Publisher: Atria Books
Publishing Date: June 3
Genre: historical fiction, fractured fairy tales
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 townhouse to await 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 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 weigh in the balance not only the demands of her father and eleven sisters, but those she must make of herself.
Trapped in a house by an unfeeling man who is ashamed of fathering twelve daughters and no sons, the Hamilton sisters are desperate for life and freedom. The eldest, Jo, teaches the sisters how to dance, and eventually how to sneak out in the night and experience Manhattan nightclubs. With strict rules to never tell a man her name, her home, or give any promises, each sister relishes the liberation and follows Jo’s orders like little soldiers. But soon their father decides to marry them off like a cattle auction, and Jo’s past — a man named Tom she unwillingly fell in love with years ago — could be the sisters’ only salvation, even if Jo must sacrifice her own future for their safety.
A roaring twenties Twelve Dancing Princesses retelling, complete with all the best dances — waltz, foxtrot, Charleston — and a smattering of sisters that are surprisingly easy to keep track of! They fear their father’s discovery above anything else, because his knowledge of their dancing at clubs would certainly mean marriage to men only he’d approve of (and his opinion is one to be severely questioned) or an eternity under lock and key. Jo can be just as controlling though, constantly reminding the girls to keep a closed heart and a tight mouth, earning her the name “General” and the sisters “Princesses” from the swooning men.
Jo makes several calculating decisions and sacrifices for her sisters. Even though she keeps them on a tight leash, she does it out of love rather than for the sake of the Hamilton reputation like their father. Her devotion to their well-being, happiness, and safety is heartbreaking when Mr. Hamilton gets wind of a giant group of girls who dance and travel together at night. As the story progresses, each sister’s voice grows in strength, her individual nature shining through, loosening Jo’s grip and liberating each girl to pursue her own future. I worried I wouldn’t be able to remember each sister’s name, personality, hobby, and favorite dance, but Valentine does a wonderful job of showing the sisters in action without the reminders becoming repetitive.
This story was intriguing and fun, and is definitely meant for a fan of 1920s Manhattan, dance clubs and the prohibition, and fractured fairy tales. Setting this particular fairy tale in that era is brilliant and fitting, full of scandal and excitement.
Thank you, Edelweiss, for providing this book from Atria Books for review!
Last but not least…”I like boats.”