“Dressed up in the thrill and sparkle of the Roaring Twenties, the classic fairy tale of ‘The Twelve Dancing Princesses’ has never been more engrossing or delightful. Valentine’s fresh, original style and choice of setting make this a fairy tale reimagining not to be missed” (Library Journal, starred review).
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 Manhattan townhouse and into 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've 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 balance not only the needs of her father and eleven sisters, but her own as well.
With The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, award-winning writer Genevieve Valentine takes her superb storytelling gifts to new heights, joining the leagues of such Jazz Age depicters as Amor Towles and Paula McLain, and penning a dazzling tale about love, sisterhood, and freedom.
|Publisher:||Washington Square Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.31(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Genevieve Valentine is the author of Persona and of the critically acclaimed novel Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, which won the Crawford Award for Best novel, as well as a nomination for the Nebula Award and the Romantic Times Best Fantasy of the Year. Her short fiction has been nominated for a World Fantasy Award and the Shirley Jackson Award. She lives in New York City. Visit her at GenevieveValentine.com.
Read an Excerpt
The Girls at the Kingfisher Club
When Jo’s father summoned her to his office, it was the first time she’d heard from him in almost a year.
She was in the upstairs library. It had been the schoolroom, but after the last governess was dismissed and lessons fell slowly by the wayside, only the bookish girls crossed the threshold for pleasure: Doris, Rebecca, Araminta, and Jo.
(“What is there to even look at?” asked Lou, who read plumbing manuals and fashion papers and little else.
Jo said, “The atlas.”)
“Miss Hamilton,” a maid said from the doorway to the library. “Your father’s asking for you.”
Walters always sent a maid up to the girls’ floors rather than go himself; Jo guessed he kept to the old ways of doing these things. This one was a stranger—there were always new maids, it seemed—and couldn’t have been older than Sophie.
A little behind her, Araminta’s and Rebecca’s worried faces appeared in the hall.
Jo stood and smoothed her skirt.
As Jo passed, Rebecca whispered, “Good luck, General.”
Walters was waiting for her on the second-floor landing, and he led the way, as though Jo might not know where the study was.
She might not have. Their father moved his study, sometimes, as rooms took his fancy. He summoned Jo every so often, and she’d sometimes find him in a refurbished parlor or the library downstairs, if he had grown tired of his proper study. The rooms lined the right-hand side of the house, and the girls who lived above those rooms walked on glass even more than the rest. For a year, when Rose and Lily were first learning to dance, Jo had found that his makeshift office was on the second floor just under their room, and they’d had to practice in Jo and Lou’s room to be sure he wouldn’t hear.
Their room was over the high ceilings of the ballroom, which would only have been used for parties; they were always safe.
As they approached the office (his proper office—he must be content with himself these days, to go back to old habits), Walters vanished with a doleful warning look, and Jo was alone.
She wasn’t as frightened as Walters seemed to think she should be. The first time she’d been alone with her father, years ago, she’d realized what he thought of her. After that, the worst was over.
It had been easy enough, after that, for Jo to come downstairs and listen to her father talk about how he was dismissing the governess, how the girls shouldn’t look out the windows so much, as people might ask questions.
She’d come down half a dozen times, carrying an armful of worn-out shoes, to argue for a larger catalog allowance.
Jo knew that her job, after he had spoken, was to be efficient, obedient, and grateful.
(She had tried once, when she was fourteen, to argue with him over something. Her face had stung for three hours.)
It was just as well that her father wanted to see her as rarely as she wanted to be seen.
Mr. van de Maar, her father’s business associate, was on his way out; he carried the briefcase that always made him look as though he was smuggling cash out the front door. Jo wouldn’t have been entirely surprised.
When he saw her, his face went a little pinched at the edges, like he was in an advertisement for starched collars.
That her father allowed him to know about Josephine worried her; it always looked as though it worried him, too.
He nodded without really looking at her and made his exit.
Walters cut ahead of her to open the door for him, and Josephine watched the busy street slice into sight and vanish again, a flash of full loud daylight.
When she paused on the threshold of the office, he was sitting as she always thought of him—behind his desk, upright, glancing disdainfully at a newspaper.
He was a handsome man; even before she’d really seen other men in the world, she’d known he was handsome. (He must have been handsome, for people to excuse her mother marrying him.) When he was lost in concentration he had the air of a head of state, and she dared not interrupt him even to knock. She folded her hands, waited.
At last he looked up.
“Ah,” he said, “Josephine. Come in.”
He had a way of saying her name, a tiny pause between the second and third syllables, as if she needed the reminder that she’d been expected to be a boy.
She stopped well on the far side of his desk. “You called for me, sir.”
“Yes.” He leaned back in his chair and picked up the newspaper. “Something this morning came to my attention. ‘The lawless, repellent gin fever that sweeps our once-fair city has affected not only the low and easily tempted, but the high and well-meaning. The daylight banker spends his nights intoxicated, and the daughters of our storied families are lured in numbers, by immodest music and the demon drink, like princesses into that dark underground which leaves no innocent unsullied.’ ”
Jo’s heart thudded once against her ribs. She tried to keep her face blank, her breathing even.
He folded the newspaper over his hands and looked at her. “What do you think of this, Josephine?”
“Too many adjectives.”
He raised an eyebrow. “I meant, what do you think of this group of girls going out dancing at night?”
She waited just long enough before she said, “It sounds like a lot of trouble, sir.”
“Do you think,” he asked carefully, as if he’d only just now thought of it, “any of your sisters would know something about this?”
“None of them would go out without my knowing, sir.”
He set the newspaper on the table and sighed. “Sit down, Josephine.”
The desk between them seemed fifty feet wide. That suited her fine. She crossed her legs like Miss May, their first governess, had taught her, laced her hands in her lap.
“I’ve been thinking, lately, about how you and your sisters are growing up.”
Jo thought it best not to reply.
“You can’t spend the rest of your days in this house. It’s not the right life for sweet girls. I’ve done my best to keep you away from the worst of the world, as your mother would have wanted, but I see now it can’t go on like this.”
The pause pressed against Jo’s ears. She wondered if the day had come when she and her sisters could walk out.
The first thing she’d do would be to take them to the Metropolitan Museum, and then walk through the park to the opera, and they’d go out to eat at a restaurant that didn’t have a basement door in the alley with a man waiting for a secret knock if you wanted to get in on the dancing.
“And so I believe it’s time you all married,” their father said.
Married. Said like it was a prize for them, like it was a choice.
She thought about her mother, what situation she must have been in that marrying their father would have been the way out. It wasn’t a compelling case.
He frowned. “Josephine?”
“I see,” she managed.
She had, in the years they’d spent in the upper rooms, imagined what would become of them on the day that, one way or another, their father couldn’t hold them any more. It had never stuck; she could get through one day, or two, with all of them in tow, but with twelve of them to care for and no money, no plan had any staying power.
But in all the dreadful things she’d worried over, she’d never imagined this.
(That their father was willing to let them go had never occurred to her at all.)
And now, marriage.
They’d be passed from one house to another, without ever seeing the city in daylight, moved into place like any other heirloom.
The girls could hope that these husbands, wherever her father planned to find them, would be kinder and more liberal men than he was. But the sort of man who wanted a girl who’d never been out in the world was the sort whose wife would stay at home in bed and try to produce heirs until she died from it.
Jo knew that much.
“I thought about having some parties here, but it might worry your sisters to meet strangers. And of course I wouldn’t want to introduce you all suddenly into society—I imagine it would be overwhelming.”
Jo said nothing.
“I thought perhaps I could inquire if there are families with suitable sons, and have a few of them come calling. It’s quieter that way—more civilized.”
He meant that this way, no one would bear witness to the twelve failed heirs of Joseph Hamilton.
She wondered if he planned to marry them off a few at a time, so society might never know how many of them there were—a dozen young men whose wives were unconnected, invisible except for a wedding portrait on the mantel and a ladies’ maid upstairs.
“What would make a man suitable?” she asked, as calmly as she could.
He glanced up at her. “That’s my concern.”
She felt as if the floor was buckling under her. She made fists in her lap.
(If she struck him, they’d all suffer.)
“Naturally,” he said, “I’d like to speak to the girls myself on the matter, as it becomes necessary, and I’ll be asking you for insight about them. You’re the eldest, and know them best, so if they’re too shy to tell me something, you’d know.”
He half-smiled, tapped the paper with his fingertips. “I wish my daughters to be happy.”
“Of course,” said Jo.
• • • • • •
The third floor was silent as Jo climbed the stairs.
The three girls’ rooms on this floor had their doors closed just as Jo had taught them, but no one was behind them, and the library was empty.
The fourth floor was a different hush—the quiet of a waiting crowd.
As she reached the landing, Jo saw Mattie’s dark head disappear from the doorway to Jo and Lou’s room.
Everyone was inside, then, and waiting.
Mattie hissed, “She’s coming!” and before Mattie had finished Ella was already asking, “What’s happened?” like Jo might have another red palm print on her face.
Her bedroom looked like a holding cell. Nine of them were crammed on the beds, a patchwork of blond and brown. Mattie was standing lookout, and Lou was silhouetted in the window, her red hair catching the light, her empty cigarette holder clamped in her teeth.
Against the far wall, twelve pairs of worn-out dance shoes stood in a wobbly line, sleeping and waiting for night.
“What’s happened?” Ella asked, looking straight at Jo.
Jo took a breath. “There’s a line in the paper about groups of girls going out dancing at night.”
Rose and Lily clasped hands.
Rebecca pushed her hair back. “Is it us, for sure?”
“No. But Father’s worried enough about the rumor.”
“Does he suspect us?” asked Doris.
Jo wished there had been more stairs between the office and this room, so she could have planned a better speech. “He might.”
Violet leaned forward. She was young and still worried sometimes about their father, the way one worries about angering the bartender. “What’s he going to do?”
“Father wants us to marry,” Jo said.
There was silence for a moment. Lou let out a whistling breath through her cigarette holder.
“He wants to meet with each of you,” Jo said, “to get to know you, so he can speak to his acquaintances and see which young man he likes best to suit each of you. There will be some dinner parties, to get to know the boys he’s chosen.”
None of the girls laughed—not even Araminta, who had a habit of being romantic and absurd. They had all been sneaking out into the world long enough to know what sort of man wanted a captive bride, a girl that a father was handing out select. Men their father was choosing from among that sort, for reasons of his own.
“Oh God,” Ella said finally, “what will we do?”
Jo had been calculating since the moment her father had spoken the word “married”; all the way across the foyer, up the sets of winding stairs, she had been thinking what was to be done.
Unfortunately, the house wasn’t tall enough, and the cigar box with her savings in it wasn’t full enough, and the world wasn’t welcoming enough.
She had eleven sisters looking to her, and no good news to tell them.
Maybe one or two of the men their father picked would be better men than their father. It was all she could hope at the moment. She could hope that Rose and Lily, who were only sixteen, and Violet, only fourteen, would be allowed to wait a few years. Maybe Ella could stay and look after them, if they were careful about asking permission.
As for the rest, what could be done?
“I’ll think of something,” Jo said.
All of them looked relieved except Lou, who was gnawing on her cigarette holder.
“Let’s go out,” Ella said.
“Too soon,” said Doris. “They put out that article. They’ll be looking for us.”
“Let them,” said Hattie.
“We’ll give them an earful,” finished Mattie.
Rebecca frowned. “And if we end up in jail?”
“Better that than married off,” said Lou.
Rose and Lily turned identical faces to Jo. “General?”
Jo looked at them all, piled like birds on the beds: eleven girls in New York’s most refined prison.
She said, “Cabs leave at midnight.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
You are not ready for vacation unless you have this book packed too!! This is an entertaining fictional story about 12 (yes 12) sisters who are kept hidden in the attic by their father, teach themselves to dance from the movies and start stealing out of the house at night to go to the speakeasies and dance the night away. Their world comes crashing down when their father starts to suspect and makes other plans for their lives to financial benefit him. Genevieve Valentine does a brilliant job weaving a realistic and believable story. There are surprises that keep you turning pages. She makes you feel the sisters’ joy in dancing and the dismay at the life they are forced to endure and the choices they are driven to make. My only disappointment is I would have liked to read more historical facts woven into the story. Pick up suntan lotion, your beach chair and this book and settle down by the ocean, you won’t be disappointed.
Great read ... filled with some twists and turns!
Jazz, Speakeasies, and a Pack of Princesses Jo, aka The General, has been looking out for her younger sisters ever since each of them was born. All eleven of them. They're lucky she is, as their mother has died (worn out by childbearing), and their father, who only wanted a son, has little to do with them. They're sequestered in rooms at the top of the house, forbidden even to look out the windows, lest someone SEE them, and kept on a meager budget that allows for ugly clothing and shoes bought via catalog. And taxi fare. Beginning when she was 19, Jo has figured out a way to sneak out of the house and go dancing, which saves her health and her sanity At first, she only takes the next eldest three: Lou, Doris, and Ella. Eventually, all twelve girls are dancing - careful not to disclose their names, or even their sisterhood, at the Kingfisher Club and other speakeasies, where their dancing partners often call them doll or Princess. I received a free ARC of this novel via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. There's a lot of "telling," rather than showing in this book, but as the retelling of a classic fairy tale, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, that worked for me. What blew me away was the skill of the author in introducing each sister, gradually, without an info-dump, but with just enough information that I had a sense of who she was, and when the sisters became separated, FEEL Jo's anguish at not knowing if Rebecca, or Violet, or the twins or others were safe. It would have been easy to either decide to make it the six dancing flappers, or to get bogged down trying to tell too many storylines, but the author doesn't do either. Set in 1927 (Prohibition-era) New York, there's also the thrill - and danger - of the nightclub environment, where raids by the cops are always a possibility. And when their father decides he's going to settle their fate in rather unpleasant ways, Jo may have to make the ultimate sacrifice to set them all free.