I’m a sucker for three things: the Roaring 20s, Fairytales, and whiskey.
Okay, that’s kind of a lie. I’m also a sucker for lyrical prose and a story that goes down as smooth as single malt scotch.
Luckily for me, Genevieve Valentine’s The Girls at the Kingfisher Club is all that.
It’s a dazzling, dizzying retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” set during prohibition in Manhattan. There’s technically no magic in this version: the girls are society ladies, not actual princesses, there’s no curse, and no magical underground kingdom (well, except for the hidden world of speakeasys). But you don’t really miss it.
And this is coming from a fantasy addict.
Even without the supernatural, there’s a magic to the story of Jo–“The General” as her sisters call her–and her nightly escapes from the stifling Upper East Side townhouse to the gin-soaked and sequined underworld of speakeasys, The Charleston, and jazz.
What Intrigued Me: I can’t resist a prohibition fairytale
What Hooked Me: The chapter titles are the names of classic tunes from Irving Berlin and Cole Porter. I have a soft spot for old torch songs.
What Made Me Fall In Love: Jo.
Jo’s a girl after my own heart. She’s an eldest child looking out for her younger sisters, a lot of the time to her own detriment. She’s practical and unromantic. She doesn’t let herself get carried away. She’s a total type-A personality. And her drink of choice is whiskey neat.
It’d be easy to write her off as a generic “strong female character”, but Jo is so much more than that. I mean, technically speaking she is, in that all those words apply to her. But Jo isn’t strong in a “fight first, ask questions later” way. It’s much quieter. She doesn’t antagonize (well, unless someone’s getting handsy with her sisters). She’s firm and calm and resolved. If any of her sisters are in trouble, she’s always the first sacrifice to save them. And she never asks for recognition because she’s uncomfortable with it.
But the best part is that it’s not a sickly-sweet-Beth-March kind of selflessness, but more steely and gruff. And you can’t help but like the girl for it.
It also helps that her love story with the bootlegger Tom is romantic in an unromantic way (which sounds crazy and like it doesn’t make sense but, trust me, it does). It breaks your heart and makes you happy at the same time. And it doesn’t detract from the story of the girls’ freedom. Because Tom isn’t the hero of the story. He’s a hero, but not the hero.
Because that’s Jo.
Traditionally, the hero of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” is the clever soldier. But there isn’t one in The Girls at the Kingfisher Club. Jo–The General–is that hero. She saves herself and her sisters.
And you can’t help but love a feminist fairytale.
(Well, the glitter and dancing and booze certainly help)
The Girls at the Kingfisher Club is out now. Check out it’s page on Amazon or (even better) pick one up at your local bookstore.