not to get sucked into the story and the prose that conveys it, and the descriptions, locations, activities and conversation evoke a feeling of another time and place, totally removed from the reader’s world. I suspect that this is the fact that will make or break the book for a lot of people. To be honest, for me the way the book was written made the actual reading of the book hard work, requiring a lot more concentration than much historical fiction. Fortunately, the plot and setting are so intriguing that I found that even when I put the book down I was wondering what was coming next and had to pick it back up again.
The story revolves around a plot against the King of Sweden in the late 18th century, tied in with the ambitions of a gambler with a career in the city bureaucracy and an Octavo that is drawn for him – an Octavo is an unusual form of Cartomancy where eight cards are drawn on consecutive nights and represent the eight persons that are intimately tied into a great event, and which, if worked correctly, can control that event and bring it about. Beyond that I shall say no more – I am all for avoiding spoilers in a review.
One thing that really did enthral me in the book is the setting Sweden in the age of Revolution is about as alien an environment for me as I could find, and therefore every page brought me new learning and fascinating facts, painting a picture of a world I have never considered. Moreover, in the background, the world is undergoing great events following the revolutions in France and America. It really is a deep and fascinating situation for a writer and I am now amazed that so little has previously been written about it.
Two things that detracted a little for me and which I think were over-emphasised more than necessary for the story were the nature of the period’s folding ladies’ fans and their use and meaning, and the details of the card games played in the seedy gaming house. Both were a little too in-depth for me and slowed the story to a sluggish pace at times. Yet (and this is what confirms that this is all a matter of personal opinion) the detail of the cartomancy and the laying and interpretation of the octavo I found fascinating.
All in all, I would say that if you’re looking for fast paced, action packed historical fiction, this book will leave you wanting considerably. If, however, you’re looking for an immersive experience that tells a complex tale in a beautiful manner and brings to life a strange and intricate time and place, then you’ll enjoy the Stockholm Octavo.
End result: Not for everyone, but a fascinating look at an unusual setting.