After losing his twin sister and his own magic, Jack Alston, Lord Hawthorn, has removed himself as much as possible from the magical world. However, with the looming threat to all magic users, Jack is being drawn back in despite himself. The Last Contract is an agreement forged long ago between the fae and the magicians of Britain, embodied in three magical objects that have remained hidden for years. Now, someone seeks to seize control of all the magic for themselves by locating the three objects and bringing them back together. What makes it even more complicated is the leader of the plot is Jack’s own cousin, a man whose greed led to the death of Jack’s sister years ago. George and his cronies hold one piece of the contract, Jack and his allies hold the other, and the race is on to find the final piece.
Alan Ross is a journalist (and sometimes thief) who got himself involved in this plot during a trans-Atlantic voyage where he got caught up in a murder investigation. Alan has no magic and knew nothing of the magical world until aboard the Lyric. He is also not rich and titled like the rest of the group and would generally prefer to stay out of all of this. As it is, Alan has his hands full just helping his family keep above water. But, at the same time, Alan has come to realize the disaster that would befall the world if the power of magic was in fact controlled by one person, especially one like George who protects no one’s interests other than his own. So Alan has agreed to help track down the last piece of the contract, despite the fact that he must then deal with Jack, as the two men definitely didn’t get off on the right foot while on the ship.
As the group works to uncover the mystery of where the last piece of the contract is hidden, it gives Jack and Alan time to get to know each other better, albeit reluctantly. While they may not always get along, the physical attraction between them is certainly there, especially as they realize their interests align nicely. Soon, the men are not only acting on their attraction, but starting to actually enjoy being with one another. But as much as something is growing between them, Jack and Alan know a crisis is brewing. They learn that the threat will culminate at the triennial gathering of magicians, which happens to be at Jack’s family home, Cheetham Hall. They have limited time to figure out a plan for how to stop George and the others that seek to destroy the contract, with the fate of all magic users on the line.
A Power Unbound is the final book in Freya Marske’s incredible The Last Binding series and I cannot recommend this book or the series highly enough. I totally loved the first two books — A Marvellous Light, featuring Robin and Edwin, and A Restless Truth, with Maud and Violet — but this final story was my favorite of them all. I just could not put this book down and found myself trying to eke out every available moment to read, as I was enjoying it so much and couldn’t wait to see how the story all came together. I love the way Marske has structured this trilogy, with each book featuring a different couple. However, while the relationship focus changes across the books, the characters do appear in each other’s stories and, in this final book, it is very much an ensemble with all six of our main characters working together. It makes for a lot of fun as we see how this group has become a little family of sorts (though, of course, Robin and Maud are actual family), and the way they work together and rely on one another. I particularly enjoyed how Jack and Alan play significant side roles in A Restless Truth as they are aboard the ship with Maud and Violet, so we see the start of their contentious relationship in that book and then get the chance to watch them form not just a friendship, but a romance here in the final story. The pacing across the series is also so well done, with the right amount of information and plot advancement happening in each book, culminating with the big finish here.
I have loved this magical world that Marske has created and find the world building really interesting. In this story, we learn more about the history of the Last Contract, as well as how its magic works. There are also some other nice world building moments, like learning more about the home of the governing magical Assembly or Violet’s magical house that is hiding secrets our group is trying to uncover. This story also gives us the big final battle and it comes together so well. We know partway through the book that the conflict is going to occur at Jack’s family home, which has poignancy, as it is the site where he lost his magic and where his sister died. Returning home to help in the fight has some symbolism for Jack as he returns to the magical fold after distancing himself for so long. There are some great intense scenes leading up to the final battle and this last conflict is scary, exciting, and just so well written. I loved the way things came together in the end and how everything resolves on the magical front.
I also really enjoyed Jack and Alan together. They definitely get off on the wrong foot when they are aboard the Lyric together and the men basically hate each other for a variety of reasons at the start of this book. Part of their conflict comes from the fact that Alan and his family struggle financially and are currently living almost exclusively off of Alan’s income. The other in their group are all wealthy and several are magicians. In Jack’s case, he is rich, powerful, and grew up in a magical family, and Alan can’t help some resentment at Jack’s privilege. So it takes some time for the men to find common ground, and while eventually they form a friendship and then a strong romantic bond, at first what draws them together is their attraction to one another. This story is a bit more sex heavy than the others, with a dose of light kink. Both Jack and Alan enjoy fantasies and role play of the “powerful lord and the innocent stableboy” variety and they find a shared kink in exploring those power dynamics. The men have some clear conversations to ensure they are on the same page and that Jack understands exactly when Alan’s “no” means “no” and when it means “ravage me further” and so it is all well negotiated and consensual. But both men really get off on the role play and it makes for a fun sexual dynamic between them. However, aside from the heat, Jack and Alan also find a real connection and sense of comfort from one another that they didn’t expect and that makes them a really appealing couple.
One of the elements I have enjoyed across the series is how the books really take a look at the role of women and people of color, both in this historical period, as well as in the magical world. We see time and again how women magicians are not given the training that their male counterparts receive and how they often have to rely on what they can absorb from others. At the same time, the story shows us many strong women, including Maud and Violet, Jack’s mother, and others, who have a presence and a power that is often overlooked and makes them underestimated. We also are joined once again by Robin’s assistant, Addy, who is a person of color and doubly overlooked, despite the fact that she comes from a wealthy and prominent family. Addy is a force to be reckoned with and I loved the role she plays here. So I appreciated how Marske showcases these disparities, as well as the wealth gaps, to really give a nod to the often underestimated strength and intelligence of these characters.
Overall, I found this story was a wonderful way to finish up this series. The trilogy is such a great journey and each of the first two books sets things up so well for this final installment. I loved the chance to really reconnect with all the main characters and watch them work and fight together in this last story. This is just a fabulous series and one I can recommend highly, particularly to those who enjoy historical and paranormal stories.