I’ve been giddy with excitement for The Bourbon Kings by J.R. Ward since she first announced she was releasing a new series. I am a diehard Ward fan, but this new series didn’t meet my expectations.
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.
The Bourbon Kings is a wicked web of deceit following a rich family in Kentucky who owns a Bourbon company. The setup for this novel was a hefty thing because there were so many characters and perspectives to share. At one point, there was a new character introduced around page 300 and I was exhausted with trying to keep up. To be perfectly honest, this book was hard to get through. It was frustrating and I put the book down several times not wanting to pick it up again. However, this is Ward we’re talking about – one of my favorite authors! – I couldn’t give up so I finished it.
One big reason I didn’t like the book was the characters. They were so messed up. I’m all for damaged characters that can be redeemed, but the Bradford family was so effed up I don’t think there is room for redemption. The eldest brother is a physically-damaged drunk with a bad attitude, the sister is a stuck-up snob who only cares about money and the focus of this novel, main character Lane, is a scaredy-cat manwhore who’s afraid of confrontation. His love interest, Lizzie, is a strange farm-dwelling, heart-broken woman who was hard to relate to. The only sane people were the secondary characters. I particularly liked childhood friend and lawyer Samuel T. and Lane’s friend from New York, but that’s pretty much it. Everyone else was a drag.
This book felt like reading a series of unfortunate events but for adults. I’m all about suspenseful plots and obstacles to move the plot forward, but there was such an onslaught of evil and drama that there was never a moment for the reader to come up for air. The romance between Lane and Lizzie was weak. Their relationship didn’t sizzle like I’ve come to expect from Ward and that was a perfect opportunity for reprieve. The lack of emotional connection also caused me to not care about the characters. The plot also moved way too slow and spent too much time investing in boring characters like Lizzie.
Even though I wasn’t feeling it, I stuck it out until the end and it wasn’t satisfying. Most of the plot points came together, but I would have preferred a murder and cover up to the way the book ended. Surely these damaged characters are strong enough to murder the bastard that caused all this misery! I just wanted them to act as evil as their damaged souls were portrayed but they came off as weak.
I was mostly disappointed that there was no signature Ward anywhere in the novel. The Black Dagger Brotherhood series had plenty of damaged and effed up characters but they had honor and purpose. The Bourbon Kings characters had nothing to fight for or rely on, not family, not love, heck not even Bourbon could hold them together! I was hoping there would be a ruthless “King” of an empire of Bourbon, but the story came off like a bad soap opera with an evil that ends up winning.
The next book, The Angel’s Share, will be released in July 2016. Since there was so much setup in this first book, I do think there is potential for the sequel to be significantly better, but I don’t really care about the characters in the first place so I’m unsure if I’ll keep reading this series.
STARS: 2 out of 5