Every one of the 12 Hamilton sisters have been shuttered away from the world since the day they were born. With no boys as his heir, their father wants to make sure his girls stay unsullied until he can marry them off and be rid of them. But their determination to find some freedom is stronger than their fear of their father – who most of them have never even met. It is Josephine, the eldest, who figures out how to escape their jail. The danger of going to speakeasies during prohibition in New York only makes it more exciting and appealing. Eventually, these dozen girls are going out every night to dance their troubles away. But despite the extreme lengths of discretion and secrecy they go to, there is always something (or someone) lurking that could trap them and end it all. This is “The Girls at the Kingfisher Club” by Genevieve Valentine.
Astute readers of this plot summary might guess that this is a modern-day telling of the Grimm fairy tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” What is most surprising about this version is that Valentine never once takes her retelling out of the realm of reality; not even for one miraculous stunt out of left-field to save the girls. This is probably Valentine’s greatest accomplishment in what certainly is an ambitious undertaking. Of course, placing these girls in prohibition era New York was also a stroke of genius. What other era could give a dozen girls places to dance through the soles of their shoes? To this, she added the double edged danger of being caught between defying their father by sneaking out to venues which are at risk of being raided by the police.
All of this screams brilliance, and certainly Valentine set herself up with all the necessary elements for success. Unfortunately, something got a bit lost between the concept and the execution. While the overall story held together quite well, the telling of it got bogged down with too much background included in more than the first half of this book. This, together with the excessive use of parenthetical remarks almost made me stop reading before I got to the climax. Thankfully, something made me keep reading and when this part finally came, I was pleased to see that Valentine got down to business and things started getting exciting. I was hoping that the energy from there would continue to the end, but she had to keep track of all these girls. Because of this, as she approached the conclusion, the story once again became overly detailed, if only slightly. I think Valentine should have considered ending the novel sooner after the climax and then giving us an epilogue from about a year after that.
I think that the thing that made me keep reading, despite the problems I had with this book was Valentine’s style. Her writing has a very appropriate feel to it which beautifully melded the fairy tale atmosphere with the flapper era language in which she set her story, despite the overused parentheses (or maybe because of them). For an award winning Science Fiction and Fantasy writer, Valentine certainly adapted herself quite well to this reality-based, historical fiction novel. In fact, I do hope that she gives this genre a second shot, since I’m sure she can get out the kinks and really pull off a modernized fairy tale with full force. “The Girls at the Kingfisher Club” by Genevieve Valentine is a book that will surely appeal to many people, but as much as I wished I could recommend it higher, I can only give it three out of five stars.
“The Girls at the Kingfisher Club” by Genevieve Valentine was published by Atria Books (a division of Simon & Schuster) and released on June 3, 2014. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an advanced readers copy for review.