Series: The Bourbon Kings #1
Publication Date: July 28, 2015
Source/Format: Publisher (Thanks!) || ARC
[I received this book from the publisher. This in no way affects my review.]
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.
The Bourbon Kings is the start of a new series by J.R. Ward, a contemporary romance set in the South; it's also a departure from the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, her adult paranormal/urban fantasy series that I'm pretty much obsessed with. I was drawn to this one not only because of who wrote it, but also because of two things hinted at in the book's summary: (1) it's a family saga and (2) it's set in the good ol' fashioned South. Thankfully, in both respects, The Bourbon Kings did not disappoint, and I'm eager to get my hands on the rest of this series!
Ward has set up this entire series well, carefully introducing each of the players in this big ensemble story. As with the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, Ward tells the story from multiple third person points of view. It can get pretty complicated when you have too many characters, I'll admit, but Ward certainly has a handle on this style of storytelling, and primarily narrates through the perspectives of Lizzie and Lane.
Readers will learn more about the people who live and work at Easterly with each chapter. It does take a while to understand the full history of this home and the family in it, but once you do ferret out the reality behind the pretty portrait the general audience sees, it's so fascinating and twisted and stock full of crazy drama. This family has some insane dynamics, and a pretty intense back story, let me tell you now. While I'm normally not a fan of the over the top plots, it just works so well in The Bourbon Kings that I was able to just go with it.
And really, the only reason I went along with everything was because of the great affection I have for these characters. Lizzie has been burned before, and badly, by Lane Bradford. She's a hard worker, extremely passionate and good at her job. She's also stubborn, determined to be independent and to not let her heartbreak affect her position at Easterly. Then there's Lane, a good guy who has been dealing with his own heartbreak and the fact that he has to keep up appearances for his family. He's finally man enough to own up to his mistakes and rectify them, but he finds himself challenged to step up for the family when a nasty background situation is discovered. There's also Edward, the older brother who suffered terribly and turned bitter; Max, the mysterious brother who doesn't seem to be in communication with anyone; Gin, the youngest sister whose made mistakes and has a misguided sense of love. And these are just a few among the large group we get a glimpse of in this first installment! I honestly can't wait to see how Ward develops them further, since she's demonstrated a knack for doing so in her other ensemble series.
Obviously, apart from the twisty family drama, the romance between Lizzie and Lane is a major part of this story. I liked how they were drawn towards the best of each other, and I was also partial to the fact that they used to be in love and were slowly allowing themselves to feel that way again. I even enjoyed seeing how they tried to be there for one another in the worst of times. It's a sweet romance, really, but the one thing that bothered me was how quickly things would take two steps back after one step forward - and all because of a lack of communication. Lane could have been more forthright, and Lizzie more open or stubborn about asking for an explanation, and it frustrated me to the high heavens when they allowed themselves to get wedged apart.
In spite of my slight reservations towards the romance, I really wound up enjoying The Bourbon Kings. It is an excellent new book from J.R. Ward, and I'm really glad she decided to venture into something really different because I loved it! It's got a great set of characters (particularly the Bradfords, who are such a curious set of siblings), a lovely setting and a drama-filled set of events that are like a grown up, Southern version of Gossip Girl. Even though this ends on a really strong note, I'm already anticipating the next one (particularly because I need more of my precious Edward).