Rating: 4.5 stars
Buy Links: Amazon | All Romance
Jun “Styx” Wong has been best friends with Jin since they were young children. He has always had strong feelings for Jin, but since being gay is a practical impossibility in China, Styx has buried his affection for Jin deep inside. But when that denial leads Styx to almost accidentally end his own life, Jin takes matters into his own hands to protect his friend and show him that Jin shares his feelings.
As the only son of a rural family, Styx is expected to marry a local girl to secure his parent’s future late in life. No one has asked Styx how he feels about the marriage; the decision is made for him and his bride to be (who also has no interest in the marriage). Styx gets a brief respite from his responsibilities, however, when Jin invites him to spend a few years in the city with him, ostensibly to earn money to prepare for marriage.
The chance to live together full time and temporarily escape his marriage gives Styx the courage to act on his feelings for Jin. Jin slowly draws Styx out, and Styx finally allows the passion inside of him for Jin to bloom. The men also begin acting on their desire to play music, starting a band and beginning to make it on the music scene. But just as Styx and Jin are settling into a real relationship and the band is finally having success, Styx’s responsibilities come back to claim him. He must decide if he is going to fulfill his obligations to his family, or have the life and love he truly wants.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this story, but I was drawn in by the luscious cover and the prospect of rocker boys. But I am pleased to say that Allora really delivers here on many levels. First off, this book gives us a fascinating look at life in China. It is clear that Allora is knowledgeable about the country and provides fabulous detail on the culture, geography, and customs. The boys visit gardens, clubs, new cities, a wedding, and the Great Wall and each experience is documented in a way where I really felt I was there. Allora really helps us understand the tradition and culture that Styx is facing, why he feels this obligation to his family, and why the idea of being gay is so completely foreign to him. I think without really getting Styx I would have found myself frustrated at the way he allows himself to be maneuvered by his family, but Allora really gives us a sense of the confines of the situation Styx faces, which makes him much more sympathetic.
As much as it is a romance between Styx and Jin, this book is really Styx’s story. It is told from his POV and we experience the wonder and the new discoveries he makes right along with him. Styx truly has no sense of being gay, of the idea that there are out gay men, let alone that in some places two men can marry. It is so far removed from anything he can remotely contemplate that being with Jin is something he can barely consider even in his fantasies. We watch as he slowly discovers his sexuality, learns to act on his feelings, and even begins to be open about his love for Jin. This journey is aided not only by the more experienced Jin, but by their two bandmates, Li and Indigo, who are in a relationship with each other. Watching the men together helps Styx see what could be for Jin and him if he can only let himself have it.
Jin is also a lovely character, sweet and patient and sexy. He is so gentle with Styx, leading him slowly by the hand one step at a time. He so clearly wants to be with Styx, but he also knows that their time is limited, that one day Styx will be called home and he will be left alone. It is heartbreaking, but at the same time, the story gives us a lovely magical ending.
The band side of things is not as prominent as the romantic angle, but still a significant part of the story. Jin and Styx have been taking lessons in exchange for helping out at the music store since they were kids. They are essentially prodigies, but have no sense of their own talent. When they meet up with Li and Indigo, they begin building their band and slowly start to gain local attention. We are left with the sense that there is more for these guys in the future with the band and it sounds like there is more to come for this series.
So overall I really found this a lovely story. It is sweet and sexy and really immerses the reader in the culture and personality of China. I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to more to come.
Cover Review: As I mentioned, this cover is one of the things that drew me to the book. Just beautifully done with lots of great detail. I especially like Jin doing his yoga. Lovely.