Sunday, September 3, 2017

Review: Devil's Cut

I'm old enough to remember when J.R. Ward first launched her Black Dagger Brotherhood series and each new installment was Must Read TV uh, Reads.  It was all anybody talked about in Romancelandia for weeks months on end.  I never got hooked on the series for a myriad of reasons that I won't bore you with (OK, fine if you insist - the weak-as-tea-strained-through-a-sock heroines, the completely inane dialogue, the Scribe Virgin thing that made no sense....), but when I first heard about her new Bourbon Kings series - I couldn't help myself.  I am, without a doubt, completely and hopelessly addicted to soap operas.  I'm largely a recovering addict.  I've given up the hard liquor of daytime soaps, but I'm still drinking the wine of prime time (I don't care what anybody says - Game of Thrones is TOTALLY a soap opera).  But given my less than sterling opinion of Ward's BDB books, I approached this new contemporary series a bit wary.  And then, just like listening to a BDB fan justify her need for a fix, there I was hooked on Ward's brand of Southern-Fried Soapy Shenanigans.  "Yes, the books are problematic but...but...but...."  

Devil's Cut is the third and final book in the trilogy and God bless her, Ward manages to wrap up the entire train wreck (no small feat) and leave me with the satisfying, refreshed feeling of a particularly well mixed mint julep.

Warning: There will be spoilers for the first two books in this series.

Last we saw the Bradford-Baldwine clan Lane was trying to divorce his trophy wife who was carrying his father's baby so he could be with his One True Love, gardener Lizzie; Gin had just gotten married to the abusive Richard Pforde and was concealing the fact that her 16-year-old daughter Amelia was the product of her never-on-always-off affair with lawyer Samuel T. Lodge; Edward, broken by a South American kidnapping his Daddy arranged was cooling his heels in jail after confessing to killing the man; Sutton Smythe, CEO of her family's company was still pining for Edward; Lane's friend Jeff was trying to save the Bradford Bourbon Company from the shambles the not-dearly-departed William Baldwine left it in; and Miss Aurora, (there's no nice way to put this - the most blatant Mammy character I've ever read) was lying in a hospital bed dying from an aggressive form of cancer.

So yeah, train wreck.

And yet, somehow, Ward makes it all work.  It's not always pretty (like the resolution to the Lane's soon-to-be-ex knocked up by his Daddy story line) and the problematic elements somehow manage to get more problematic (seriously, Miss Aurora...), but darn it all if I even wasn't happy that things work out OK for Gin in the end (OMG, that woman - seriously).  The whole series is one giant Oh No He/She Didn't! after another.

And yet, it's shocking to me that this series hasn't done better.  With each new book I kept hearing that the sales weren't as robust as the publisher was hoping for - to which my theory is that they weren't marketing correctly.  When the first book appeared I think a lot of Ward fans (especially the lapsed ones...) were hoping she was returning to her contemporary romance roots.  And while there are romances here (everybody ends up paired off in the end), it's not the series' strong suit.  Also, Ward doesn't follow an individual sibling with each new installment (there isn't a Lane book, then an Edward book, then a Gin book etc.).  This is straight-up family drama for the Dallas and Dynasty set. It's 1980s-like glamour reading the likes we haven't seen since Judith Krantz.

Folks, this is whole series is beach reading.  I mean, truly - beach reading.  Not like when those sad sacks who, when you ask them to recommend you a beach read, suggest you pick up Jane Austen (seriously, who does that?!  I'm sorry, when I go to the beach I want Jackie Collins.  Darcy can go hang.)

And that's where publishing missed the boat.  Because I am not the only one.  I am not the only one who grew up at my mother's knee watching soaps and got through college on a wing, a prayer, and a healthy heaping helping of Melrose Place.  That's who this series is speaking too.  Yes, it's got issues. Frankly, it's got a whole host of them.  But if you're going to ask me if I care?  Yeah, I don't.  I'm going to sit over here and hope that Ward decides to write The Bourbon Kings: The Next Generation.

Final Grade = B


Lynne Connolly said...

I just didn't like them. Any of them. I read part of the first book and put it down. I needed somebody to identify with, and I couldn't find anyone.

Carole Rae said...

Sometimes issues, even a lot of them doesn't hurt the book too much. Good review!!

Wendy said...

Lynne: I need to go back and reread my review for the first book - but yes. I seem to recall at the time I was like, "All these people are despicable and I think I'm supposed to identify with Lizzie but ugh - can't she just go away already?" Let's be honest - Ward's never been particularly strong in the heroine department.

Carole: I think I gave the first book a C rating as a romance but an A++++ for the soap opera aspect of it all. The whole series is problematic as all get out - but I love me a soap opera!

SusiB said...

I tried to read the first book in the series, and it was really quite entertaining in the way soap operas are, but I had to DNF it. I just couldn't deal with Gin's character. Nobody could be that TSTL and live to be 25 or 30 or whatever age she was supposed to be.

Wendy said...

SusiB: I didn't see Gin as TSTL so much as a pampered, petty, spoiled princess whose idea of work is having to do her own make-up. I suspect Ward designed her as an "anti-heroine," and while she's redeemed (somewhat - and honestly the jury is out on that IMHO) - I could never shake the feeling that without a Sugar Daddy-type she might as well curl into a little ball and die. Oh she's mouthy and she'll fight back - but is she a character who can take care of herself? Without the aid of a man? I don't think so. Which keeps her firmly in the problematic camp for the entire series - even if her witchy ways do make for entertaining soap opera reading.