The Girls at the Kingfisher Club is one of those books that fill your head with beautiful setting. The description is alive, it saturates the room you’re in with colors and emotions.
Expected rating: ★★★★✰
Actual rating: ★★★★★
Read if you… love the 1920s, well-thought-of fairy tale retellings, complex story unfurling, and accurate sibling relationships.
Why I read it: I read Speak Easy, Speak Love and I felt like reading some more Roaring Twenties stuff. This one has a catchy blurb and cover (+ I really love fairy tale retellings).
Triggers: Alcohol, neglected children, mentioned death, physical abuse (only present in one scene, and not graphically), forced marriage
Rep: LGBTQIA+, Jew side character (who’s a total sweetheart)
Read it in: 3 days, but the last bit (from 30% on, lol) all in one
night go (277 pages)
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.
I’m just going to say that I’ve found a new favorite book. I could ramble about it for hours.
The story, really, is simple. Because it was a deception (and a dishonor) for the Hamilton father to have no male heir, he hid his twelve girls from the sight society of society in their big Manhattan townhouse. Some of them, he actually hadn’t ever seen. The girls all grew up with different hobbies and different characters, but as time went by, they all became fond of dancing.
As the eldest reached a breaking point in patience, they started secretly going out at night to breathe some freedom while dancing. As the little ones aged, they followed suit, and Manhattan’s speakeasies were soon in adoration of their twelve Princesses. Love stories, coincidences, growth, sisters’ love, and a run for freedom all stumble one after the other in this sumptuous roller coaster.
See? Simple. Except the way the story is told makes it all the more breathtaking.
Valentine’s style is peculiar. She does odd things with parenthesis (the good type of odd things IMO, but it might not please everyone) and does not tell you the story from A to Z. She starts at D, goes back to B, stretches to F, and so on, until you can put together the last parts of the background-knowledge puzzle when you’re right in the middle of the action. It was a little hard to pick the pace and understand the POV at the beginning, but the incredible setting kept me long enough for the story to catch up and trap me as well.
The Girls at the Kingfisher Club is one of those books that fill your head with beautiful setting: crowds of people laughing in clubs, shoes clucking on the ground to the beat of the Charleston or foxtrot or polka, ladies with sequin dresses and feather headbands or pearl necklaces. The description is alive, you can practically see flashes of the parties around you when you blink. The words fill the room you’re in with colors and emotions. I swear I could almost hear the trumpets every time the girls went to dance.
My head was full with the 1920s notes during the three days that it took me to read this book.
TL;DR: I’m obsessed, can you tell?
- Valentine’s writing somehow reminds me of Erin Morgenstern’s in The Night Circus: you’re not reading a story, you’re living in a dream. (Psst, Sandee, maybe you could try this, though there is no supernatural involved.)
- I understood much more about the 1920s with this book than with any other nonfiction history text book.
- The connections with Twelve Dancing Princesses are simply marvelous. The girls being nicknamed Princess is my favorite.
- Each sister has a personality of her own. My favs are Jo, Doris, and Araminta. Each of them gets to be remembered by the reader.
- The sibling relationships are super realistic. Yes, siblings love-hate each other. Yes, younger siblings often don’t understand why the eldest are strict or take certain decisions. Yes, solidarity above all: even if you’re 101% mad at your sibling, you’ll team up if someone else attacks you.
- The. Boys. Have. My. Heart.
- There are subtle hints of the LGBT community of the time and… yes.
- There is some romance but SIBLINGS LOVE is the main theme.
- Clever. The retelling is just clever and perfectly fit in the 1920s.
- As I mentioned before, the story can get somewhat confusing at the beginning, but it’s all fixed if you stick around a little longer.
- Some of the youngest can be a bit mean in their judgment towards Jo?
- Sometimes, sometimes, the characters
Joget a little too philosophical-ish to feel realistic but I don’t really mind because I’m a goner for metaphors.
- Okay, it may feel like Jo acted like a martyr one or five times… But she did what she did for the sake of her sisters.
- I’ve got mixed feelings about Tom, which I cannot justify because #spoilerfree. BUT it’s actually positive that the characters are gray and not black-or-white.
I don’t think I will ever think about the 1920s without picturing the characters and setting from this book. Valentine caught me, and I’ll forever be the 13th sister of this group of delightful, reckless, realistic Princesses.
This landed straight into my rec pile.
Have you read The Girls at the Kingfisher Club? Who was your favorite sister? Have you read another Twelve Dancing Princesses retelling? What fairy tale retelling would you recommend forever and ever?