Narrator: Josh Dylan
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy romance, gaslamp, historical fantasy, M/M romance
Series: Last Binding #3
Length: 16 hours and 7 minutes
Published by Macmillan Audio, Tordotcom on November 7, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org, Better World Books
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.
Secrets! Magic! Enemies to. . .something more?
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.
This series, The Last Binding, has always been a story about power, wrapped inside a bit of pretty fantasy romance and steeped in the verbal byplay of a comedy of manners. But at the heart of all the fluff and froth, of which there has been a delicious amount, is a core of cold, hard steel.
The question has always been whose, whose power, whose needs, who decides who are the many and who are the few, and who gets to wield all the power at the foundation of British magic.
Because there really is a crisis coming, not just to British magic but to the world as a whole. That crisis, based on timing, is World War I. So the looming threat on the horizon is all too real. The problem is that too many at the pinnacle of power have decided that they are the only people capable of wielding that power, and that anyone who stands in their way is to be cut down. Permanently – and all too often with malice aforethought.
That they’ll frankly be doing their enemy’s work for them doesn’t occur to any of them. That no one has had even a thought to how the power was intended to be held and wielded doesn’t even cross their minds.
But it does cross the minds of our ragtag group of, let’s call them questioners of whether any ends justify the means that are being gone to. Especially as ALL of them have been the victims of those means in one way or another.
A Power Unbound begins by answering the questions raised early in A Marvellous Light, the questions about how and why Jack Alston, Lord Hawthorn, lost his magic and his twin sister in the first place. The questions about just how long this nefarious plot has been going on, and just how early it sunk to its terrible depths.
Depths which are displayed on the grandest stage possible for all the magical world to see, as no one bats an eye as long as they get to keep their own power. But magic itself has a say, and it has finally found agents through whom it can be said.
Their world will never be the same. Nor should it be.
Escape Rating B: I am all over the map about this story, because it is such a wild mixture of historical fantasy, power tripping and political shenanigans, mystery, romance and comedy of manners. Whether any reader will fall in love with the series probably depends on which parts of the melange they are in this thing for.
Which is where all the reading mileage is going to end up varying. A LOT.
I got into the first book, A Marvellous Light, for the magical and political skullduggery. It begins as a murder mystery and then dives into the murky depths of magic and politics and starts the whole series on its meditations about power and its ultimate corruption. A marvelous queer romance also occurs during the course of that story, but it never took a backseat to the magic and the mystery.
But the balancing act between the romance and the magical mystery tour started to tip in the second book in the series. I did enjoy A Restless Truth for its shipboard antics and the way it moved the search for the Last Contract two steps forward and one step back, but it felt a bit like the romance got a bit in the way of the parts of the story I was there for.
From my perspective, A Power Unbound got a bit too bound up in the romance between Jack and Alan for the first half of the book. A reader who is in this series for its romances will probably feel a lot differently, but for this reader it felt like the story was spinning its wheels in endless setup as Jack and Alan teetered on the knife edge of ‘will they, won’t they’. In the first half of the story the romance was at the center of the story rather than the magical mystery political pot boiling over and scalding our entire band of heroes, and I had hoped for the reverse.
At about the halfway point, which is where I switched from audio to text because I needed the story to just get on with it, the pace picked up, the amount of feces hitting the oscillating device increased dramatically, the plots on both sides got ever more convoluted, Murphy’s Law rained all over everyone, and the whole thing galloped towards an epic conclusion that was not quite the one that anyone expected but was absolutely perfect as a way of bringing the runaway plot train to a satisfying stop.
(For anyone considering the audio, the narrator did an excellent job, I just wanted the whole thing to move along faster than audio naturally or even unnaturally does. I do listen to audio because I love the voices. Mickey Mouse’s voice is another thing entirely – although it would have been hilarious for the sex scenes, it would absolutely have set the wrong tone.)
I find myself back at my earlier statement. How much a reader will love A Power Unbound will depend on which parts of the story that reader is here after. If you’re here for the romance, this one is a delight. If you’re here for the magical power and politics contest, the second half is fantastic but the romance-centered first half gets in the way of figuring out all of the whos and why they done what they done. (The whos are mostly obvious, but the whys are considerably less so.)
No matter which side of that divide you fall on, anyone who has fallen for this marvelous cast of sinners with the occasional saintly impulse will be thrilled by the epic, world-shattering ending!