J.R. Ward’s newest title, The Bourbon Kings, is out today! Be forewarned – if you’re expecting one of her Black Dagger Brotherhood stories, this isn’t it. The Bourbon Kings is a fictional look at a wealthy Kentucky bourbon family, the empire they control, and the lives they affect. Is this family as dysfunctional as you’d think? Yes, and then some (I told my husband they’re ‘fampires’ because this family sucks the life out of the people around them). And while I found it hard to like most of the characters, there were several that I loved to hate.
I know, I know, it’s not the weekend! I just couldn’t resist reading The Bourbon Kings and today is the day it hits the shelves!
The Bourbon Kings is the fictional story of a modern-day Kentucky Bourbon family. The Bradford family has made Bradford Bourbon for generations and the name is synonymous with quality and distinction. The family and the company are truly a dynasty: there are family trusts, airplanes, cars, homes, and a small army of employees tasked with keeping things running smoothly, for both the business and the family.
Tulane (“Lane”) is the middle son of four children. The oldest son, Edward, was supposed to take over the family dynasty, but after a horrifying turn of events in the past he now lives a quiet life breeding and training horses. The youngest son, Max, is apparently off somewhere doing his own thing. The baby sister, Virginia (“Gin”), has some serious daddy issues. Honestly, all four siblings have daddy issues – William Baldwine is mentally and physically abusive and an all-around horrible person. Their mother (the Bradford in the family, she married William and had four children with him) retired to her bedroom suite some years ago and never left.
Lizzie King is Easterly’s head gardner. She’s been working at Easterly for years and her heart was broken by Lane two years ago. She’s since gotten over it, partially helped by the fact that he hasn’t been home to Easterly since their breakup.
The story takes place over the long weekend of the Charlemont Derby (I believe it’s supposed to be the equivalent of the Kentucky Derby) and the extravagant brunch thrown every year at the Bradford estate, Easterly. Everyone who is anyone in Kentucky is there, along with the rich and famous from all over. Lane has been away for two years and has come home after getting an urgent call from Easterly. His plan is to slip in, check on things, and slip out, but Easterly quickly grabs him in its clutches and suddenly his plan for a speedy retreat is no longer an option.
I wouldn’t call The Bourbon Kings a contemporary romance, or even women’s fiction. It’s more general fiction with romantic elements – If I recall correctly, there are only two romantic sex scenes and they’re not as graphic as what you would expect in a contemporary romance novel. (NOTE: There is a more graphic rape scene so if that is a trigger for you you may want to skip this book.) There is a focus on Lane and Lizzie’s relationship, but there are so many other stories in play that their relationship often takes a backseat to other events happening on the page. This family is so incredibly unlikable, yet somehow I couldn’t stop reading. The story is definitely reminiscent of of those over-the-top sweeping dramas like Dallas and Dynasty in the 80’s, full of big egos, big money, and low morals.
The Bourbon Kings is a story of deceit, adultery, coercion, and death. In the midst of it all, Lane is trying to fix past mistakes, hold his family together, and prove to Lizzie that he is worthy of a second chance. Lane may have won the award for a fictional character’s Worst. Day. Ever. Poor Lane. I felt badly for him, even though he was not what I would consider a sympathetic character: he lives off his trust fund and has a history as a playboy, and he avoids his problems by crashing on his friend’s couch for two years – hardly your typical romantic hero. But, he does come around and his love for Lizzie makes him want to be a better man. That is a character trait I can totally get behind.
One frustration I have with The Bourbon Kings is that it’s kind of hard to say anything about Lizzie. She’s the ‘heroine’ of the book, if there is one, but her character doesn’t do much except provide a love interest for Lane. Unless she was with Lane, she was just kind of there in the background of all the crazy family shenanigans.
Lane’s brother Edward is really the only character who drew my genuine sympathy – physically and mentally tortured, he’s a broken shell of the man he used to be. Even though he was far from perfect he had an interesting story and I’m looking forward to reading more about him.
I’m also curious to find out what’s going on with the sister, Gin. Gin is manipulative and a liar, and has kept a horrible secret from someone she cares about, but her story line is cruel. I struggled with actively disliking her while at the same time pitying her situation. I wondered if she’s the way she is because of her personality, or is her personality a result of her situation.
If you’re expecting a nice, clean HEA at the end of The Bourbon Kings… you’re not going to get it. The Bourbon Kings is going leave you wanting the next book immediately – especially if you read the 3-page preview of the next book. I have no idea if each book will focus on a different sibling, or if the story will cover the entire family all the way through with Lane and Lizzie as the ‘main’ characters, but it is a series I plan on keeping up with – this family is too shamelessly obscene to stop reading about them now!
Recommendation: I’m going to say fans of JR Ward will want to read The Bourbon Kings; even though it’s not paranormal her writing style still shines through (no, I don’t mean product placement and slang). Fans of those glittering 80’s nighttime soap operas (think Dallas or Dynasty) or who love hearing about pop culture over-the-top family dynasties (think the Hiltons or the Kennedys) may want to give The Bourbon Kings a read. I also believe The Bourbon Kings will appeal to fans of Downton Abbey; although it is set in modern-day United States it has that “upstairs/downstairs” feel to it.
I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
The Bourbon Kings by J. R. WardSeries: The Bourbon Kings #1
Published by NAL, Penguin on July 28, 2015
Genres: Adult, Fiction
Also in this series: The Angels' Share
The #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Black Dagger Brotherhood delivers the first novel in an enthralling new series set amid the shifting dynamics of a Southern family defined by wealth and privilege—and compromised by secrets, deceit, and scandal....
For generations, the Bradford family has worn the mantle of kings of the bourbon capital of the world. Their sustained wealth has afforded them prestige and privilege—as well as a hard-won division of class on their sprawling estate, Easterly. Upstairs, a dynasty that by all appearances plays by the rules of good fortune and good taste. Downstairs, the staff who work tirelessly to maintain the impeccable Bradford facade. And never the twain shall meet.
For Lizzie King, Easterly’s head gardener, crossing that divide nearly ruined her life. Falling in love with Tulane, the prodigal son of the bourbon dynasty, was nothing that she intended or wanted—and their bitter breakup only served to prove her instincts were right. Now, after two years of staying away, Tulane is finally coming home again, and he is bringing the past with him. No one will be left unmarked: not Tulane’s beautiful and ruthless wife; not his older brother, whose bitterness and bad blood know no bounds; and especially not the ironfisted Bradford patriarch, a man with few morals, fewer scruples, and many, many terrible secrets.
As family tensions—professional and intimately private—ignite, Easterly and all its inhabitants are thrown into the grips of an irrevocable transformation, and only the cunning will survive.