Title: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club
Author: Genevieve Valentine
Copy received: NetGalley eARC
From award-winning author Genevieve Valentine, a “gorgeous and bewitching” (Scott Westerfeld) reimagining of the fairytale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses as flappers during the Roaring Twenties in Manhattan.
Jo, the firstborn, “The General” to her eleven sisters, is the only thing the Hamilton girls have in place of a mother. She is the one who taught them how to dance, the one who gives the signal each night, as they slip out of the confines of their father’s townhouse to await the cabs that will take them to the speakeasy. Together they elude their distant and controlling father, until the day he decides to marry them all off.
The girls, meanwhile, continue to dance, from Salon Renaud to the Swan and, finally, the Kingfisher, the club they come to call home. They dance until one night when they are caught in a raid, separated, and Jo is thrust face-to-face with someone from her past: a bootlegger named Tom whom she hasn’t seen in almost ten years. Suddenly Jo must weigh in the balance not only the demands of her father and eleven sisters, but those she must make of herself.
With The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, award-winning writer Genevieve Valentine takes her superb storytelling gifts to new heights, joining the leagues of such Jazz Age depicters as Amor Towles and Paula McClain, and penning a dazzling tale about love, sisterhood, and freedom.
This is an imaginative retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, set in Prohibition New York in the 1920s.
The girls in question are all sisters, and all kept under lock and key in their New York home, never allowed to go out. The reason for this is their father’s apparent embarrassment at not being able to have a male heir. He forces his wife through pregnancy after pregnancy, until her body eventually gives up and she dies, leaving him with twelve daughters. Most of them he never even deigns to meet, until one day a story in the paper about a large group of girls who dance together each night makes him nervous enough to decide to marry them all off to men of his choosing.
Given his own twisted view of women and his role as their jailor, the girls are obviously not interested in any man their father might find for them. They are also afraid, because they realize their father may have begun to suspect the truth, that each night, thanks to their oldest sister, Jo, the General, as they call her, they slip out and dance the night away at speakeasies, particularly the Kingfisher Club.
This is a story about love, sacrifice and jazz, but I did feel there were certain gaps. How the girls paid for their taxis and drinks (usually the men paid, but sometimes they had to, as well), and the fact that their father was able to get away with holding his own children, twelve of them, at that, under a kind of house arrest, wasn’t explained that well. There was a high turn-over of servants at the house, some who really liked the girls, and I can’t believe not a single one reported their father to the authorities. I suppose it may have been a different era, where men could get away with doing something like that, but women had the vote by then, and it would surely have been considered extremely strange behaviour?
My heart broke for Jo, and the way she sacrificed her happiness for her sisters, quite often with little or no thanks. When she finds Tom, the first man she fell in love with when they started going dancing eight years before, she has to battle her own strong wish for love and escape, with the well-being and future of her sisters, which makes this novel extremely poignant.
If you love the roaring 20s, jazz and retold fairytales, you will thoroughly enjoy The Girls at the Kingfisher Club.
Reviewed by: Tara