The Stockholm Octavo
By Karen Engelman
Emil Larsson is on a quest to find a wife and happiness in Stockholm, "the Venice of the North." Unfortunately, he has run into some difficulties. The year is 1789 and political rumblings are coming from nearby France, where the people are in revolution. Mrs. Sparrow, a friend to the king, runs a gambling house where she also reads fortunes in the cards. She tells Emil that his quest for love is at the center of the conspiracies afoot in the city. While the King tries to quell the revolt, the aristocracy is determined to stay in control. The Uzanne, a powerful lady, decides to train the young women of the town in the treacherous and seductive art of fans. With a flick of their wrists men can fall in love or fall over dead. Using this power the Uzanne will try to topple the King and raise his power-hungry brother to the throne. How can Emil snag one of these lovely ladies when they're so focused on the teachings of the Uzanne? Will he be able to change the course of history?
While I enjoyed some of the characters very much, the real star of this book is the author's ability to transport you into the world she's recreating. An apothecary is "more like a filthy pawnshop than any apothecary that Johanna had ever seen. Vials and boxes were stacked precariously, and the bitter smell of opium paste layered over lemon balm and myrtle permeated the air." On another street the fan shop is "painted in broad horizontal stripes of cheery lemon and cream, and the white crown moldings were like sculpted meringue oozing against the ceiling."
It's a book of intrigue that is also a feast for the senses.
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Review by Danny Hanbery