A Power Unbound is the third and final book in Freya Marske’s imaginative fantasy trilogy, The Last Binding, set in an alternative Edwardian England in which the existence of magic is carefully concealed from those who do not have it. Each book has followed a different couple to their HEA/HFN, but the plot is overarching, so I would suggest reading at least one of the other books before jumping into this one. (I confess I haven’t read book two, but I was able to follow this one without too much trouble.) There’s a lot riding on this final instalment; the author has to tie up all the plotlines, make sure the Bad Guys are defeated and write a believable romance for a new couple, and I’m pleased to be able to say that Freya Marske does all that with aplomb.
Note: There are spoilers for the earlier books in this review.
The trilogy’s plot revolves around the search for three magical items – a coin, a cup and a knife – that, together, are the physical symbol of the Last Contract, the bargain forged between humans and the fae which left magic in the hands of humans before the fae left the human world for good. The three items have been hidden separately, and in A Marvellous Light, Robin Blyth and Edwin Courcey discovered that someone was intent on finding them and using them to construct a spell that could draw every last drop of magical power from every magician in the land, and relocate it into the hands of a select few. Robin and Edwin were able to locate the coin, only to have it stolen from them by Edwin’s brother, Walter, who not only works for the organisation that governs magical society, but is also part of the plot to invoke the Last Contract. The plotline in book two concerned the search for the cup, which is now in the possession of Maud Blyth (Robin’s sister) and Violet Debenham, and this story kicks off with our heroes trying to work out where the knife may be hidden so they can get to it before their enemies do.
Since their shipboard adventures in A Restless Truth, Maud and Violet have set up home in Spinet House, the enchanted dwelling Violet has inherited, and have roped in Jack Alston, Lord Hawthorn, (who was also on their voyage) to live there, too, as a kind of bodyguard. We met Jack in A Marvellous Light, when he came across as a bit of an arsehole; grumpy, broody and enigmatic, he wasn’t pleased at being asked for help after Robin was cursed and insisted he couldn’t help before showing Robin and Edwin the door. But he was telling the truth – after the death of his twin sister as the result of a magical experiment gone badly wrong (and which stole much of his own magic from him) Jack turned his back on the magical community and has, for the past sixteen years, lived the life of a ‘normal’ aristocrat. He wants nothing to do with magic, but has found himself reluctantly dragged back into its orbit courtesy of, first of all, Robin’s curse, and then becoming involved with Maud and Violet’s murder mystery aboard ship. And now, he’s in the thick of trying to keep the pieces of the Last Contract from being found by his cousin George – whom he holds responsible for his sister’s death – and Edwin’s brother, who want to use them to ‘siphon’ and redistribute magical power according to their own wishes.
And disagreeable as all that is, even more disagreeable is the involvement of journalist Alanzo Rossi – aka Alan Ross – whom Jack finds both maddeningly annoying and maddeningly attractive. Alan is Jack’s complete opposite, a working man from an Italian immigrant family who works hard for every scrap he gets and will do whatever needs to be done to keep his family safe, housed, and fed. As far as Alan is concerned, Lord Hawthorn is just another arrogant, overprivileged prick in a society full of them and he makes no bones about making Jack aware of exactly what he thinks of him. But right from the start, it’s clear that Alan is Jack’s match in wit and intelligence; their chemistry leaps off the page, their back-and-forth barbs and banter zing, and I loved their snarky dynamic. Thrown together to help prevent the destruction of the magical world while they strike sparks off each other and are not at all happy about it, it’s just a matter of time before all that lovely sexual tension boils over into some of the steamiest scenes of the series. Jack and Alan take their established power differential into the bedroom in a fully consensual way that absolutely works for them both, and I loved that they don’t stop sniping at each other even as it’s becoming clear to them that maybe there’s something more going on between them than just the slaking of mutual lust. I liked that the author addresses the class-differences between them head-on, and it was a delight to see these two strong, stubborn men learning to let each other in. Ms. Marske does a great job of using the sex scenes to illuminate moments of growing intimacy, trust and character development.
While Jack and Alan are the romantic focus of the story, the continuation of the plot is more of an ensemble affair, as they’re joined by the couples from the previous books – Edwin and Robin, Maud and Violet – and the redoubtable Miss Morrissey, all of whom have important parts to play in the story, and all of whom feel like fully fleshed-out individuals with their own weaknesses and strengths that are important to the story, rather than just a series of for-the-sake-of-it cameos. I really liked the found family aspect of the story, and watching Jack slowly allowing himself to make room for new relationships in his life as he comes to terms with the changes in his magical identity. The author builds the tension steadily throughout as the stakes become higher and the story takes a dark, dramatic turn before heading into a thrilling showdown which could change the magical world forever.
I really enjoyed the book, although there are a couple of things that pulled my final grade down just a little. The pacing, while generally swift, drags occasionally, and the climactic scene near the end has so much going on that I found it hard to keep track of it all, and it feels rushed. And there are some parts of the magic system that could have done with a bit more explanation and/or exploration.
Even so, A Power Unbound is a compelling combination of high-stakes, complex plot and snarky, sexy romance that provides a thrilling conclusion to The Last Binding series. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for whatever Freya Marske comes up with next.
Recent Comments …
Thanks for this review. Sounds cheesy as hell and not in a good or fun way
I enjoyed this more than you did but I too struggled with the premise. Unlike The Hunger Games where it…
Thank you . I read the free sample and the nonsense you expound on above was sufficiently grating to me…
It’s really special!
I was Shane when l was 10 ye old l love the theme song what a thing between Shane and…
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