The Sixth by Avery Hays
Description from Goodreads
Welcome to the gaslit, cobblestoned streets of Paris, 1910.
Florbela Sarmentos, 21, knows what she wants: art, romance, and to free her father from the prison of Portugal’s despotic King Manuel II. Born in Lisbon, educated in London and at a painting academy in Cherbourg, France, the cosmopolitan Florbela moves to Paris and takes up residence in the wildly bohemian enclave of La Ruche, there to pursue a creative life.
Some of the yet-to-be-discovered artists living in her building are Diego Rivera, Amadeo Modigliani and Marc Chagall. By day she paints, and by night she attends parties with the residents of La Ruche, who introduce her to collectors and creative spirits in Paris’s fabled Sixth Arrondissement. Along the way, Florbela attracts several hot-headed admirers, two of whom become so inflamed with jealousy that they become each other’s deadly enemies.
But Florbela’s fledgling artistic and social life is soon eclipsed, when she can no longer escape the political shadow of her father, a Portuguese writer imprisoned in Lisbon for criticizing the corrupt monarchy.
Florbela tries to find news of her father through Portuguese political exiles and sympathizers in Paris — with alarming results. When she contacts a friend of her father, Professor Almeida, he turns up dead, killed by an assassin from the pro-monarchist society Ordo Crucis Incendio — the Order of the Burning Cross. Professor Almeida’s dying words lead Florbela to a secret, encrypted painting that might save her father and overthrow the king. Now, Florbela is the assassin’s next target.
With the help of Armand, a dashing French rebel, Florbela fights to bring the secret painting to the Portuguese resistance fighters. It just might save her country… and her life.
I gave this book four and a half stars out of five
This book was wonderful. I found it fascinating. I would definitely describe it as a page turner, keeping me fully engaged, wanting more, right to the last page.
I loved the beautifully presented accounts of Paris life at the turn of the twentieth century. I was enthralled by the wonderfully descriptive passages that revealed the creative and artistic lives of characters that were to eventually become household names, and of the region known as the sixth and its surrounding environs. My personal knowledge of the art world is severely limited piqued my interest in gaining a greater familiarity with these people and their world.
The main character Florbela Sarmentos, whose father was a revolutionary imprisoned in Portugal, was also a fledgling artist, struggling to find her place in the art world. It was a story of intrigue, romance and mystery.
The main premise behind the story was that of the revolution in Portugal, although this often seemed to take a back seat to her romantic liaisons with three different suitors. The discovery of a secret coded message that could aid the revolution and gain freedom for her father resulted in the involvement of the freemasons in aiding in the translation of the code and ultimately in uniting two of her previously antagonistic suitors.
The action ranged from Paris to Portugal, with Florbela and Armand, the third suitor and her self-appointed protector, pursued doggedly by the legendary assassin Onca do Papa. Finally finding safety amongst the revolutionaries the story comes to a satisfactory conclusion, tying together the loose ends very neatly.
I really enjoyed this book and would certainly recommend it to others, especially if you want a story with romance, intrigue and mystery. The use of historical characters from the art world, not limited just to the artists, but also their benefactors, meant that I was able to learn a lot from this book, in addition to the sheer pleasure obtained from the story. Definitely a book I would recommend to others.
This review is based on a digital ARC provided by Netgalley and the publisher.