I was immediately intrigued by Melina’s review of The Girls at the Kingfisher Club. It looked like the kind of story that hit all my soft spots: Manhattan, fairy tales, Jazz Age, and, perhaps most importantly, ladies who shut down the dance floor. I cannot help myself with the dance stories. I love them all, from the cheesiest Step It Up #39 or whatever to the most discretely dramatic conversation during an Austen Regency dance, I will drink them all up.
And I wasn’t disappointed! This is a re-telling of the classic fairy tale The 12 Dancing Princesses. In this version, the denizens of the speakeasy only know the 12 as the Princesses. They don’t know that they are in fact sisters who, led by the eldest, Jo, sneak out to dance to escape daily life under their unloving, overbearing father (who wanted, and never got, a son). The Princesses never tell anyone their real names and they certainly don’t allow themselves to fall in love–they just dance, dance, dance. Of course, their father begins to suspect, and besides, they’re old enough to become someone else’s problem now–he decides to marry them off. Hijinks ensue as they figure out how to escape unwanted marriages; their years of dance/speakeasy training serves them well.
The descriptions throughout the novel are all so lovely and fairy-tale-y: the thrill of a midnight cab to the Lower East Side, the panic of a police raid, the euphoria of getting away with it right under your father’s nose, the urgency of hearing that song and dancing with that guy, the creeping feeling that it can’t last forever….
I found Jo’s character very believable and sympathetic–as the eldest and the most familiar with their father’s (terrible) personality, she tried to give her sisters a way out without actually letting them out. This doesn’t necessarily endear her to them, since to keep 12 girls in line you need to be a “General”–and that is, indeed, her nickname. This seems realistic: that push-pull of sibling affection.
I did have a few quibbles: Mostly, I felt the telling could have been even stronger. I wanted a little more character development, a little more oomph in the descriptions of the relationships between the 12 sisters, and much more exploration of the consequences of their post-escape hijinks. Moreover, Valentine seemed to put some of her most astute observations and descriptions in parenthesis, which seemed to me to underline my frustration: I wanted MORE description, not parenthetical asides!
So there were some things I wish had been done differently, but like I said, this book hit all the sweet spots for a can’t-put-it-down fable. So you should probably read it.
And someone needs to please turn this into a Broadway musical!