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This beautifully written novel hides its dark heart under a multi-layered confection of sweet scents, glowing colours and dazzling displays of the art of attraction. Our hero, Emil Larsson, is ordered by his superior in the Customs Office to marry and is guided in his quest for love and connection by his friend Mrs Sparrow, cardsharper and mystic. It is she who lays the Octavo, a form of divination based on cards, sending the seeker to look for the eight people who will influence the outcome of his quest. Mrs Sparrow’s own Octavo is darker – she is driven to find a way to save King Gustav from the threat of assassination.
The art of the folding fan takes centre stage and Engelmann tells us of the craftsmanship that goes into their making, the silent language of attraction used by those who hold them and the dark purposes to which they can be put. With an air of mysticism throughout, the book just manages to stay this side of the supernatural. Engelmann uses language lovingly, as careful in her own crafting as the artists she describes. There are some lovely illustrations of the cards in Emil’s Octavo, which lets the reader visualise them as Mrs Sparrow explains each one.
I found that sometimes there was a little too much froth for my taste, an explosion of adjectives, a little too much sugar in the icing. While the descriptive writing is very fine and gives a convincing impression of the ultimate decadence of the aristocracy she describes, I found myself longing for the plot to move a little faster, and felt that sometimes we could have done with fewer mentions of lemon-scented rooms and orange-scented hair. Because the book is based round a historical event, the outcome of Mrs Sparrow’s Octavo is never in doubt and I found Emil’s own search for love somewhat overly prolonged and rather unsatisfying in the end.
However the skill of the writing and above all the fascination of the fans drew me in and meant that overall this book gave me a sense of deep enjoyment. I look forward to more from this author in the future and must thank Lady Fancifull for pointing me in the direction of this book – her review is here. Recommended.
NB This book was provided for review by Amazon Vine UK.