A Power Unbound by Freya Marske (The Last Binding #3)

Jack Alston, Lord Hawthorn, would love a nice, safe, comfortable life. After the death of his twin sister, he thought he was done with magic for good. But with the threat of a dangerous ritual hanging over every magician in Britain, he’s drawn reluctantly back into that world.

Now Jack is living in a bizarre puzzle-box of a magical London townhouse, helping an unlikely group of friends track down the final piece of the Last Contract before their enemies can do the same. And to make matters worse, they need the help of writer and thief Alan Ross. 

Cagey and argumentative, Alan is only in this for the money. The aristocratic Lord Hawthorn, with all his unearned power, is everything that Alan hates. And unfortunately, Alan happens to be everything that Jack wants in one gorgeous, infuriating package.

When a plot to seize unimaginable power comes to a head at Cheetham Hall—Jack’s ancestral family estate, a land so old and bound in oaths that it’s grown a personality as prickly as its owner—Jack, Alan and their allies will become entangled in a night of champagne, secrets, and bloody sacrifice . . . and the foundations of magic in Britain will be torn up by the roots before the end.

COVER ARTIST: Christine Foltzer (Cover Art), Will Staehle (Cover Design)
PUBLISHER: Tordotcom
YEAR: 2023
LENGTH: 432 pages
AGE: Adult
GENRE: Fantasy, Historical, Romance

Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Secondary Character(s), Gay/Achillean Main Character(s), Bi/Pan Main Character(s), Genderqueer/Nonbinary Secondary Character(s), Ace/Aro Secondary Character(s).

Finishing out the trilogy, A POWER UNBOUND finally provides answers as to why Lord Hawthorn (Jack) lost his magic and his sister all those years ago. It wraps up the mysteries around the Last Contract, and while it doesn't contain any wholly new storylines, that's much less crucial for the end of a series. The way it approaches Jack and Alan's relationship it almost sufficient to stand on its own if necessary, though several delightful aspects (such as their first meeting and Alan's selling of pornography) are show in A RESTLESS TRUTH. Most aspects of Alan's life are introduced for the first time, as well as the specifics of Jack's. It's a strange balance that lets many details feel completely new even though the main characters and their current situation were set up in first two books. I've been hoping Jack would be a protagonist since he was first introduced as Lord Hawthorne in A MARVELLOUS LIGHT, so I was absolutely delighted to get my wish at last. They're very different narrators from any of the others, somehow continuing the pattern of one person having magic and the other not, but in a way I wasn't expecting. 

The first chapter cements George as not only the detestable and power-hungry person shown into the earlier books, but truly vicious and uncaring in pursuit of his aims. There's something extra terrible in the way he destroyed Elsie and Jack's lives and then was so concerned with hiding what he'd done that he laid a secret-bind on both of them and didn't give a shit what became of them afterwards. Now, with a trail of the dead in George's wake, Jack and his strange new group of friends have one last chance to stop him once and for all.

Much of the magical worldbuilding was set up in the first two books, but there's a focus on class dynamics which is made possible by Alan's perspective when juxtaposed with the richer and titled members of the group. For all the Blythe's money troubles, they're on a vastly different scale than whether Alan's family will starve due to accident or injury. That perspective helps make obvious that the Last Contract was meant to accomplish something it's no longer really doing, and enables the group to come up with new solutions as things spin wildly out of control. 

A POWER UNBOUND is (somehow) even sexier that A MARVELLOUS LIGHT and A RESTLESS TRUTH, or maybe this is just a sign that my tastes run closer to Alan's than any of the previous protagonists. Good sex scenes provide character development in addition to titillation. Great sex scenes are so seamlessly a part of character development that to skip them would be to miss something crucial, fervent, and deeply personal about the characters involved. Jack and Alan's relationship is one of playing with power dynamics and trusting that the other person won't cross any lines, that fantasies made flesh are a wonderful kind of vulnerability, and that consent can be withdrawn mid-scene. They get the thrill of fighting without being in true danger, though it takes a while for Alan to be sure enough of Lord Hawthorne that he can accept this vulnerability with Jack. For his part, Jack is enjoying the extra level of intimacy which comes from having unknowingly read Alan's work for years, now able to use that knowledge erotically and to devastating effect. 

A POWER UNBOUND is a satisfying ending to a great trilogy. The epilogue is a perfect snapshot of everyone, I cackled at Alan's attempt at an interview after the big event. I'm eager for whatever Freya Marske writes next. 

Graphic/Explicit CW for cursing, sexual content, classism, blood, violence, murder, death.

Moderate CW for sexism, pregnancy, injury detail, torture, suicide.

Minor CW for grief, sexism, racism, infidelity, rape, vomit, gore, gun violence, war.

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