Review: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, Genevieve Valentine

Personal life update: I cut my hair this past summer! I cut it all off, shorter than it has ever been. My hair resembles (less now than when first cut, but still!) the hair of the girl on the cover of The Girls at the Kingfisher Club. This is the first time I have ever walked into a hair salon and asked them to cut off this much hair. Usually I am begging them to cut off less. Anyway, now I have a super cute flapper haircut, and when I put on my cloche hat I look hella jaunty.

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club (affiliate links: Amazon, B&N, Book Depository) is a retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses set in the speakeasies of 1920s New York. Confined to their house by a father wanting to conceal his repeated failures to produce a male heir, the Hamilton sisters find their freedom by sneaking out in the night to go dancing. The oldest of the twelve, Jo, orchestrates these outings, ferociously strict with her sisters and always trying to find the balance between freedom and safety. Genevieve Valentine does the nearly impossible thing of making sense out of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”, a story which, as Mumsy pointed out to me when recommending this book, makes not even a particle of sense. Fairy tales.

The twelve sisters are relatively distinct from each other, which is quite some trick when you have twelve of them. Of necessity, the four oldest receive the most narrative attention, Jo in particular. A lifetime of corraling sisters, protecting them from her father, and finding ways to keep them sane has left Jo with a lot of hard edges, and I love Genevieve Valentine for refusing to soften her. Some of the sisters a little lower down the chain get defined fairly briefly, but Valentine does enough work on each that you’re able to keep them straight. She’s attentive to the fact that even a group of very similar sisters would all feel different inside their own minds; and when — later in the book — they are separated into smaller groups for spoiler reasons, the actions of each set of girls makes sense with what we’ve known of them.

Oddly enough, The Girls at the Kingfisher Club was the first of two books I read this summer in which women seemed unfazed by a confession of murder from their potential romantic partners. Y’all, just as a refresher, if you are on a date and the other person admits to having killed someone, even if you think your life is a book that would be labeled paranormal romance at the library, you should still probably get out of there pretty quickly. That is a safety tip from me to you.

Thanks to Clare and Anastasia for recommending this, along with, of course, my lovely Mumsy! And you should also probably read Ana’s post reviewing it, as she’s predictably eloquent about its good qualities. Plus, The Book Smugglers. NPR calling this “the best fairy tale retelling I’ve ever read” (aw). Oh I do enjoy seeing Genevieve Valentine get all this love.

PS: If you like Genevieve Valentine, as I do, you will be delighted to learn that she is writing an arc of Catwoman for DC Comics, which will start coming out in late October. It seems perfectly possibly that DC Comics will end up doing something terrible relating to Genevieve Valentine and/or Catwoman, because DC Comics is always being terrible and seems weirdly incapable of course-correcting to non-terribleness. But let’s hope for the best, shall we?

  • I have seen this around and I really want to read it – it sounds amazing! Your review has mostly just confirmed that I need to get my hands on it soon. 🙂

    Also, Catwoman! Hoping for the best for sure. I am new to comics, but I have always been so intrigued by her.

    Your hair sounds cute! It’s always so nice to get a haircut I’m actually pleased with. It makes the days a little better somehow.

    • Gin Jenny

      It really does! I had a lot of fun in the first days after the haircut shaking my head to feel how short it was. The novelty has worn off a bit by now, though….

  • I may not even add this to my wish list, just order it as soon as I finish the comment. Enjoy your new flapper hair cut, and I will keep your advice in mind about any potential romantic interests admitting to murder!

    • Gin Jenny

      Yay! I hope you will enjoy it! It sounds right up your alley.

  • I am glad to hear that you do not find confessions of murder adorably sexy. I assume the other one is The Raven Boys? Perhaps psychic people are so used to dealing with ghosts that they do not view murder as disapprovingly as ordinary people do?

    • Gin Jenny

      Well…okay, that is a pretty good explanation for Maura’s situation. I guess she can see into his heart. Maybe he has only killed bad guys. (I doubt it though.)

  • Yay for haircuts. This sounds really interesting. I do like the 12 Dancing Princesses story even if it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    • Gin Jenny

      Same here. It’s always been one of my favorites. It’s evocative, even if it doesn’t make sense.

  • Your haircut sounds supercute! And I’m really glad you liked this. Have you read Valentine’s Mechanique? I’ve got a copy of it that I know I’ll adore, because I love her writing style.

    • Gin Jenny

      Yes! and I loved it! If anything I liked that more than this, because I expected nothing from Mechanique. And then loved it. I hope you like it too! It’s quite dark, as I recall — actually, it’s been a while, and I should reread it.

  • aartichapati

    What a fantastic PSA for women on first dates. I agree – even if you DO want to live a paranormal romantic kind of life, it would be better to run away. I bet paranormal romances are WAY more complicated than they appear.

    • Gin Jenny

      And they appear pretty complicated!

  • I think your mother is right; that psychics probably don’t see murderers the same way we do–perhaps they can see further in, so have less to fear. That’s the way I explained Blue’s mother and Mr. Gray, anyway, aside from wondering if there’s going to be a color joke.
    My hair was long most of my life and then I had it cut off shoulder-length. It took me months to learn how to brush it–I kept doing this strange muscle-memory thing where I would take the brush through it and keep going through the air below the hair.

    • Gin Jenny

      Yes! I did that for the longest time! And I did it when I was washing my hair too. My fingers would suddenly run out of wet hair to comb, and I’d be completely disoriented. What made you decide to finally cut yours?

      • What made me decide to finally cut it is that I was getting gray streaks at my temples, and since I always wore my long hair pulled away from my face, my hairstyle was too reminiscent of the bride of Frankenstein…. With the shoulder length cut, I just tuck it behind my ears.

  • This one sounds much more interesting than Snow in Summer. I will have to see if I can track down a copy.

    Not sure if I could cope with short hair – mine doesn’t go into cute curls, it goes into shocked haystack. And I am pretty sure I would look like a total burk in a cloche. Very jealous.

    • Gin Jenny

      I have an enormous bobble-head, and as a result I look good in hats. There are drawbacks though, and frankly, life does not offer all that money hat-wearing opportunities. So you do not have to be VERY jealous.

      • At some point in high school I decided to become a Person Who Wears Hats. Alas, it didn’t really work out and I mostly just felt silly.

      • Okay – I won’t be too jealous. It also turns out that my daughter wears hats very well. She already has a bigger collection than I ever did (she even has three different Hello Kitty trilby hats that she wears out.) I will live vicariously through her. 🙂

  • I really want to see photographic evidence of this flapper cut looking hella jaunty in a cloche hat!

  • We need PHOTOS. And this book sounds very cute. I love the idea of updated fairy tales, though of course there are all sorts of perils involved (in the writing, rather than in the story, which one would expect). I’ll have to hope it crosses the ocean.

  • Eva

    I just returned to a flapper bob, and I love it! We shall be flappers together. 🙂

    I’ll have to give this one a go, although I’m fairly fussy about this since it’s one of my favourite fairy tales. Hmmm.