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.
Bourbon Kings by J. R. Ward
Series: Bourbon Kings #1
Published by NAL Genres: Contemporary
The Bradford family is Kentucky royalty, as famous for their top-of-the-line bourbon as they are for the glamour of their estate, Easterly. But behind the glittering façade lies a poison that threatens to taint the entire Bradford-Baldwine clan.
Lizzie King, the Easterly’s horticulturist, makes sure the grounds are a masterpiece. But after having been burned by Lane Baldwine two years ago, she does her best to avoid the family she works for. Then Lane returns home, bringing with him all the hurt, longing, and love Lizzie would like to forget.
After two years of living in New York, Lane is back at Easterly and can no longer hide from his problems. Both the wife he hates and the woman he loves are still there, and if that wasn’t bad enough, his siblings are a mess and his evil father is up to something. Lane has always been the playboy, never wanting to take responsibility for anything. But if he hopes to free himself of his dangerously manipulative wife, convince Lizzie that she’s the only one for him, and stop his family from crumbling, Lane will have to step up and become the man he was always meant to be.
J.R. Ward brings the DRAMA in The Bourbon Kings. The first book in The Bourbon Kings series is a lush Southern soap opera with a cast of characters who are as compelling as they are over-the-top. Even after finishing the book and thinking on it for a while, I can’t say if this is a story I liked, but damn if Ms. Ward’s writing didn’t keep me turning the pages.
The Baldwine siblings are an interesting lot. Lane, the hero of the story, is generally a good person but has never wanted to step up and claim responsibility and is now forced to. His eldest brother, Edward, was the best of the lot but is now a scarred, alcoholic, broken version of himself. Max, the other brother, is off somewhere doing heaven knows what. And Gin, the youngest, is one of my favorite characters in the book. She’s not likeable – not by a long shot – but she’s a complex, interesting character. She plays games, is shallow, and looks out for her own best interests. She’s also deeply hurt, guarded, and is trapped in a toxic push-pull relationship with the man she loves. Even though I have a feeling things are only going to get worse, Gin alone could keep me reading the Bourbon Kings series because I find her so intriguing. All the siblings have grown up in a life of luxury, but that life may come to a crashing halt when secrets are uncovered. Each of them deal with the impending destruction of their family in different ways, and Ms. Ward keeps the twists and turns coming all throughout the story.
The Bourbon Kings is a family saga with a hint of mystery, but there is an element of romance to the tale. Lizzie and Lane fell in love two years before the start of the story, but that all came crashing down when he had to leave Lizzie to marry his former lover, who was pregnant with (supposedly) his child. It isn’t easy for Lane to win Lizzie back, especially since his horrible wife is determined not to lose her place. It should be a simple matter to root for Lizzie and Lane, especially since Lizzie is one of the few likeable people in the book (though she’s sadly underdeveloped as a character and is overshadowed by the story’s more dominant personalities). But for me, the romance fell flat and felt underdeveloped. We’re told Lane is in love with Lizzie, and I believed him because Ms. Ward said it was so. Yet I never felt the passion and emotion between them. Their love for one another was built on a foundation that readers only get a bare glimpse of. To believe they could reunite so quickly, putting aside all that hurt and longing, I need something more. Perhaps if we were shown more of their shared past, I would have been more satisfied by the romance.
The Bourbon Kings is a mix of melodrama, mystery, abuse, love, loyalty, and Southern roots. Endearing and likeable characters are few and far between, but there’s something about the entire cast that gives even the horrible characters a reality television level of appeal. It’s set in a world where tradition reigns supreme, appearances are everything, and casual sexism and traditional gender roles are a way of life. It’s a world more alien to me than the vampire and lesser-filled world of Ms. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series. At the end of the day, I still can’t decide if I actually like the book or not. I definitely loved Lane’s smart, funny best friend, Jeff, along with Sutton, who is kind, sharp, and hopelessly in love with Edward. I was also caught up in the drama between Gin and Samuel T, and am desperately hoping those two find their way to one another. I didn’t love the world, a number of the characters, the fact that it took me a while to get into the story, and I’m not sure how long my patience will last with either the many push-pull relationships or the general toxicity of the Bradford-Baldwine family. But even with my mixed feelings, I cannot deny that Ms. Ward writes a memorable book. By the end of The Bourbon Kings, I wanted to know what would happen next, so I’ll definitely be picking up the next book, The Angels’ Share.