Title: Stockholm Octavo
Author: Karen Engelmann
Genre: Contemporary Literature
This book was yet another slow starter. The main character, Emil Larsson is a Customs Sekretaire who needs to wed to please his superior. The first section of the book, and by far the weakest, deals with his desire to try and get himself engaged to a lady named Carlotta. It is through these efforts that he agrees to have an Octavo (a fortune telling spread) read and that he, and we the audience, get our first glimpse of The Uzanne and that is when things finally start getting interesting.
I would say that this is one of those books where the plot is almost secondary to the characters that populate it. With the exception of our protagonist (and I believe that may even be deliberate because he is meant to influence affairs not truly participate in them) the cast is very colorful and interesting to follow.
The Uzanne is a Baroness who desires to overthrow King Gustaf who has weakened the noble’s power. She believes in the power of the folding fan and throughout the book you see her teaching to her students. There is a young commoner named Joanna Grey (nee Bloom) an <i>apotherecaire</i> whose compounds figure heavily into the plot. There is also a fan maker and his wife, a boat captain, a dandy and many others. All of these characters are wonderfully fleshed out and keep you engaged.
The plot – really the tale of Larsson trying to find a way to keep The Uzanne from accomplishing her deeds is decent enough, but can get a bit silly with its insistence on just how important fans really are. I was able to get beyond, but some many not.
This is one of those books where you mileage may vary. I’d say it’d be worth it at paperback price, or grab it from the library. It’s fun enough, but not worth a full priced purchase
Verdict: Borrow it.