The Bourbon Kings was a surprisingly satisfying read, though at times I felt like it descended into Bar Rescue territory and sadly that is not a compliment. I found myself wishing that John Taffer would show up smack the bourbon glass out of whichever sad sack’s hand who happened to be holding it and read them the riot act in his signature manner, which I would warn you isn’t for the faint of heart.
I wasn’t in a hurry to read this story as I have read a few of J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood books and for the most part was largely underwhelmed by the incredibly popular series, however that might be simply because I couldn’t understand why the author had a marked propensity to take perfectly good biker names and add an “h” for effect, for example “Rhage”. I would be overstating if I called it idiocy, but it irked me greatly considering it was such a trifling thing, but it really did get on my last nerve and compromised my enjoyment of an otherwise capable writer’s work. I did manage to absolutely love Zsadist’s story (Lover Awakened) despite the addition of superfluous consonants but that is beside the point. Objections regarding former crimes against spelling aside when the audiobook for The Bourbon Kings came available through my local library I figured “Why not?” and it was worth it, in it’s deliciously soapy overblown glory.
“Not his circus, not his monkeys,”
― J.R. Ward,
SYNOPSIS (From Goodreads) – 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 in question are the Bradford Baldwines and have been distilling bourbon for the past two hundred years. They are richer than Croesus and live like royalty. Like you would imagine behind the veil of money and power is a seething pit of deception, corruption and other words that mean bad things ending in “ion”. Of the Bradford-Baldwine children, not a one participates in the running of the family empire, the youngest son Lane has been nursing his broken heart far away from their Kentucky home in NYC drinking and playing high stakes poker – see comment above regarding John Taffer. Edward, the once stalwart heir apparent has completely divorced himself from the family, only Gin (short for Virginia) still lives at home living a debauched meaningless existence, the highlight of which seems to be tormenting her erstwhile love Samuel T. Max is referred to but his whereabouts are unknown.
My formative media preference years were during the height of the 80s, think Dallas, Dynasty, Knots Landing and Falcon Crest poured over the rocks and reading The Bourbon Kings was like one long throwback Thursday to these shoulder-padded days of excess. That being said J.R. Ward’s family saga winds its way into your affections and you find yourself talking back to your car radio as you drive down the highway while listening to the audiobook… or at least I did.
Lizzie, the breaker of Lane’s drunken heart is the head gardener at the Bradford estate and dreads the return of the prodigal son at the novel’s opening. Two years prior the two had a torrid affair that ended badly when one of his former flames fell pregnant and he determined that the way to remedy the situation was to marry the over-bred trollop. Lizzie summarily dumped Lane on his ass and justifiably cut all contact with him. In a move straight out of the nursery rhyme Lane retreated to NYC “to eat worms” in peace. Annoyingly there were a number of references to the classic 1954 film Sabrina, even one from one of the male characters if memory serves, it feels nitpicky to mention it but I would defy the majority of the female population to remember the movie let alone a man. Then again I could be wrong my husband loves Casablanca – same Humphrey Bogart, different pile – and there was a feeble remake in 1995 starring Harrison Ford and Julia Ormond. The film and remake featured the competition between two wealthy brothers for the heart of the chauffeur’s daughter. If you have time over the holidays a couple of hours spent with Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart wouldn’t be a waste.
Ultimately it is the other characters in The Bourbon Kings that save the book from being an utter waste of time. While Lane was a nice enough if unmotivated guy Lizzie got on my last nerve and by the end I think it would have been a better book if they just called it a day and moved on to greener pastures. By contrast the utterly wrecked both physically and emotionally character of Edward and the tragically self destructive Gin were pitch perfect through this novel. The threads left trailing of both of these sibling’s respective stories are more than enough to keep me captivated and frankly waiting with bated breath for The Angel’s Share, the sequel scheduled for release next summer. I can’t help but think that like bourbon this story will improve with each installment.