Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Bourbon Kings, by JR Ward - Review

Title: The Bourbon Kings 
Series: The Bourbon Kings 
Author: J. R. Ward
Publisher:  New American Library, a division of Penguin Random
Release Date: July 28, 2015 
Reviewing: eARC for Kindle 
Reason for reading: Because JR Ward!

The Short Answer
Classic JR Ward -- lots of story threads, wealthy lifestyle, daddy issues. Fair to middlin'.

The Blurb (from GoodReads)
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

A Few Negatives...
I found this book oddly dated-feeling. It reminded me of an 80s mini-series, or mainstream fiction book by Judith Krantz or Sydney Sheldon. It felt like a prime-time soap opera pilot episode: there was even a reference to Alexis and Krystal.

The romance here was just OK, in my opinion. Still better than Phury and Cormia, but that's a low bar. There was a lot going on in this book; a lot of series threads kicking off and backstory development. I found that the romantic resolution was not quite enough for me to feel like the book really ended well, because pretty much everything else was left hanging, and the romance was not the biggest or most exciting thing going on.

Finally, on a more global and, well... uncomfortable topic, I'm not really sure this is a great moment in time for a series about the fabulously wealthy. Social unrest, riots, protests... the distribution of wealth in the US right now is a pretty ugly situation. I know billionaire books are always hot but there's just something about the flagrant and conspicuous consumption of these characters and this setting that made me uncomfortable and frankly pretty unsympathetic to their point-one-percent problems. There was a lot of detail here about the inner workings of a wealthy household, but I would've liked to see more about the actual bourbon business.

The Good Stuff
That said, there are certainly some elements to get sucked into here. Ward doesn't pull her punches with the nasty things humans can do to each other -- paranormal vampire or demon powers not required-- and it sets up tension for the books to come quite well. I'm hooked by Edward's story -- a horrific crippling accident under mysterious circumstances, and Mack's -- the Master Distiller for the empire and by far the most intense interestingness-to-pagecount ratio in the book.  While arranged marriages in contemporary romance pretty much always make me roll my eyes, sister Gin's situation finally caught my attention near the end and I am definitely looking forward to seeing how that unwinds (I kind of want her to escape and live like a prole for a year or two).

Bottom Line
As a series opener, this wasn't a home run book.  But in general I'm a fan of how Ward intertwines multiple series arcs (not everyone is!), and I'm sufficiently intrigued by most of the characters to read on, with the hope that the series is stronger than the first book.

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