The Girls at the Kingfisher Club

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club
Genevieve Valentine, 2014

Premise: Jo and her eleven sisters lead a quiet, cloistered life in the upper stories of their father’s townhouse. Except that every chance they get, the girls are sneaking out to dance.

This is a fantastic retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, set in the 1920’s. It makes a lot of sense to set it then: The father is of an older generation, embarrassed by having no sons, and tries to keep the girls hidden to keep them “pure.” The girls are drawn to the combined secrecy and freedom of the underground network of speakeasies and dance halls.

I really appreciated how much effort went into giving each girl agency and at least a little character. Jo, the eldest, is the main character, as she looks out for the others, and is the main interface with their father. And I’ll admit that the author, faced with eleven other young women to sketch out, does end up with two sets of twins that made me think of the way many of the dwarves of The Hobbit are only somewhat distinct.

But in the end, except for two girls whose primary characteristic is that they embrace the idea of being identical twins, each girl has some uniqueness, and I was able to picture the whole sequined mass of them.

I listened to this as an audiobook, and the production was very nice - sneaking in music where appropriate. The reader did a great job distinguishing between the girls as well.

There is a primary romantic plot for Jo (and some romantic subplots for a few of the other older girls), but her focus is always the welfare of her sisters, sometimes to her own detriment. I really liked how, late in the book, Jo has trouble adjusting to being able to want something for herself as the younger girls become more self-sufficient.

The dancing is wonderfully present and vibrantly alive. It’s the most important thing to these girls who have little other joy, and their passion for dancing is wonderfully described.

The girls have much more agency, and the suitors more worth, than the original fairy tale, but that is no surprise. This was a delightful and moving story.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

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