I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine
Published: Atria Books (2014), eARC, 288pg
Genres: Fiction, GLBTQ, Historical Fiction
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.
I love GV’s previous book, Mechanique, and I absolutely adore fairy tale retellings, so I was fairly certain The Girls at the Kingfisher Club would be a huge hit with me. No surprise: it was!
It’s not just the fact that it’s a retelling of one of my favorite fairy tales, the 12 Dancing Princess. It’s because the writing was so beautiful, the setting so interesting, the characters so lovable in a tragic kind of way. True, the father-villain was over the top with his nutsoid views about family and heirs (surely 12 healthy daughters are better than any nonexistent son?) but such is the world of the fairy tale that things like insane parents make a weird kind of sense, no matter what decade you’re in.
Flappers! I love flappers. I especially love flappers who actually act like proper flappers. They dance, they drink, they’re indiscreet with strange men. It’s great! And it’s fun to read about the sisters discovering who they are and who they have to be outside of the terror that is their home life.
They save themselves, too! There are princes, but they’re just as tragic as the sisters and not much help except for emotional support. This is very much a coming of age story, a defeating the dragon kind of story. If anything, the sisters are knights than submissive fairy princesses.
The ending was fabulous, though not precisely in line with the traditional happy ending of a fairy tale (or even a fairy tale retelling). This isn’t a romance– the happy ending comes, but at a price. And it’s not exactly the kind of ending you’d expect, either. There’s a marriage, and a death, but things don’t just become instantly, magically better. The sisters still have a long way to go, and the ending was a very good start down that road.
I liked that! I liked that it was different from the norm, and in a way that felt true to the book. There were other changes to the original story besides that (including one or two non-straight sisters, huzzah!), but the ending is what struck me the most.
I definitely recommend this book for anyone who likes fairy tales, but also for those of you who like historical fiction and flappers and slightly strange, beautifully written tales of like in New York.
Read: May 17-18, 2014