2014 · 3 stars · historical fiction

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine
Pub. Date: June 3, 2014
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Atria!!)
Summary: 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.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Retellings
Recommended For: Fans of retellings, the Jazz Age, sister relationships

Three things solidified my decision in grabbing this book: 1) it’s published by Atria (you might recall my undying love for Atria in my imprints post!), 2) hello, Jazz Age! and 3) I’m still riding the retellings wave. While The Girls at the Kingfisher Club didn’t disappoint, it wasn’t as great as it could have been – and despite that lovely cover, this wasn’t a book that impressed me enough to purchase my own copy.

The Hamilton patriarch isn’t much of a father, preferring to hide away in his study while the older girls take care of their younger (and often times, baby) sisters. As the oldest, Jo has been dubbed The General, a title she takes to heart. She keeps the girls in line – it’s best not to anger their father – but it pains her to have her sisters virtually locked away in their house.

Overtime, Jo and the next in line, Lou, begin sneaking out to clubs. They come alive when they dance and soon their sisters begin sneaking out as well. The General has managed to create such an orderly system that, eventually, all twelve girls head out multiple times a week to dance their worries away. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and the sisters’ happiness shatters upon hearing their father’s announcement: he’s going to start marrying them off. As The General, Jo now feels a new sense of responsibility: she knows the men her father would choose for his daughters (many of whom he has never even met), and takes it upon herself to keep her sisters together.

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club is a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, a story I have never read, but one that’s easy enough to figure out. I’m afraid there isn’t much to say about this one: it was okay, likable while it lasted, a nice quick read but one that hasn’t lingered. Perhaps fans of the original fairy tale will enjoy this one more? Any book with a large cast of characters has its work cut out in maintaining distinct voices and unique personalities and that’s where The Girls at the Kingfisher Club failed. Twelve girls (plus multiple men, love interests, their father, etc) was just too much to have crammed into a book of this length (under 300 pages). Apart from Jo, Lou, and a tiny handful of the more stand-out sisters, I honestly couldn’t tell them apart and the ones I could were only identified through descriptors: Ella is the Pretty One, Rose likes girls, Violet is the youngest.

I’m disappointed in both myself and this book. The Girls at the Kingfisher Club had so much going for it and seemed perfectly suited to my tastes, but couldn’t pull off the task of creating strong characters. While it’s a joy to have a book entertaining enough to read in a sitting, there’s a lot to be said when you can’t tell any of the characters apart from one another. Going through Valentine’s work, it appears the majority of her stories are additions to Steampunk and Fantasy anthologies, while her other two novels are Steakpunk. Perhaps Historical Fiction isn’t her strong suit?

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