01 July 2014

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club

The Girls at the Kingfisher ClubThe Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You can read this Jazz Age take on "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" without first reading the Grimm story, if you like, but you will miss some of its sparkling pleasures. Genevieve Valentine has recast the timeless tale of a king whose twelve daughters spirit themselves out of the castle every night to dance until their soles wear away. In this novel, the girls are captives of their father, a heartless business mogul whose wife died after failing to produce an heir.

The eldest daughter, Jo, falls in love with dance when she sees a waltz during a rare birthday outing to the opera. A few years later, having amassed dance steps during furtive forays to movies (and lessons from young housemaids), she begins to organize nightly visits to dance halls, including the Kingfisher. Men call the girls Princesses for their unusual finery (cobbled from catalogs) and their resolute anonymity.

Sister Lou loves the waltz, Ella the foxtrot; Doris lives for the Charleston and Shakespeare. Each sister has her own story, her own dreams. Jo, as "the General," holds herself aloof to protect, organize, scheme, and rue her one dip into love.

In one unforgettable scene, the girls are arrayed on a staircase like debutantes in a Hollywood tableau, hungry to dance, in feathers and beads and gowns of mauve, spangled silver, and orchid. The music begins, and the girls give themselves, body and soul, to the glittering, whirling world of the speakeasy.

The evil mogul's plans for these free spirits are far more fearsome than a police raid. Will the girls escape a life of genteel imprisonment? Will there be princes? You will want to know.

As I read, rapt, I pondered the sub-genre of fairy tales, retold. Although its roots are deep in Grimm, I thought, its spirit is as modern as The Great Gatsby. Was I reminded of Gatsby by the shared Jazz Age setting? Partly, but also because the Kingfisher Club echoed Fitzgerald's use of another archetypal tale, "The Fisher King."

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club is a vivid, immediate, sometimes-startling novel of magical realism - without the actual magic of fairy tales. These princesses are thoroughly modern women who have enough spirit to rescue themselves.  Highly recommended.

I received this novel from NetGalley. This is an honest review.

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