I have danced the Charleston before.
I know the feeling of the floorboards squeaking beneath my feet, the sound of the band playing so loud, you can barely hear the person next to you. In that moment, all you can do is dance. I let my legs and arms swing to the beat of the music as sweat trickles down my forehead. When doing the Charleston, I feel full of energy and ready for any obstacle. I had this same feeling again when I read Genevieve Valentine’s enchanting historical novel The Girls at the Kingfisher Club.
A retelling of the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” The Girls at the Kingfisher Club tells a story of twelve sisters trying to find their way in the world as they discover how to be bold, how to love, and how to truly be free. The Kingfisher Club is a Jazz Age speakeasy that boasts live music, cheap drinks, and twelve motherless sisters who danced the night away without revealing their names to anyone. After the men gave up asking who they were, the girls became known as “The Princesses.” But once the sun comes up, they are no longer princesses; instead, they are just twelve sisters cloistered in the halls of their home. Their father, who so desperately hoped for boys and is ashamed by the twelve daughters he wound up with instead, locks them away from the world.
The twelve sisters are doomed to a life caught in an endless oscillation. Night is a world of endless possibility, where cops and bootleggers can be found improbably sharing a glass of whiskey. The daylight, however, is a world with strict rules, where objects that once shone brightly now cast a dull shadow. When their father begins to suspect that his daughters are sneaking out at night, he announces that he is going to either marry them off or send them to a mental institution, for he hasn’t yet made up his mind. Determined to keep her sisters free, the eldest sister, Jo (or “General” as her sisters call her), does everything in her power to protect her sisters, even if it means sacrificing her own chance at love.
The rich descriptions of jazz in The Girls at the Kingfisher Club made me feel like I could dance the Charleston right then and there, leaving me smiling all the way through.
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Kirsten Nicholas is an intern at Simon & Schuster.
This dazzling story of love, sisterhood, and freedom reimagines the fairy tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses as Jazz Age flappers who escape their father’s Manhattan town house each night to dance in the city’s underground speakeasies. If you loved Rules of Civility or The Paris Wife, be sure to tuck this bewitching novel into your beach bag.