Bringing It To a Close With a Bang: A Power Unbound by Freya Marske

Posted 17th November 2023 by Sia in Fantasy Reviews, Queer Lit, Reviews / 0 Comments

A Power Unbound (The Last Binding, #3) by Freya Marske
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Bisexual MC, achillean MC, M/M, secondary M/M and F/F
PoV: Third-person past-tense, dual PoVs
Published on: 7th November 2023
ISBN: 125078896X

A Power Unbound
is the final entry in Freya Marske’s beloved, award-winning Last Binding trilogy, the queer historical fantasy series that began with A Marvellous Light.

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.

I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


~the house is a music box
~of all the places one could hide a knife
~stupidly smart villains
~golden pheasants + peacocks = Yes
~this is The Kinky One, folx

The Power Unbound is a five-star reading experience – I had so much fun, and experienced so much sheer DELIGHT while reading! – that loses a little bit of its lustre when you step back and ponder it after finishing it. That doesn’t stop it from being a fantastic conclusion to a great trilogy, though.

We met both Alan and Jack in A Restless Truth, and it was clear at the time that Marske was setting them up to be our next OTP. (Yes, I know OTP stands for one true pairing, but every pairing in this series is an OTP, don’t @ me.) Now that they’ve gained the spotlight in their own book, I have to admit, of all the marvellous (…pun unintended, I swear) couples in this trilogy, Jack and Alan are definitely my favourite. They both feel more complicated as individuals than any of our previous MCs, and their coming together (ahem) is also much more complicated than it was for Robin and Edwin or Violet and Maud. For one thing, both previous couples were all nobility, to one extent or another – and while Jack is too, Alan is very much not, and his working-class background – and the values, philosophies, and worldview it’s given him – is a major part of his and Jack’s romance; both as a hurdle to it and as a fundamental part of it. Alan despises the nobility, and there really is not one single moment in this book where you can disagree with him. Robin, Edwin, Violet and Maud – and Jack – might all be perfectly lovely people (…well, more or less, re Jack) but that doesn’t make the institution of the nobility a good thing.

I have to say, I never felt like I was being lectured, though. Marske presents Alan’s perspective without commentary – probably because every point he makes, or thinks, is inarguable – and gets on with the story. Alan’s love for his family is a pretty major driving force of the narrative, so we get to see that too, his motivations for all the dodgy and totally-above-board things he does and has done.

“I would put your heart between my ribs and guard it like my own. Is there any way I could make you believe it?”

But with romance being such a big part of this trilogy, I have to admit that it falls a little short here. While I adored how Alan and Jack feel like complimentary puzzle pieces in a way we didn’t get with either of the other relationships, Alan and Jack are also the only couple I can’t imagine having a Happily Ever After now the book is done. The difference in their stations is a hugely important aspect of their relationship, but it’s one that’s never actually resolved. If you’re able to turn all your critical thinking off, then this hopefully won’t bother you, but readers like me are going to struggle picturing them still together a year after the events of the series, never mind a decade later. Their relationship doesn’t seem at all sustainable, and that’s really just hand-waved. I would have preferred that Marske have the two of them amicably part ways at the end of the book, acknowledging that there’s just no way of making things work between them long-term, than the sort of wishy-washy ‘everything’s fine, don’t think about it too hard’ ending that we got.

Ross said, “Ask me if I’ve ever been paid for it.”

“Ask? I only have to look at you. Men would bankrupt themselves.”

Romance aside, The Power Unbound is the big finale, wherein all the plotting and scheming and research and desperation and scrambling and betrayals come to a head – where all there is to know (and do) about the Last Contract is at last revealed and resolved. And there, I have no reservations whatsoever – Marske brought all the clues and groundwork laid over the last two books together into a massively satisfying (and at times heart-pounding) conclusion. There’s little I can say about that without going into spoilers, but I thought all things magical were wrapped up perfectly – not just in what happens with the nature of English magic in the end, which is the core of the story, but in everything it takes to get us to it. The bad guys are bad, but they’re also MADDENINGLY clever, and as much as it makes my blood pressure sky-rocket, I immensely appreciate villains that make me want to scream with frustration as they keep blocking or subverting the actions of our Good cast. You know all will end well – it’s just not in the tone of these books for real tragedy or horror to hit – but I was still on the edge of my seat more than once, alternately petrified that the Bad Guys were going to get away with it, or tearing my hair out as the Bad Guys parried the Good Guys’ plans. Or WORSE, the Bad Guys’ having the support of various institutions of power – it’s more than enough to make you want to burn capitalism down and start over, I swear!

All this to say, Marske has NOT lost her skill at making her readers feel all the Feels, so you’re in not just for a pretty perfect ending to a really great series, but one that will give you plenty of emotions while you read it through.

Two points that you don’t really need to know, but I have to comment on anyway: I love how much we learned about the nature of magic over the course of this trilogy. I remember what a revelation Violet’s rings were in Restless Truth, how much they added to something we already thought we understood the rules of. Power Unbound continues this, not so much changing the rules on us as revealing them – putting us right alongside most of the cast, who are also having the foundations of their world changed by reveal right under their feet in real time. Storytellers revealing that Things We (And The Cast) Have Taken For Granted are not, in fact, true – or at least, that there’s more to the truth than what Everyone Knows – is one of my favourite things, and I’ve loved that arc within this trilogy. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it will skilfully done, and I massively approve.

The second thing, which is not something I realised while reading but thought about afterwards, is: I’ve enjoyed Edwin’s arc over the course of this series so much. He already went through a lot of growth in Marvellous Light, but there’s even more of it in Power Unbound, and it made me so happy. I love how he went from an unregarded, disrespected ‘waste’ of a magician to – well. To what he is by the end of things. In a few ways, this trilogy is his story, and I am super okay with that.

An excellent conclusion to an excellent trilogy – these are books I’ll reread with pleasure for years and years!

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