This Review Contains Unmarked Spoilers.
Please Read With Caution.
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.
Judging A Book By Its Cover: Is it me, or do other people find it annoying when the author’s name is larger than the title of the book? I know that the simple fact that this is a “J.R. Ward” novel will be a major selling point for many people, especially at the current MSRP, but for some reason it’s always made me roll my eyes.
That said, it’s a lovely cover, with the Sharp Dressed Man taking focus, and an opulent estate showing in the background. The golden colour, as well, brings to mind luxury and riches. Well done.
All About That Blurb:
Again, we have the Braggy McBraggerson part heading up the blurb: This Author Has Sold A Bajillion Books Already So You Should Read This Just For That Reason. Ugh.
Once you get past that, though, you get into what drew me in personally — The opulent wealth of a dynastic Southern family (which almost always promises tons of intrigue and hidden scandal) combined with a blue-collar heroine.
Getting To The Meat And Potatoes:
This book had a couple of strikes against it when I first One Click’d it onto my Kindle — I don’t generally like estranged lovers, and I especially don’t like adultery (did you catch the part where the hero is married to someone other than the heroine?!). However, much in contrast to my earlier kvetching about the emphasis on the author rather than the story as a selling point, I admit that the simple fact that it was a J.R. Ward novel was part of the reason that I gave this book a chance. I may have ditched the Black Dagger Brotherhood and the Fallen Angels, because both series seemed to burn out for me, but I will never forget the excitement of first picking up those series and how they sucked me in.
In similar fashion, The Bourbon Kings grabbed me from somewhere around Chapter 3, and simply would not let me go until I’d finished it.
I loved the intrigue, the politics of high-society, the machinations of those determined to stay in power, and the horrible effects on those who were (at least somewhat) innocent.
Unlike this author’s paranormal romances, this story didn’t rely on superhuman strength or fated matings, or even inconceivable villains to drive the story forward. Instead, she went back to her earlier writing roots and delivered a captivating story that perfectly blended the luxurious lifestyles of the Rich and Famous with the behind-the-scenes, everyday people who make such a luxurious lifestyle possible.
One thing that this book did suffer from, however, was a seemingly endless cast of characters, and frankly too many side-plots. I went into reading this book realizing that this was the beginning of a series, and, being familiar with J.R. Ward, I knew that there would be quite a few foundations to be laid for future installments to the series. Even so, it was distracting at times to follow along with all of the members of the family (especially Edward, since I can’t for the life of me decide which potential love interest I want him to end up with).
That was a surprisingly small issue, however, because of the author’s skill of blending together the storylines into a single, coherent narrative. I found myself fully invested in the futures of every single character, from the mightiest member of the Bradford family, down to the very last servant who had dedicated so many years to running such an important estate.
Also, rest assured that despite these characters’ lack of paranormal powers, there is still all of the drama, heartbreak and angst that fans of this author have come to expect.
The one thing that surprised me the most, however, was the estranged lovers trope. Spoilers ahoy, but I despise estranged lovers, for the main reason that there are usually lovers taken in the interim. I loved that while Lane and Lizzie may not have the fated-to-be-mated thing that usually draws a reader to J.R. Ward’s books, they certainly were destined to be together. You could feel the heartbreak, bitterness, and helplessness from both of them when they were forced into a reunion, and there was no doubt left in my mind that they were absolutely meant for one another, and they simply had to work out the tangles of misunderstandings and hurt that surrounded them in order to have a happily ever after.
It didn’t hurt, either, that the heroine is the one to make the Grand Gesture in the end. Don’t get me wrong — this isn’t a sign of weakness. If anything, it showed how Lizzie had grown over the course of the novel, and proved that she was worthy of Lane, who truly wanted nothing more than for Lizzie to be happy.
In The End:
I loved it. I stayed up for almost the entire night to finish this story, and honestly had to take a few breaks from reading because the story sucked me in so much that I was beginning to get stressed wondering just how our two lovers and their family were going to get out of the horrendous mess that they’d been dumped into.
Granted, the ending wasn’t quite as Happily Ever After as I’d prefer, but that’s to be expected when the blurb itself touts this as the first novel of a new series.
As someone who honestly has been a little burned out on this author’s work, I have to say that I highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan, and also to any fan of contemporary romance that focuses on star-crossed lovers and the behind-the-scenes drama that comes along with high society.
A very solid 4.5/5 Stars, and you can bet that I’ll be putting the next installment on preorder as soon as it’s available.