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at_1022_ENGELMANN_BOOK_HEAD_640x480An Infinity of Eightfold Delight

Gustavo III, Rey de Suecia 1777 by Roslin

This is a most wonderful, darkly glittering interlocking puzzle of a historical novel, set in Sweden on the edge of, and then into, the French Revolution. Taking some real events – the factions between liberalism and conservatism in Sweden and France, and the assassination attempt on King Gustave III of Sweden, Author Karen Engelmann creates such a complex, tricksy, cleverly interlocking plot that I believed more to be ‘true’ than was the case. Her weaving of politics, necromancy, sacred geometry, card playing, the Masonic Order, herbal remedies, the arts of calligraphy, fan-making and fan-using are so deliciously and believably constructed that I was quite surprised, on finishing the book, to discover that so many of the major characters didn’t exist. Searches did show that some similar characters must have been springboards for Engelmann’s creativity. For example, King Gustave did consult a celebrated medium, several times, who also made, by all accounts, accurate predictions for other members of the Swedish Royal family. She just wasn’t the powerful Mrs Sofia Sparrow of THIS novel.


In many ways, this book reminded me in its complexity and ability to steep the reader into another age, and a Nordic country, and into the arts, of Music & Silence. Any appreciative comparison with Tremain, from me, is high praise! And also, in the hinted at interlocking, occult world view of some of Lindsay Clarke’s alchemically focused novels, most specifically The Chymical Wedding (Picador Books)

And there are some beautiful woodcut type illustrations of the cards early in the text.

I finished this book with a big sigh of pleasure – and also sorrow. Pleasure in a wonderful piece of story-telling, and a satisfying ending true to the spirit of the book, sorrow that I HAD finished the book. ‘This’ world looks a good deal flatter than the intricate – but dark, beauty of The Stockholm Octavo.And the fans – well I can see them clearly in my minds eye, and want one!

Reclining Lady with a Fan, Eleuterio Pagliani, Wiki Commons

Reclining Lady with a Fan, Eleuterio Pagliani, Wiki Commons

The Wiki picture is from a later period but conveys the opulence and decadence well!

The Stockholm Octavo Amazon UK
The Stockholm Octavo Amazon USA