What if this isn’t a family saga at all? What if it’s a critique on toxic masculinity, and it’s chronicling the mental and emotional deterioration of modern men deeply entrenched in hegemonic masculinity? Or something.
Despite how it might have looked in our dueling review of Marrying Winterbourne [ review ], it’s actually very rare for Gabby and me to disagree about books.
We know each other too well, and have been friends too long to give each other bad recommendations. Although I still maintain she was too harsh on Kleypas and needs to develop some better book-pinions. (For the record, Gabby still thinks she was completely accurate in her opinion, and that I should BACK OFF).
And because she’s a trouper, Gabby didn’t just commit to reading one horrible, mind-numbing book. She also read the first in the series, The Bourbon Kings. Only to then inform me of two things.
The first was that I was too soft on the book in my review. Which, let’s be real, she’s probably right.
The second, was that she HATED Samuel T. Seriously hated him.
RUDI: Oh, god. You’re hating on the one fucked up relationship I actually sort of shipped. And now I can’t tell if I wanted Gin and Samuel together because I liked the angst or because I recognised that he’s the lesser of two evils.
RUDI: (Note: My ultimate wish is that Gin gets some kind of happy ending. Eventually. That’s my whole purpose for reading any sequels)
GABBY: Gin and Samuel are messed. That’s the most toxic relationship.
RUDI: How very dare you. (But yeah maybe? What is wrong with me that I still ship them???)
GABBY: You bought into it. Because she writes the angst in this incredibly hot way. It’s why I still read BDB. But I’m so distressed by the excuse making for Samuel and the pariah attitude towards Gin that I can’t even.
RUDI: The pariah attitude towards Gin is horrible. No emoji is sad and disgusted enough for my feelings on Gin’s treatment.
GABBY: THIS IS AN EMOJI FREE CONVO. Seriously. I want to boycott.
Luckily, Gabby didn’t boycott the book. Although this may have been because we agreed that I couldn’t be trusted to read the series alone.
A few weeks later Gabby texted me…
GABBY: Alright. I’m starting The Angel’s Share. Pray for me.
GABBY: ‘Author Note: The angel’s share IS A TERM OF ART’.
GABBY: My god I hate it already.
GABBY: Also in the Author Note: blah blah aging bourbon is like aging as people then BAM — ‘If we are aged too long, we are ruined forever’
GABBY: She’s insulting me already. Why does she insist on being offensive to EVERYONE?
RUDI: Her ability to insult through her art is the truest art form really.
GABBY: But these character notes though. Is she writing a soap opera or a book? It’s like she’s never heard of ‘show don’t tell’. She wants to beat you over the head with it. ‘Chantal has the emotional depth of a saucer’.
GABBY: Also did I wake you up? I’m so sorry if I did.
RUDI: The TV option was picked up so maybe?
RUDI: And you did a little bit but only because I slept in. You should probably relish waking me up and stuff. I’m the reason you’re even reading the bullshit series.
GABBY: Lol you’re right. I take back the apology.
GABBY: Because look at this. This kind of empty plot revelation is the equivalent of first person narratives using the mirror as a chance to reveal how artlessly beautiful the protag is.
RUDI: ‘I should probably think through the complications so far so everyone can catch up,’ Lane thought to himself.
GABBY: Hahahahaa like she already told us this in her damn character notes!
GABBY: I don’t want to do this anymore.
GABBY: I can’t.
RUDI: Come on! Where’s your staying power?
GABBY: She just recycled a phrase from BDB.
RUDI: Only one?
GABBY: ‘Pain lit up his motherboard’
GABBY: It’s too hard
RUDI: I believe in you. Plus I at least made it to Chapter 4 before I wanted to tap out.
GABBY: You’re a glutton for punishment.
RUDI: ^ That’s called foreshadowing. As a Ward fan you may not recognise it, but it’s a thing writers do to help build tension.
GABBY: Are my critical reading skills suffering from too much Ward?
RUDI: Nah. Between the two of us I think yours are probs more in tune.
RUDI: Oh! Earlier I had ‘great white’d’ highlighted. Like what the hell Ward? Why are you like this?
GABBY: … great white’d
RUDI: It honestly makes me wonder if she’s ever met any actual human beings before? She’s the walking iteration of the ‘How do you do fellow kids?’ meme.
GABBY: Except Steve Buscemi is endearing.
GABBY: And actually. The whole ‘typical of Lizzie to pull herself together’ thing is annoying. Emotions and femininity in the traditional sense are seen as pure weakness. She only likes emotion when it’s felt by men or in a masculine way. It humanises them for her. I feel as though that’s why Chantal (super femme) and Gin (super emosh) are painted with such scorn.
RUDI: But yes ok. It’s also sex though. Coz Chantal and Gin are both sexual without necessarily being in love and as women that is Wrong and Bad. So they get punished.
GABBY: Yes! My god.
RUDI: Meanwhile for the men it’s just how they are coz they’re men or whatevs?
GABBY: I wonder why she hates women so much?
GABBY: It is also making me cringe when Lane refers to Miss Aurora as his ‘momma’.
RUDI: She’s actually halfway to being magic at this point. What with the boat they ‘borrow’ having her name on it. I just want to vom.
Okay. So from this point on, not only do we discuss ALL THE SPOILERS, there’s also much discussion of domestic violence, and the problematic way in which Ward represents this theme through Gin.
Please know, you absolutely can turn back now and save yourself a whole lot of heartache.
If you’re sticking with us though…
GABBY: Again. So fucked. I feel as though she is vividly describing the pain and Gin’s reaction to it is completely detached? Does it hurt or is Gin just used to being abused like this?
GABBY: Rudiiiii what is happening?! Why is she romanticising domestic violence! ‘Look how broken and beautiful this woman is. Just look.’
RUDI: I thought I was going to be sick when Gin ‘flew through the air’ or whatever it says.
GABBY: I’m upset by how Gin is ‘deserving’ of the abuse?? Like she invites his anger, she’s mouthy, she’s slutty, it’s her fault.
GABBY: Yes! He’s yanking her around like ‘a dog on a chain’.
GABBY: It’s disgusting.
RUDI: Coz yeah! Exactly that! She’s romanticising.
RUDI: And it all feels so fraught because on one hand, it’s perfectly realistic that Gin is SO angry and self-destructive that she would enter into an abusive relationship. But on the other hand, I don’t really believe Ward understands what she’s doing. Like, she’s accidentally written a deeply complex character? I’m pretty sure the Gin I read is not the one Ward wants me to see.
GABBY: Completely agree! Which is all the more troubling.
RUDI: Like I feel like Ward thinks this dv is how her character pays penance for being bratty and promiscuous, on the road to reader acceptance. And fuck I hate that trope. I want to cry every time I think about it.
GABBY: Ward is completely uncritical about the circumstances that she’s placed Gin in. The trope shouldn’t even exist. It’s toxic.
GABBY: Oh god and Ward’s anti-abortion stance rears its ugly head again. Judging Chantal for ‘killing a baby’ and using that in her crusade to have readers hate her just like Lane does.
RUDI: God forbid a woman actually has any kind of choice about her life or her body.
RUDI: I was about to say there are plenty of reasons to not like Chantal but … are there?
GABBY: Listen, if she had lied about the pregnancies as evil women in romance are wont to do, then ugh whatever fine. But she’s shallow and apparently that makes her evil.
RUDI: She ‘traps’ Lane into marriage (as if he wasn’t a grown man who couldn’t decide things for himself). And she has sex with his dad. She likes money but idk. The money thing just makes her relatable to me tbh.
GABBY: Lane’s lack of accountability is baffling. Completely entitled and blames everyone else for his own poor decision making.
RUDI: I will never not get over the fact that he lived with a college friend for THREE YEARS and didn’t explain why. And also spent that whole time sleeping on the couch.
RUDI: Lane is not a hero. Lane is a dumbass.
GABBY: He’s a deadbeat! Literally the furthest thing from hero material.
GABBY: I love when we agree.
RUDI: Ha! It’s the best.
GABBY: Edward reminds me of a pretrans vampire. His cartoonish descriptions are super paranormal.
GABBY: Like all I imagine is those boys before they transform.
RUDI: omg! omg!
RUDI: That’s exactly it!
GABBY: I can’t even picture him properly because of it. It’s bizarre.
RUDI: He’s John Matthew but older.
RUDI: Any second you expect him to start silent screaming at the sky.
RUDI: But do you think her writing has become more florid? There’s less Ward-ism in this one.
RUDI: Or did I just skim over them?
GABBY: I thought that of the first one actually but it’s heading back to her BDB style in this.
RUDI: Huh. I would’ve said other way around. The first one it felt like there were heaps and now … less?
GABBY: Maybe I was too distracted by the offensive plot …..and I’m more accustomed to it this time around.
GABBY: I’m skimming the Lizzie and Lane sections. Fuck, they’re boring.
GABBY: The story progresses so slowly!! There’s so much internal monologue all the effing time. Like Edward has just kissed Shelby and now he’s drifted off and thinking about the money that’s sitting on the sideboard while she’s kneeling between his thighs. Is she just looking at him looking at something else?? What is she thinking?? Is she bored?? Is she worried about him??
GABBY: Does this read as awkward to you? Because she seems completely fine. Does Ward want her to be modest so we still have sympathy for her? Otherwise she’ll be like Gin and Chantal?
RUDI: Nah. She’s allowed to have confidence and self worth coz she’s a virgin and also likes horses. Like she’s a proper salt of the earth kinda girl.
GABBY: For someone who writes filthy sex scenes, her purity politics are really annoying.
RUDI: The level of cognitive dissonance it takes her to get through the day must be ridiculous.
GABBY: I know I’m meant to be reading right now but Rudi, I am STRUGGLING.
GABBY: Like I don’t even get this reference and my head hurts at the thought of researching it.
GABBY: And this is where we differ in our opinion of Samuel T. I hate the douchebag and I know they’re going to end up together and it makes me sick. I hate that he’s judging her for shit he does without hesitation. I hate that he is so stupid that he can’t see how Gin is being manipulated into this. I hate that he didn’t believe her when she told him she loved him. And I hate that he is so clueless that he hasn’t even GUESSED that Gin’s daughter is his daughter too. He’s a scumbag.
GABBY: He says that she’s better at being cruel than him but where is the evidence? I see a horrible man picking at a scab and not letting it heal because he can’t handle his own emotions. And his emotions and feelings are so much more valid than Gin’s because apparently being a woman and having sex without love is the worst thing you can ever do.
RUDI: I left my phone at home today (I know! Shut up!). Anyway — let’s do this one point at a time. Are you telling me you don’t know who Poirot is? Hercule Poirot?
GABBY: Like it sounds familiar now when you isolate his name like that.
RUDI: It’s an out of place reference but please. How are we friends?
GABBY: Don’t mock me. I’m too frag tonight.
RUDI: Agatha Christie character. There’s a neverending mini-series starring David Suchet.
GABBY: Ooooh sweet. Totally fine with not knowing that.
RUDI: I am not fine with you not knowing. Coz a) I am gonna grow up to be Miss Marple and I’m worried you don’t get the reference and b) by knowing you’d have realised Ward fucked up coz Poirot isn’t even British.
GABBY: LOL!! You’re kidding??? This is just as horrid and inaccurate as when she’s trying to write Greta’s German accent.
RUDI: He’s Belgian. So he speaks French.
RUDI: I mean he cruised the British countryside solving crimes but he’s definitely Belgian.
RUDI: I can’t even with Ward’s attempts at European and/or British characters. She’s the definition for why the phrase stay in your lane was created.
RUDI: Now — as to Samuel T. You’re wrong forever. Please don’t ruin the only romance I’m actually invested in by bringing up logic and pointing out the misogyny.
GABBY: I won’t ignore it. HE’S EVIL AND WE SYMPATHISE WITH HIM?!??!!??!!
GABBY: Well, Ward does.
RUDI: His behaviour defs upsets me but Gin loves him and I love Gin.
RUDI: I’m messed up.
GABBY: Yeah, you’re trying to find redemption in a series that has yet to show any.
GABBY: Also I’m not even sharing all my thoughts with you. I’ve highlighted so many passages but I’m trying to be selective…considerate. You know.
RUDI: It’s fine. I clearly have some internalised misogyny to work through. It’s just that Ward has lured me into this bs non-romance.
GABBY: IT’S NOT EVEN ROMANCE SO WHAT ARE WE DOING?
RUDI: I DON’T EVEN KNOW ANYMORE.
GABBY: I swear to god if he doesn’t spend the next 83% grovelling on his knees I will throw this book at a wall.
RUDI: I mean, I’m with you but wouldn’t that detract from the nothing plot that doesn’t seem to have any specific central character?
GABBY: Yeah … I was about to say that the murder/suicide thing is a plot but is it? Also …
GABBY: ‘– Scheisse! Meine Gute, ein Finger! Ein Finger–‘
GABBY: My German is rudimentary but ffs ‘Shit! My GOOD, a finger! A finger’. It’s not that hard to find the German translation of God. Unless she means good! But what good? Whose good?
RUDI: Greta’s good. Obvs.
RUDI: Remember when you were still reading The Bourbon Kings and I told you this one is worse? You’re welcome.
GABBY: I hate you so much.
GABBY: Edward never walks. He ‘hobbles’ and even ‘gimps’ ffs but never walks.
RUDI: How else will you remember he’s not able-bodied??? Readers need to be smacked over the head with these things.
GABBY: He’s hobbled twice in one page. I feel smacked.
RUDI: On a completely different Edward note — that love triangle between him, Sutton and Shelby confused me so much.
GABBY: Yeah, I don’t know who he actually likes. And I don’t like that.
RUDI: I kept thinking about that fb post she wrote on ‘would readers be ok with mff?’ and I was like IS THIS IT??? ARE YOU LAYING GROUNDWORK???
RUDI: But the post was defs about BDB so … probs not.
GABBY: Ohhhhhhhh but it would probs be fmf lbr.
RUDI: That too. But I feel like if/when she writes it, it’d be romantically fmf and have a couple of mff sexual things and then pat herself on the back for being so progressive.
GABBY: HA. Yes, like how LaL was so groundbreaking when really it was just het romance with two men. (Kat’s note: Gabby is referring to Lover At Last [ review ].)
GABBY: This is the thing I find so contemptible about her male characters. Women don’t matter or even count unless they have a stake in them somehow either through blood, lust or marriage.
RUDI: You’re abso right tbh.
GABBY: Poor Amelia anyway.
RUDI: Right? Literally everyone treats her like dirt. Except sometimes Lane fakes an interest but I honestly don’t buy his brand of part-time uncle.
RUDI: Oh, you love your niece, do you, Lane? Name three of her albums.
GABBY: Lane is too shallow to even understand what interest or emotions are.
RUDI: Have you hit the part where Lane kidnapped his Jewish friend? And held him captive? Maybe in the basement? (Okay. Not the basement but he definitely wasn’t allowed to leave the house)
GABBY: WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK, RUDI?
RUDI: Because I’m sure you should be up to that by now?
GABBY: OH, WAIT.
GABBY: Yeah, I have. Oh my god, when you put it like that it’s terrifying
RUDI: It was completely terrifying and I’ve been waiting SO LONG for you to mention it. Coz his friend was the first person to make any sense at all. And the second Lane realised he was gonna tell the Feds about the embezzlement Lane locks him away and won’t let him leave.
RUDI: HOW IS HE A HERO???
GABBY: He’s not a real character. He’s a collection of letters on a page.
RUDI: Wait, what if … what if this isn’t a family saga at all? What if it’s a critique on toxic masculinity??? And it’s chronicling the mental and emotional deterioration of modern men deeply entrenched in hegemonic masculinity?
GABBY: LOLOLOLOLOLOL DON’T BE RIDICULOUS RUDI THIS BOOK HAS NO SUBSTANCE.
RUDI: Look, I’m just trying to find some meaning in this meaningless, plotless, characterless fucking mess of a book.
GABBY: I don’t want to read anymore. I really don’t. I’m only halfway.
RUDI: You can tap out.
GABBY: I don’t want to be a failure.
RUDI: Is it failing or is it healthy?
GABBY: Probably healthy… Okay, I just met Maxwell and I think I may be interested in him. Decision pending.
RUDI: I think you like him for the same reason I do. He had the good sense to quit that family.
GABBY: Ahhhh so it’s not just his sexy tattoos and broad shoulders? Thank god I’m not that shallow.
RUDI: I mean…you are, lbr. But that’s not the only reason you like him
GABBY: And then I get this bullshit. If this isn’t some really messed up victim blaming then I don’t know what is.
RUDI: The victim blaming is so fucking awful. And that’s before you even consider the many people who suspect there’s something dangerous and sinister about Richard and Gin’s engagement but do absolutely nothing.
GABBY: They’re resigned to it! Oh, silly Gin. Look what she’s gone and done.
RUDI: And they all KNOW what’s happening. I refuse to believe they don’t. Coz they grew up with their abusive father and they’d recognise the signs no matter how much they’d rather not see.
GABBY: This whole book is fucked. It’s so anachronistic and in a real inauthentic way. Like it’s written in the 80s and there’s been no discussion of cultural awareness or class or race or gender.
RUDI: The 80s seems too modern tbh. I mean it’s got an 80s Dallas vibe but socially speaking I think it might be more 60s?
GABBY: Like a period piece about the 60s written in the 80s? Old school romance but not good.
RUDI: Nah, like a period piece written in the 60s about the 80s. That’s how fucking confused it is.
GABBY: Lolololol yes, I think that’s it.
GABBY: Fuck Lizzie! Fuck her! You see a woman being manhandled and you just keep walking?! Without even thinking twice?!
GABBY: I just can’t with this anymore. My heart is broken.
RUDI: I felt physically sick when Lizzie, the perfect woman, walked straight past Gin and then still thinks nothing deeper about that moment than ‘Gin stuck up for me? How very unlike her!’ Like actually sick. No, not everyone can and will engage. No, it probably wouldn’t have been safe for Lizzie to say anything, but her internal monologue isn’t even acknowledging the threat she just walked past. Fuck. That.
GABBY: Goddamn. I hate this book.
RUDI: I think we deserve a guaranteed nice, happy, and mentally safe book next up.
GABBY: You’re so right.
GABBY: UUGGHHHHHH THAT BOOK WAS A BOOK OF NOTHINGGGGG.
GABBY: WHAT THE HELL WAS THE POINT?
RUDI: Is it nothing or is it a pile of furifying shit? And I hate that I’ve been sucked into this toxic series. I just want real resolutions!! And happy endings!! Of which this fucking book has none. I think the most satisfying thing was Gin is clearly planning to murder Richard for the inheritance (and maybe life insurance money?).
GABBY: Yes, that will be some justice but she also needs to burn down her family home so Lane can stop having everything handed to him on a silver platter yet still cry that he’s ‘worked so hard for it’.
RUDI: Omg! Yes! She drives off into the sunset with her daughter and as she looks in the rearview mirror she sees Easterly just burning to the ground.
GABBY: That’s it. This is the new ending. No more books after this. Perf.
And with that wonderful and satisfying piece of head canon, that is where we leave you.
I’d love to say that neither Gabby nor I will ever be reading any book from this series again, but … that would be a lie.
Thankfully, it’ll be a while before the third one is released, so we’ve got plenty of time to recover.
Cotent advisory: Even if you manage to negotiate the many and varied ways in which Ward poorly represents domestic violence, references to rape, violence, racism, and sexism, NOTHING is satisfactorily resolved.
Published by Piatkus.