Author ~ Ingela Bohm
Published ~ 19th June 2015
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
Things are moving forward for Pax. At 35 miles per day, to be exact. Their new tour may be unorthodox, but they do have fans, tucked away in the backwaters of England. Besides, there are whispers about bigger gigs, maybe even another album. But there's something wrong with Jamie. Michael doesn't want to believe it, but on the eve of their big break, the truth threatens to destroy everything.
Third Installment of a Brilliant Gay Rock Epic
The Pax Cymrica series is not just a gay rock-and-roll story, it’s an epic - three books that should be read in order, not so much as stand-alone books, but as a history, an evolution and a stunning love story ahead of its time. It’s also a period piece, set mostly in the uptight 1970s where only the most adventurous admitted to being gay, and most tried desperately not to be. It reflects those difficult times for LGBT people, and particularly for people in the public eye, where the price of fame and success was living a lie. That’s the underlying reality of Michael and Jamie, the incredibly talented duo who loved each other since they were kids in Wales, yet spent most of their lives trying to deny that love, hide that love, avoid and evade that love, often at a heartbreaking personal cost, not to mention to the detriment of the passionate and original music they create together.
And that’s what distinguishes Pax Cymrica from all but the best of its competition: the music. There are tons of books about gay rock stars, their lifestyles, their loves, and their battles with fame and fortune. Like the best of the genre, Cecilia Tan’s “Daron’s Guitar Chronicles” and Rhys Ford’s “Sinners” series, Pax Cymrica is, above all else, about the music. The music is the counterpoint to the characters’ lives, the thread that binds them together, the art that expresses their love, fears and frustrations, and the medium through which the characters talk to the reader and to each other. Every chapter in Pax Cymrica starts with lyrics from one of the band’s songs, and the lyrics are almost as poetic as Ms. Bohm’s gorgeous prose.
In the first book (Just Playing), the two young men come together as innocent kids who “experiment” with one another. As he gets older, Jamie moves on, determined to put this “unnatural” relationship behind him and the only way he can do that is to stay far away from the irresistible Michael. They both form bands, intentionally without the other, but one rainy day, escaping from a deluge, Michael ends up jamming with Jamie’s band. The rest is history. Book one is sort of the prelude, with the boys bouncing back and forth between their secret passion and its threat to the future of their band, Pax Cymrica, in a time when rock stars were supposed to be relentlessly and aggressively heterosexual. Little by little, the extraordinary music produced, primarily, by the interaction between Michael and Jamie, starts attracting fans, and they end up with management, a record deal and touring as the opening act for a more established and successful band.
In the second book (The Road Taken), the boys are achieving success they can’t quite believe. It’s too much, too soon. They’re playing to thousands in Arenas, and a major draw is the band’s stage presence. Michael (lead singer) and Jamie (lead guitar) play off each other, almost as though their performance is an intimate dance on stage, and the audiences go wild. Their chemistry has grown, their confidence in each other more assured, and little-by-little, they let their affection drive their relationship both onstage and off.
And that is not a good thing. The record label, in fact, is incensed that they’re acting so “gay” with each other and they start making irrational and counter-productive demands of the boys. They’re not allowed to even look at each other onstage anymore, nor are they allowed to be left alone together in a room under any circumstances. The creative juices dry up, both boys wracked with pain and loneliness, but neither willing to just walk away and abandon the band. They no longer own themselves. They’re responsible for everyone, their fans, their roadies, their management, their record company, the other members of their band, the press – the only ones no one seems to give a damn about is them.
Then it all goes to hell. Management demands that one of the boys obtains a “beard”, a woman to hide their relationship behind. The problem is: what relationship? They’re never allowed to be alone together, they’re chaperoned everywhere they go, and everyone seems to have decided that Jamie needs to marry a woman, to seal the “straight” myth in stone.
Jamie does just that, and the groupie they’ve hired to marry him wages a war of attrition, making sure that Michael is humiliated at every turn and rejected in favor of her. It works. The band is falling apart, both Michael and Jamie are losing their souls and their hopes, the music has become stale and their stage performances uninspired and boring, with no interaction between the leads. On top of that, the fake wife is now blackmailing Jamie – if he doesn’t get away from Michael and live the way she wants, she will out them. Well, that’s just what they needed. To hell with everyone, they out themselves and walk away from the band. By the end of The Road Taken, the band is dead and yesterday’s news, the boys are almost destitute with little in the way of prospects, but they’re together, at last. They are real, they are living their authentic lives, they are finally, happy
Which brings us to book three (Release). It opens some months after The Road Taken ends, the band back on the road, but it’s a very diminished and different band. First of all, they’re not playing arenas anymore, they’re playing taverns and clubs. Secondly, there’s not much of an entourage, the band is traveling by bicycle rather than bus or limousine with a single van to haul the equipment - no publicists, no record label, no groupies. Most important, the boys are controlling their own destinies, no matter how humble. They are together, and very much openly in love, but more important, they’re making the music they want to make and enjoying performing for the small crowds who flock to hear them.
Two nasty obstacles stand in the way of Pax Cymrica, a stalker who keeps breaking into their tents, stealing personal possessions and terrorizing the band; and Jaime, who has never quite recovered from the last few years of torture, loneliness, emotional deprivation and physical excess. The band has to deal with one inescapable fact: Jamie is addicted. He cannot get through a day without chemical stimulus. He and Michael have pretty much stopped making love because Jamie is no longer physically up to the task. He is not OK, far from it. It all comes to a head when Jamie and Michael travel home to Wales to attend the funeral of Jaime’s mother. Jamie needs help that neither Michael nor the band can give him. He needs rehab. There’s no fancy rehab resort in the cards, none of them has the resources for such expensive residential treatment, and Jamie is not healthy enough to return to the tour. His only option is to remain at his childhood home, stay with his homophobic and disapproving dad, and get whatever treatment he can, while he detoxes on his own.
That’s a terribly difficult road, and neither Michael nor Jamie know if he can survive it, let alone come out the other end healed and whole. A good portion of the book focuses on Jamie’s sad, but necessary, inner journey to his truth, to finding out who he really is, without the band and without the man he loves. He needs to come to terms with what’s left of his family, his background and his past, he needs to deal with his uncertainties and the lingering guilt and heartbreak from the years he and Michael spent torturing themselves and each other trying to satisfy the inhuman and inhumane demands of others.
When he returns to the tour, without Jamie, Michael is having a hard time of it. He is almost raped by a lunatic groupie who claims to be a classical musician, but corners him in a room, about to violently assault him, after Michael rebuffs his advances. And the stalker is still at work, as are the paparazzi, who are reporting not that Michael was almost raped, but that he was having an affair with the sick groupie, replete with photos of their idyllic time at the guy’s family estate. Michael is terrified that Jamie will read, and believe, the reports - almost as afraid as he is of Jamie never getting better and never coming back.
Fortunately, while at home, Jamie has a true epiphany. At his mother’s funeral, a strange woman introduces herself to Jamie as his mother’s close friend, and tells him that his mother left him such a wonderful legacy. Jamie has no idea what that means, so he goes hunting through the attic of his family home, where he finds old music, records and private correspondence between the two women. Amidst the remnants of his mother’s former life, he discovers that the music in Jamie’s soul was inherited from his mother, who left it behind for him, on paper, on records and in his heart. Some of the music she performed, some of it she wrote, in a long-ago life filled with dreams that Jamie never knew existed. He finally understands. He also understands why his father hates his music so much, because it was music that almost cost him his beloved wife. Jamie’s mother’s music fills him, heals him, points him in a whole new direction, one even more in synch with his beloved Michael, an inspired new direction that will propel the band to the future they never thought they could have – and all of it on their own terms.
This book wraps up the series so beautifully, it’s almost impossible to read it with a dry eye. Like the rest of this exquisite epic, the end of book 3 is driven and evoked through music, making it both the medium and the message, and a stunning coda to the three movements of Pac Cymrica.
Ms. Bohm is such a lyrical, masterful writer that, at times, she takes my breath away. There are moments of unmatched tenderness, breathtaking first-love, depths of despair and betrayal, broken hearts and soaring hearts, evil, beauty and love – and above it all, music. It is all of a piece. I mentioned, at the beginning, that you should read the books of this series in order, to best appreciate the pacing, history and growth of the men and their music. But the third book, Release, can certainly be read as a stand-alone. It’s just a better, deeper and richer experience to watch it unwind in the context of the larger work.
From all appearances, one could reasonably assume that this is the last book in the series. It ends with all questions answered, accolades pouring in, and a new, mature and self-confident band making perfect music. If so, I’m sad to see these characters go. They are drawn so beautifully and authentically, and it’s been so wonderful to watch these lovely men grow and mature, from book to book, that they’ll leave a hole in my heart, if they never return.
On the other hand, perhaps Ms. Bohm will grant us another visit with Pax Cymrica. She is so steeped in the music, and she plays the music so exquisitely with her eloquent words, that I just can’t see her walking away from her beloved musicians, forever.
Pax Cymrica: The True Story
Book #1: Just Playing
Book #2 The Road Taken
Book #3: Release