Author: Genevieve Valentine
Rating: 4 stars
I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
The Girls at the Kingfisher Club is a difficult book to classify. I’ve read Genevieve Valentine’s work in some of my favorite speculative magazines, and so I was a little surprised to see that The Girls at the Kingfisher Club was, on the surface, a fairly straightforward historical novel. Of course, once you open it, it isn’t that simple. The short novel is based on a fairy tale, though one I wasn’t familiar with (so it took me a while to realize it). Though there is nothing overtly fantastical about the novel, the language and structure serve to make it feel magical.
The twelve Hamilton sisters have spent their lives as virtual prisoners, as their father tries and fails again and again to sire a male heir. Eventually, chafing under the restrictions, they begin to sneak out at night to dance at speakeasies. The twelve “Princesses,” as they soon become known, are a mystery to all who know them, and live only to dance. But when their ruthless father begins to plan to auction them off to men, their desperate attempts to escape threaten to separate them all forever.
Eldest sister Jo, “the General,” is the only real character in the story. The others are archetypes, often interchangeable until the very end, each defined by a specific trait or habit. Normally, this sort of thing should bother me, but in this case I felt it added to the foggy, fable-like feeling of the novel. And as main characters go, Jo is a fascinating one. Instead of being motherly and feminine, as readers might be forgiven for assuming, Jo is flinty, obsessive, determined, and often cruel. This is very much her story, and she was a refreshingly unique character to follow.
The Girls at the Kingfisher Club will no doubt appeal to readers of both speculative and mainstream fiction. (Plus-cover! I have to admit, the cover was the entire reason I wanted to read this book.) It will perhaps be a polarizing novel–not everyone is going to like the brevity or the extreme stylized writing. But I thoroughly enjoyed it, and look forward to reading more from the author.