Genevieve Valentine weaves a mesmerizing, surreal retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” in her latest novel, The Girls at the Kingfisher Club (Atria, $24). In 1920s New York, the wealthy Mr. Hamilton keeps his daughters prisoners in the upper rooms of his mansion while he breeds their mother to death in hopes for a boy. The eldest sister, Jo — or the “General” as she is called — attempts to keep them all in line to avoid their father’s fury, but after a special excursion to the opera, she discovers dancing. “Cabs leave at midnight” becomes her new battle call as the years grow more oppressive and her younger sisters threaten to run away. Together they storm the dance halls, not giving anyone their names and answering mostly to “princess” to stay anonymous. Soon, the Kingfisher Club becomes their second home, but their father suspects his daughters are up to no good and sets a plan in motion to marry his girls off to the highest bidder — or send them away to an even darker fate. Jo must devise an escape for her sisters even as her father’s madness makes him more desperate. Valentine’s dreamlike narrative brings the Brothers Grimm tale alive with intrigue and gritty descriptions of the Roaring Twenties.
In Memory of Water (Harper Voyager; paperback, $14.99), by Emmi Itäranta, water has grown so scarce that to attain it illegally risks execution, prefaced by a circle painted on the family’s front door. New Qian rules most of what once was Europe, and soldiers patrol the cities to enforce water rations. Amid that chaos, 17-year-old Noria Kaitio trains to be a tea master, like her father, never questioning how it is that he has more and better-tasting water than anyone else in town. But the arrival of a new senior officer forces her father to divulge a secret his family has kept for centuries. Noria is soon caught between a series of ethical choices as her father leaves the teahouse to her and her mother goes off to research water-preservation technology in another city. What does she do as she watches her best friend’s sister grow sicker with dehydration each passing day? WhenNoria makes a startling discovery that could help her mother’s research, she must escape the soldiers before they discover she has committed a crime. Itäranta’s lyrical style makes this dystopian tale a beautiful exploration of environmental ethics and the power of ritual.
Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Fools (Ace, $26.95) presents us with Jalan, a prince who is 10th in line for the throne with no ambitions except to bed women and pay back his numerous debts to avoid getting his lips sliced off by the debt collector’s henchman. It’s an easy life until Jalan’s presence is required in the throne room. There he meets two people who will change his life: The first is the Silent Sister, a witch who crouches unseen behind the Red Queen’s throne and secretly dictates the strategic advances of the empire. The second is a Norse prisoner whose family has been taken captive by an undead army and who warns the Red Queen that the Dead King from the North has risen to conquer all lands. Jalan’s plan to use the Norseman to win back his bets goes horribly awry when the Silent Sister puts a spell upon the two men so they become forces of light and dark, driven to destroy the Dead King’s army to break the curse. Lawrence’s epic fantasy is a great summer read, full of humor, revenge and perils that this warrior-and-coward duo must evade in order save their kingdoms and themselves.