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The Sixth by Avery Hays

The Sixth

by Avery Hays

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Cross-posted to http://off-the-book.org.

In The Sixth, a young Portuguese woman, Florbela Sarmentos, moves to the Sixth Arrondissement turn-of-the-century Paris to pursue her dream of becoming a painter. However, she isn't just an aspiring artist - she is in political exile from her native country, where her father is held prisoner. This book is both a deftly written political thriller and historical romance.

The "revolutionary" aspect of the storyline, with Florbela's mission of saving her father from his wrongful imprisonment, is thoroughly exciting. After contacting her father's friend, Professor Almeida, he is assassinated by the Ordo Crucis Incendio, or the Order of the Burning Cross. Florbela makes the daring decision not to go into hiding. When an encrypted painting is found with alarming and important information, she fights to protect it and bring it to the Portuguese resistance. Meanwhile, Florbela also ventures into the famous circle of artists living in La Ruche. Some of the famous residents include Modigliani, Rivera, and Chagall - who somehow all manage to be some of Florbela's closest friends. A critique would be that it seems a bit of a stretch - although they were truly all friends with each other.

Florbela is a gutsy, if naive and overconfident character. That characterization is refreshing and realistic, and her persistence to avoid living in fear is especially admirable. There are plenty of twists that keep the reader on their toes.

One thing that is rather frustrating in recent fiction is the consistent love triangle - was it really necessary for Florbela to be longed for by both Armand, a "dashing French rebel" and a handsome socialite. Another criticism would be the disjointed nature of some of the novel; in some chapters, Florbela thought only of her art and her roommate, and then it would rapidly switch over to the assassin, her father, and the risk to her life.

Overall, however, it was a well-written, energetically paced storyline that both history and art buffs will find highly enjoyable. Four stars. ( )
  amanda.mustafic | Jan 24, 2014 |
"I don't know how Hays managed it but I enjoyed the recreation of a period where idealists could be communist and revolution seemed around the corner and the prose conveyed an enthralling and seductive optimism that suspended my usually cynical nature."
read more: http://likeiamfeasting.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-sixth-avery-hays.html ( )
  mongoosenamedt | Jan 3, 2014 |
Set in 1910 Paris, The Sixth is a romantic adventure historical novel, in the vein of Donna Russo Morin or Kate Mosse (or perhaps Dan Brown or Steve Berry, without the contemporary parts), featuring artwork encoded with ciphers, Freemasons, expats, romantic entanglements, attempted murders, and political intrigue.

Fresh from her classical arts training in England, twenty-one-year old Florbela Sarmentos arrives in Paris with the address of an artists boarding house. Her father, a famed Portuguese writer, is a political prisoner at the hands of Portugal's infamous King Manuel II, and immediately upon her arrival at La Ruche, she is thrown into chaos, drama, and danger. Her new neighbors include artists Diego Rivera, Angelina Beloff, Amadeo Modigliani, and exiled politico Vladimir Lenin; her new roommate is a waifish and odd teenaged sculptor. Waiting for her are two revolutionaries acting as messengers for Florbela's father, with a message from him: an assassin is out for her, and she must seek out a British Freemason to help her, and thus, him.

While there's a sense of everything-but-the-kitchen-sink in terms of plot at the start, the story settles down from breakneck to simply racing, populated with a wild cast of characters familiar to those who enjoy modern art and narrated by a loyal, wide-eyed young woman.

The opening sentence -- On the fifth of April in the spring of my twenty-first year, all the world was turning nervous eyes toward my native Portugal, gazing aghast as she teetered giddily between the abyss of anarchy on the one hand, and that of totalitarianism on the other. -- gives a taste of Hays' writing style which was reminiscent to me of some Victorian-ish literature: a little ornate, a little wordy, very melodramatic. Our narrator Florbela is remarkably innocent, protected by guardians most of her life, and her account of the events are touched with wonder, determination, and optimism.

There were moments when I found the book veered a little into Mary Sue territory, as Florbela is credited with styling Russian painter Moishe Shagalov as Marc Chagall while painter Fernand Léger is among her impassioned, devoted suitors. Still, I was charmed by her, and the narrative style felt 'true' to Florbela's character. She, thankfully, doesn't go from innocent to vamp in a matter of chapters, but remains a composed young woman plunged into a froth of decadence and danger.

On her website, Hays has a letter written by Florbela from the 1960s that acts as a kind of Afterword, which I enjoyed, but the novel doesn't lack anything by its lack of inclusion, and readers are left with a nice, satisfying (if not dramatic) conclusion. ( )
  unabridgedchick | Nov 5, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0985418249, Hardcover)

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, Amedeo 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:26 -0400)

Florbela Sarmentos, 21, pursues painting in Paris in the company of Modigliani, Rivera and Chagall and tries to help her father, a Portuguese writer imprizoned for critisizing the monarchy.

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