Review: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

Review: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve ValentineThe Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine
Published by Simon and Schuster on June 3, 2014
Pages: 288
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From award-winning author Genevieve Valentine, a "gorgeous and bewitching" (Scott Westerfeld) re-imagining of the fairy-tale 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.

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

In this modern adaptation of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, twelve sisters, held captive by their father, sneak out to drink and dance in prohibition-era Manhattan. What could be better than that?

Genevieve Valentine brings my favorite fairy tale to life in The Girls at the Kingfisher Club. A wealthy Manhattan family has twelve daughters. The father, ashamed at his inability to produce a legitimate heir to his empire, keeps his daughters locked in the house so the neighbors can’t see his shame. He keeps their mother perpetually pregnant and trying to produce a son, and it kills her. He fires most of the household staff because “the older girls can take care of the younger girls.” Held in financial captivity, the girls are forced to live on $4 a month and do the best they can with what their father deigns to give them. The younger girls are almost uneducated. All of them are chattel, waiting to be sold off to the highest-bidding husband. But Jo loves to dance, and it’s a love that she passes on to the others. After a tense moment, a moment that threatens to break the sisters up forever, Jo decides to defy her father, sneak her sisters out of the house, and take them dancing.

What I love the most about The Girls at the Kingfisher Club is that each sister has her own distinct personality. None of the characters bleed together. They all have their favorite clothes and favorite dances. But really, it’s Jo that shines. She places the burden of eleven fates on her shoulders and hardens herself in the process. She sacrifices her own happiness for them. She’s the glue that holds them together. She teaches them about loyalty and sisterhood. I admire how strong she is in the face of adversity. Jo’s teachings keep the girls alive and safe after they escape their father’s wrath. Even though the sisters separate, they have a fierce loyalty to one another.

The 1920s backdrop is the perfect complement to The Girls at the Kingfisher Club. Prohibition is in full swing and Valentine gives us a glimpse of the wheeling and dealing that happens to keep a speakeasy open and the cops happy. The setting creates perpetual tension. You never know when there’s going to be a raid or if the girls are going to be caught. There is one flaw with the book, and only one, in my opinion. Jo’s sacrifice comes back to bite her in the end and there is little resolution. The story as a whole is resolved except for this complicated relationship she has with her sister’s husband. How does that end? It soured an otherwise perfect story.

In the end, The Girls at the Kingfisher Club is an almost-perfect fairy tale re-telling that examines the nature of sisterhood in a patriarchal system. With Jo’s help, each girl finds her place in the world, and Jo finds out just what she’s made of too.

Read if:

  • you love strong female characters
  • you love fairy tale re-tellings
  • you love the 1920s
  • you love books that tell the patriarchy to shove it

© 2015 – 2016, Jessica Workman Holland. All rights reserved.