Cover reveal: ‘The Kingmaker’ by Kennedy Ryan


BookPage is excited to host a first look at the new print edition of Kennedy Ryan’s gorgeous and pulse-quickening romance The Kingmaker

The first part of an addictive duology, The Kingmaker is a suspenseful, intrigue-filled ride that generated internet buzz before BookTok and Bookstagram ruled the bestseller lists. The beautiful new edition from Bloom will allow even more readers to discover what makes this star-crossed love story so unforgettable.

The titular kingmaker, Lennix Hunter, is a powerful political advocate for Native American people. Maxim Cade is both an environmental scientist and capitalist crusader; he wants to “save the world and make lots of money.” Lennix and Maxim meet at an oil pipeline protest and, despite their stark differences, find that their values are mostly in sync. It’s just the timing they can’t seem to make work as their high-powered careers, their politics and Maxim’s family create seemingly insurmountable barriers. Lennix and Max’s epic love story spans two decades, four continents and two books, but it always feels intimate due to Ryan’s lyrical and sexy prose.

The new edition of The Kingmaker will be available on shelves at libraries and bookstores everywhere on May 23, 2023. In the meantime, we’re thrilled to reveal its beautiful cover, which was designed by Stephanie Gafron at Sourcebooks. And read on for a Q&A with Kennedy Ryan!

Tell me about The Kingmaker. How did you first conceive of this story?
Activism is a common theme in a lot of my books. I saw footage of a pipeline protest, and it stirred my outrage but also my imagination. I started envisioning two best friends, one Indigenous and one Black, who start a political consulting firm to elect leaders who will champion their causes. The Kingmaker is the story of Lennix, who is Yavapi-Apache, and Maxim, who is the heir to an oil empire.

You’ve explored sports and entertainment in other books, but the All the King’s Men series examines the intersection of politics and business. What was appealing about that context for you?
I wanted to write about people of deep conviction who dedicate their lives to making the world a better place. Lennix and Maxim start out as idealists, and over the course of their lives, over the course of the story, they become more jaded, but they never lose their fire for making a difference. Maxim is an environmentalist who focuses on sustainable products, which makes him a billionaire. He’s the only billionaire I’ve ever written, and I had to have him sign the Giving Pledge to justify it to myself, LOL. I enjoyed playing with how these dreamers become more pragmatic over time while trying to hold onto what initially drove them. And I wanted to examine what would happen when people who are this passionate for their causes turn that passion on each other.

While creating this suspenseful series and its hard-charging, powerful heroine, where did you turn for inspiration?
I definitely was inspired by Olivia Pope from “Scandal”: a strong woman of color who has conviction and works toward the greater good (even if her white hat does get a little sullied in later seasons!).

I’m not Indigenous, so I had to really interrogate if this was a story I should tell. And if I did tell it, was I prepared to meet my own standard for writing outside your lived ethnic experience? It’s a high bar. It should be a high bar. I interviewed several Indigenous women, making sure some of them were from the same tribe as my heroine. During some of those conversations, the ladies recommended books I should read, which enriched our conversations and deepened my understanding of what I was writing. There was an aspect of the story that I consulted a medicine man for, in addition to the sensitivity readers I compensated, to ensure there would be no harmful representation. We took our time to get it as right as we could. They all inspired me, educated me, guided me. I’m so incredibly grateful and proud of the story that came out of that process. And when it was all said and done, I made sure to amplify #ownvoices writers of Indigenous romance. 

How have things changed since you wrote The Kingmaker? Is there any issue or situation in the novel that you might handle differently today?
Throughout the story, Lennix is fighting for legislation addressing Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Almost every woman I interviewed brought up this subject because it’s such a prevalent and complex problem, and at the time, there were no laws to help. Since the book was published, there has been some legislation passed. We still have a long way to go, though, to ensure Indigenous women’s safety is taken seriously.

For readers who know you mainly from Instagram and BookTok, what are the similarities between the All The King’s Men series and books like Reel and Before I Let Go?
It’s all women of color, mostly Black women. They are often powerful, yet also vulnerable. I usually build the woman’s character first and then determine what kind of man she needs. I always joke that whether he’s an alpha male or has golden retriever energy, all my heroes are feminists, meaning they believe in the fundamental equality between women and men in all things. They will adore her, respect her and acknowledge her full agency.

I don’t really write escapism. It’s romance and it’s a guaranteed happily ever after, but I don’t necessarily want to provide readers passage away from the real world. I want them to think about it deeply. Feel about it deeply. Encounter characters who are navigating the same challenges as many of them. Chronic illness, social injustice, domestic abuse, family dysfunction, mental health—whatever it is, it’s an opportunity to show strength and love. It’s an opportunity to inspire hope.

You are one of only two competitive RWA RITA Award-winning Black writers, and you’ve had success in both traditional publishing and self-publishing. You could go to any imprint you wanted for this reissue (or release it on your own). What was special about Bloom?
I see Bloom thinking outside the box in ways that can really work for indie authors. They have the infrastructure and resources of a traditional publisher, but they are a lot more agile and flexible than many in the industry. They aren’t afraid to try new things or to take risks.

What was appealing to me, too, especially for this story, was that they understood where it came from: a place of uncompromising honesty about colonization, about racism, about the history of this country. None of that scares me, and it doesn’t scare them either.

I hear from a lot of people that I’m not “romance” enough, that I’m too close to women’s fiction. And the WF crowd sometimes thinks my books are too spicy. In a lot of ways, my stories don’t look like anything else in the romance space. Bloom’s really embraced that. I’m really fortunate to have a lot of choice at this stage of my career, and if I choose to work with someone, it’s because I believe I have something that benefits them and they have something that benefits me. I’m excited to see how this story finds a new wave of readers and wider visibility with Bloom behind it.

Did you have a hand in the look and feel of the cover?
Some, yes! It was a collaborative effort with lots of meetings and mock-ups. We wanted an aesthetic that appealed to both readers looking for romance and those looking for romance and more, which is definitely what The Kingmaker is.

What else can Kennedy Ryan fans look forward to in the coming months?
A lot! The Rebel King, which is book two of the All the King’s Men series, will rerelease right after The Kingmaker. Bloom is also rereleasing Hoops, my most popular series, this October. This summer, I’ll release the next book in my Hollywood Renaissance series, Score, which is the follow-up to Reel. Different couple, same universe. And you never know what else I have up my sleeve! 🙂

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