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Extended Audio Sample The Stockholm Octavo, by Karen Engelmann Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (844 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Karen Engelmann Narrator: Simon Vance Publisher: Blackstone Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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For fans of Patrick Suskind’s classic Perfume comes a dazzling debut set during Stockholm’s opulent golden age and brilliantly interweaving history, romance, and intrigue—a story in which one man’s fortune holds the key to a nation’s precarious fate.

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 proprietress 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.

Set against the luminous backdrop of late eighteenth-century Stockholm, as the winds of revolution rage through the great capitals of Europe, The Stockholm Octavo brings together a collection of characters, both fictional and historical, whose lives tangle in political conspiracy, love, and magic in a breathtaking tale that will leave you spellbound.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Delicious…The essence of witty intelligence. Readers will delight [in] every element in this Swedish weave, from the brutal winter weather to the unfurling of a lady’s fan. The plot is an urgent one, and the characters mysterious, appealing, and memorable…I felt a real kinship with author Karen Engelmann.”

    Sena Jeter Naslund, New York Times bestselling author of Ahab’s Wife

  • “If you like novels that work on many levels at once, read this stunning tessellation of a book, where fortune is the flip side of intrigue and where history is the flip side of chance.”

    Charlotte Rogan, New York Times bestselling author of The Lifeboat

  • “A delicious page-turner that brings eighteenth-century Stockholm to vivid life, complete with scandal, conspiracy, mystery, and a hint of magic. Karen Engelmann’s spectacular debut drew me in…A captivating tale, beautifully told.”

    Eleanor Brown, New York Times bestselling author

  • “A juicy page-turner…Engelmann’s intellectually playful take on the mathematics of love and power proves irresistible.”

    O, The Oprah Magazine

  • “Deliciously sly…As we fan through the pages, we recognize the usual narrative codes, but we can’t crack them any faster than Larsson can solve the puzzle of his destiny. The result 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 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.”

    Boston Globe

  • “This is a swirling, swooping fanfare of a tale, with an immense cast and an exhilaratingly sustained finale.”

    Guardian (London)

  • “Karen Engelmann’s The Stockholm Octavo is a bonbon box filled with treats designed to appeal to lovers of literary historical thrillers.”


  • “The fascination of the cards' unfolding gives way to even greater narrative magic, when Emil must wield all his intelligence and resources to identify the actual persons who embody the eight figures of his Octavo. With flawless instinct, Engelmann conflates mystery and romance.”


  • “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.”

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • “Cartomancy is divination using regular playing cards in a game called the Octavo. This and the language and geometry of fans, as well as several other arcane practices, form the intriguing premise of Karen Englemann’s engrossing debut novel. Mrs. Sparrow, mistress of a gaming establishment in late-eighteenth-century Sweden, predicts a golden future for minor customs official Emil Larsson. Simon Vance does everything right as Emil meets the human embodiments of the eight cards that are destined to assist him. With characters as diverse as King Gustav, a French fan maker, and the scheming Uzanne, Vance never misses a step. His descriptions of several luscious young women, and of one particular fan thought to contain magical powers, are a marvel of nuance and subtlety. A delicious pairing of narrator and material.”


  • “Fantastic…This rollicking adventure story reads at times like a fairy tale, with good guys and bad guys and obstacles to be recognized and overcome. It’s all quite fun. As either historical novel or adventure story, this clever first novel should appeal to a broad range of readers.”

    Library Journal (starred review)

  • “Mysterious, suspenseful, and, at times, action packed.”

    Booklist (starred review)

  • “Elegant and multifaceted, Engelmann’s debut explores love and connection in late–eighteenth-century Sweden and delivers an unusual, richly imagined read…The setup is wonderfully engrossingthis is stylish work by an author of real promise.”

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

  • 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.”

    Shelf Awareness

  • Selected for the November 2012 Indie Next List
  • One of the Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2012
  • A Kirkus Reviews “New and Notable Title”, October 2012
  • Winner of an AudioFile Earphones Award, June 2013

Listener Opinions

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Sue | 2/16/2014

    " Fun, historical read about late 1700's Stockholm with political intrigue, high stakes card games and fortune telling. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Lisa | 1/9/2014

    " Over all a good read. I did not know much about life in Sweden so that aspect was interesting. The mystical aspects felt over worked in some chapters and completely abandoned in others like the author was hesitant to commit. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Kate | 12/29/2013

    " Fortune-telling, courtly intrigue, and ladies' fans with all sorts of scary powers. This was a decent light read, though to be honest, I was hoping for something a bit more mysterious and complex. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 by Fred | 12/17/2013

    " I have never been so thoroughly interested in the first half of a book, and then so equally disappointed in the second half. If this book was two hundred pages long I would have given it four stars. "

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About the Author

Karen Engelmann lived and worked in Sweden for nine years. She has an MFA from Goddard College in Vermont and is the 2011 winner of the American Scandinavian Society Cultural Grant Award for writing. She lives in Dobbs Ferry, New York.