Maud Heighton moves to Belle Époque Paris from a small English town to attend a prestigious art school, in hopes of becoming an artist. However Paris is expensive and she finds herself struggling to survive in the growing cold of winter until a friendly classmate introduces her to a woman who helps those in need by setting them up with a job. Maud is assigned to be the companion to Sylvie Morel, a beautiful young woman living in luxury with her brother. However Maud quickly discovers that Sylvie has more to hide than just her addition to opium as she finds herself sucked into the Morels’ deceptions.
I feel like I’ve read many books set in Paris that are 1) about art, and 2) set in this time period but The Paris Winter takes it further. The synopsis from the book jacket, and what I’ve briefly summarized in the previous paragraph doesn’t do this book justice. It’s not just a story about Maud and her struggles but also her companions: a wealthier classmate and an artist’s model who has connections to the seedier side of the city. The three young women are each conflicted with their own dilemmas and find comfort in their growing friendship. The development of the dynamic between these three was captivating and I loved watching their strength grow (and ebb) as the navigated the dark plot they’ve found themselves a part of.
At the beginning or end of the chapter, Robertson has included “extracts” from the catalogue notes to a particular art exhibition. Used throughout the novel, I loved that this method of scene-setting was used as the descriptions of the artwork allowed for the author to, quite literally, paint the picture of what the readers should be seeing at this one moment until the significance of it all becomes evident.
There is so much more to this story than initially meets the eye. I was surprised at the darker turn it takes once Maud encounters the Morels. The subsequent exploration into the mental states of the various characters in this story was interesting to watch unfold. While the cover is absolutely gorgeous, don’t let the pretty imagery mislead you. This historical fiction is a crime mystery more than it is an epic romantic drama – and I loved that.