by Karen Engelmann

3 and a half*

Fans and cards, prophecy and history mingle in the tale of Emil Larsson and his pursuit of a future predicted for him by the enigmatic Mrs Sparrow. An interesting and original story, though far from flawless.

I enjoyed the story. I loved the cards, the prophecy, the location – 18th century Stockholm is certainly an unusual setting for a novel, and adds greatly to its strangeness and charm. The history – which was all new to me – was never dull. The large cast of characters were wonderfully well drawn, the massive, intricate plot well-wrought. Using the octavo – a sort of Tarot-spread – and the prophecy it heralded was a fascinating way to draw apparently disparate storylines together, though it, like other important elements of the story, got lost at times.

Which is the problem with this novel, there is altogether too much of everything. The story is SO drawn out; every piece of it takes an age to tell. It is over-written and desperately slow. There is far, far too much detail about the cards and the fans and the politics and the dresses – it muddies the waters and gets in the way of what could be a corker of a tale. It wasn’t as if each of these elements was in any way dull in and of itself, but there is just far too much of each and it ruins the whole. At times, the story becomes completely lost, buried in the mire– which is not to say it wasn’t enjoyable, it is very unusual and packed with intrigue, interest and beauty; at times it was utterly riveting. If it had been two thirds the length, it would have been magnificent.