Aug 1 2017 9:30am

First Look: J.R. Ward’s Devil’s Cut (August 1, 2017)

Devil's Cut by J.R. Ward

J.R. Ward
Devil's Cut (The Bourbon Kings #3)
Ballantine Books / August 1, 2017 / $28.00 print, $14.99 digital

There’s something both irresistible and poignant about the last book of a memorable trilogy. On the one hand, the anticipation! How will it turn out for all the characters who have burrowed into our hearts? On the other, it’s so hard to say goodbye, and what if our favorite characters get short shrift? Fear not, Devil’s Cut is a sensual, edgy, fascinating last chapter in the annals of the Bradford Baldwine Family.

All of the characters in the Bourbon Kings series are, whether they like it or not, tethered to their historical past, and unable to disengage from their troubled present. Readers were told that J.R. Ward’s Bourbon Kings saga would transport us “to the world of elite Southern society, bourbon industry, and horse country,” and Ward more than delivers. She makes her home now in Louisville, Kentucky, “the land of the Bluegrass.”

She has called her Bourbon Kings series a love letter to her adopted home state and a cautionary tale of big money, traditional values, and hidden sins.

That has the flavor of Dallas or Dynasty, doesn’t it? No surprise that Bourbon Kings is being adapted for the small screen. A side note, understanding  the provenance of the term “devil’s cut” illuminates the essence of the story: unlike “the angel’s share” which is evaporated bourbon, the “devil’s cut” is the “absorption into the oak of the barrel,” that is, the charred barrel where fine bourbon is aged. J.R. Ward has a more poetical take on the process.

The angel’s share is a romantic-sounding term, the devil’s cut something more sinister, although that is really because of the “d” word. In both cases, they refer to the environment owing a piece of that which is within it.

The late unlamented William Wyatt Baldwine, husband to Little V.E., Virginia Elizabeth Bradford Baldwine, and father to Edward, Max, Lane, and Gin Baldwine, is dead. Here’s J.R. Ward’s pithy epitaph, summing up the life of the husband to the Bradford bourbon heiress.

A man of low moral standards, great aspirations, and few scruples, whose body was recently found on the far side of the Falls of the Ohio.

Why couldn’t William Wyatt Baldwine’s death stay on the police blotter as a suicide? In events that are explained in the second book of the trilogy, The Angel's Share, Edward Westford Bradford Baldwine, the tortured eldest son of the family, declares that he is responsible for his father’s death. What an entr’acte for the concluding act of the saga.

Titular head of the family, former playboy Lane Baldwine, the youngest son and hero of The Bourbon Kings, is determined to rescue his brother.  He knows who is responsible for his older brother’s wracked frame, alcoholic lifestyle, and bitter spirit—the family patriarch, William Wyatt Baldwine himself.

How Lane rescues his brother is only one strand of a complicated tale. There are so many interwoven storylines, all pieces of the puzzle “of that which is within.” The two siblings who take center stage are Edward Baldwine, “a shadow of his previous self, the result of a tragic kidnapping and torture engineered by his own father,” now ensconced in the world of thoroughbreds and racing at the family’s Red & Black Stables. Who is Edward protecting when he comes forward and says he murdered his father?

The other member of the family whose story jumps vividly from the page is Virginia Elizabeth Baldwine Pford, referred to by everyone as Gin. She has always been a rebel. In fact, she is “the bane of her family’s existence, especially after having had a child out of wedlock during her college years and barely graduating.” No one can keep track of Gin’s many love affairs and marriages but her latest marriage to the controlling and sadistic Richard Pford has everyone worried, particularly Samuel Theodore Lodge III. No man has ever meant more to Gin, hence her omnipresent existential dread at Sam’s reaction should he ever learn that he is the father of Gin’s teenage daughter.

 Lane and Lizzie’s deepening love affair is a bright line throughout Devil’s Cut. To the devil with local society who thinks a Baldwine shouldn’t fall in love with a servant, since Lizzie is the head of staff at Easterly, the family estate. How the siblings say goodbye to the ailing Miss Aurora, by title the head of the estate’s kitchen but at heart, the “surrogate mother of the Baldwine children,” solve the mystery of their father’s mysterious death, and sort out the pressing financial demands on the estate will have readers burning the midnight oil. Devil’s Cut is a thoroughly satisfactory conclusion to compelling series—and lest we repine, there’s the television series on the horizon.


Learn more about or order a copy of Devil's Cut by J.R. Ward, available now:

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H&H Editor Picks:

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Janet Webb aka @JanetETennessee moved from the San Francisco Bay to eastern Tennessee. Baseball is my passion: I follow the Chattanooga Lookouts and the Nashville Sounds (farm team of my beloved Oakland Athletics). Social media devotee. Stories on royals and politics catch my eye. Ottawa born. Grew up on Georgette Heyer and Helen MacInnes. I also review at Criminal Element.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1. Pellington
I read all the books back to back in 3 days. Lane is the youngest brother, not the youngest sibling. That's Gin.

Gin was never married prior to Richard. Her marriage was the straw that broke Samuel T's back.

FANTASTIC trilogy, but we were left with a couple of loose ends. I'd like to see a novella pick up a little down the line, so we could catch up with some of the characters that didn't get full storylines.

J.R. Ward is at the top of her game. A truly gifted writer.
Janet Webb
2. JanetW
Great point of correction about Lane, indeed, youngest son. Thank you! I wouldn't mind a novella either...more about the 4th son, more about the relationship between son #2 and the preacher's daughter: so many possibilities!
3. Pellington
Also, when the Dr. came to Edward's cottage to work on his ankle, he made it clear that Little V.E. was on too many drugs, opening up the possibility of her getting clean and sober and having a love life after William...with...say...someone she already knew? So, that, and Max's story and Randall Daimon's stories were the 3 loose ends I want in a novella.

And maybe a few of weddings as well?
4. Kim
This was a good trilogy, but the circumstances surrounding William's murder weren't fully believable. It would have worked better if that scene was told in flashback. Even though I guessed who the "killer" was, I'm not sure if I buy the explanation on how and why it occurred. William did so many horrendous things, but I think the breaking point should have been what he did to Edward and not the reason that was given.

While Lizzie And Lane were the main couple, I liked Gin and Samuel T. I thought J.R. Ward did a great job on showing Gin's character growth from the first book to the final one.
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