The Stockholm Octavo, by Karen Engelmann

The Stockholm Octavo
Emil Larsson, protagonist of Karen Engelmann's The Stockholm Octavo, is a customs agent who suddenly find himself in need of a wife. His boss, a man of morals, worries that all the time spent around sailors and smugglers and criminals will corrupt his agents. His solution is to require all of his agents to be married. Larrson' quest for an acceptable wife leads him to political intrigue and the assassination of Gustav III of Sweden*.

Emil begins his search with an old friend and cardsharping partner, French refugee Mrs. Sofia Sparrow. Mrs. Sparrow is a firm believer in the Tarot and uses her cards to lay a spread she calls the Octavo. She tells him that she has had a vision of "love and connection" for him, teaching him that each person has a network of eight people around them that can be used to help them reach their goals if they can be identified. Emil rushes down several blind alleys before blundering into an audacious and insane conspiracy.

Before long, Emil and Mrs. Sparrow find themselves trying to thwart the plans of aristocrat Kristina Elizabet Louisa Uzanne. The Uzanne, as she's known, has lone been a reactionary against Gustav's reforms. But when she loses her prized fan, the Uzanne becomes unhinged and takes her scheming to the next level. Yes, all because of a fan.

It takes a long while for this book to get rolling. You'll be treated to scenes of Emil making himself foolish over girls, young ladies learning the art of fan wielding, an apothecary tests sleeping potions on a cat, and other seemingly inconsequential acts. Things start to come together in part II and build to a thrilling climax in part three as everyone drops their pretenses and gets down to business. Even though you know how things will go for the king, Engelmann doesn't let you know what happens to the rest of the cast of characters until the very end.


* Not a spoiler. It's history.

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