The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann
Published by Ecco Books, an imprint of HarperCollins
Emil Larsson finally has the life he wants as a well-regarded Swedish customs official. In addition to his salary, being a customs official gives him the opportunity for some extracurricular compensation. This plus his winnings at cards gives Larsson a very nice living. Unfortunately, everything he has is now at risk, as his supervisor is threatening to let him go if he does not get married and settle down. Luckily for Larsson’s position, Mrs. Sparrow – the proprietor of the gaming parlor he frequents – has had a vision about him, a vision that promises him love and connection. To find out how to bring this love and connection about, Mrs. Sparrow is going to practice a form of divination she created herself, the Octavo, which will help Larsson identify the eight people in Stockholm who can help him realize the vision. Before long, Larsson finds himself caught up in the revolt of the nobles against King Gustav, an event that is precipitated by – and may have serious repercussions on – the ensuing French Revolution.
Based on the dust jacket description of The Stockholm Octavo, I was a little bit afraid that Engelmann was trying to promote a New Thing through historical fiction. Thankfully, this turns out not to be the case. The characters certainly believe in the power of the Octavo wholeheartedly, and for all I know Engelmann also believes fervently in these sorts of connections, the The Stockhom Octavo is not setting out to create a fad. Instead, it is a recognition of the interconnectedness of human lives, and the way interpersonal relationships have shaped our shared history.
Larsson starts out as a brash and often obtuse young man whose only real thoughts are what he can gain from any given situation. The processes of first laying out the Octavo, and then of deciphering which people in his life fit the positions of his Octavo force him to become more aware of the humanity that surrounds him and of the greater good. He begins to be less selfish, and more in tune to the needs of others instead of only himself. In the first ten pages, Emil Larsson is a character you are not sure you can spend an entire book with, but by the last ten he is a character you are glad you did.
I was not quite as caught up in The Stockholm Octavo as I hoped I might be, based on the reactions of some readers I trust, but I did very much enjoy it, and I believe it is a book that will stay with me. Recommended.
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