THE BOURBON KINGS - J. R. Ward
The Bourbon Kings, Book 1
New American Library
ISBN 13: 978-0-451-47526-8
ISBN 10: 0-451-47526-7
August 2015
General Fiction

Charlemont, Kentucky - The Present

The biggest event in Charlemont every year is the Charlemont Derby. Lizzie King, originally from Cape Cod but now one of the seventy-two employees on the Bradford family estate called Easterly, prepares floral arrangements for the family's traditional brunch before this year's 139th derby. About a thousand people will attend. Few will miss this event hosted by the famous and wealthy family known for its bourbon production. Lizzie is waylaid on a trip to the house by the condescending but perfect Southern belle, Chantal, who is wife to Tulane Baldwine. Tulane is commonly called Lane. Their marriage took place two years ago and broke Lizzie's heart. She had thought Lane loved her, but now knows better.

To escape his wife and what she did to the pregnancy that trapped him into marriage, Lane has spent the last two years sharing a college friend's apartment in New York. He sleeps on the couch, drinks, and plays amazingly good poker. His dad, William Baldwine, married "Little V.E.," the true Bradford heiress who kept her last name. The couple had three sons: Edward, Tulane, and Maxwell, plus a girl, Gin, the youngest child. Mr. William Baldwine runs all the family business which rakes in phenomenal wealth every year. The heir apparent, Edward, was kidnapped two years ago and now is a broken man. He is content to run the family's racing stables. A call from Easterly has Lane traveling back to his home. Someone he actually considers family has been taken to emergency, Miss Aurora, the family cook. His return means he will see the woman he has spent the last two years thinking about, Lizzie King, and the people he has been avoiding, his wife and his father. The only thing keeping him from Lizzie is Chantal, who threatens scandal if he goes through with a divorce.

Despite Chantal's character, the reader soon learns the truly evil character is William Baldwine. This is no spoiler. He shows his colors very early in the story, and it is true he didn't spoil his children. He beat them. He keeps mistresses at Easterly, and controls all aspects of everyone's life on the estate. His wife keeps to her bedroom, presumably ill. He has arranged a marriage for his shameless daughter unknown to her. What else he has done is truly shocking and will profoundly affect his wife and children. The story involves many interesting characters, some good, many bad in ordinary ways, a few wicked, and several walking wounded. This first book of The Bourbon Kings series is a little slow getting off. A lot of background information has to be presented, all interesting and intriguing situations in themselves. The ultimate action, though, starts a little further into the story. The building suspense takes the characters and the reader on an appalling downward spiral. The reader soon learns the cost of entitlement, which eventually leads to the story's cliffhanger ending. An excellent start to what promises to be a great series.

Robin Lee