My rating: 5 of 5 stars
In The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, Genevieve Valentine beautifully re-imagines the Brothers Grimm fairy tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses in glittering 1920s Manhattan. The result is a dazzling story of dancing, sisterhood, love, and most importantly, liberation, against the backdrop of Prohibition. For the reader, it’s an intoxicating Jazz Age treat with a surprisingly emotional conclusion.
The twelve Hamilton sisters live imprisoned in a castle fortress of sorts, a large New York City townhouse. Their wealthy, controlling father keeps them hidden from public view, embarrassed by his late wife’s excessive and rather gauche fertility. Led by first-born Jo, the oldest girls begin to sneak out at midnight to dance in speakeasies. As the years wear on, Jo introduces each of her younger sisters to their enchanted double life--dutiful and dull daughter by day, wild flapper by night. The sisters, known only as “Princesses” at the nightclubs, dance the Charleston and the foxtrot with abandon, but seem to have hearts of stone. They never tell men their real names, and they never fall in love.
But in 1927, after the youngest daughter has joined her sisters in their secret revels, the Princesses face danger from their father’s growing suspicions and a sudden police raid at the Kingfisher Club. Most dangerous of all, perhaps, is the thing that Jo has always feared most—opening her heart to love.
Valentine’s update of the fairy tale is inspired. Far from just a frothy confection about flappers & their beaded dresses, her novel takes on the theme of women seeking freedom from the debilitating “enchantment” of male control. I loved that the dancing princesses realize they can rescue themselves, each finding a hidden source of strength and power. Valentine’s prose is sharp, direct, and refreshing. The characters of each of the twelve sisters are surprisingly well-drawn, and Valentine skillfully reveals Jo’s emotional transformation from the protective, almost cold, eldest sister, unwilling to trust any man, into a woman who can freely give and accept love.
I rate The Girls at the Kingfisher Club with a 4.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for a thoroughly entertaining read. The novel reminds me of Amor Towles’ excellent Rules of Civility, another intelligent tale of 1920s Manhattan starring a strong-willed heroine.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. As always, the opinions expressed here are fully my own.
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