Freya Marske’s A Power Unbound is impressive. This is Marske’s third queer historical fantasy romance set in a secret magical society in early 1900s England. Each book has had its own flavor of romance and sex scenes—this time that plot delivers kinky gay erotica. As in her previous entries in the trilogy, Marske delivers a fusion of society drama, intrigue, and skullduggery that feels like the obvious missing link between the society drama novel and the birth of spy fiction. They’re good books!
For those of you who care about spoilers, and those of you who haven’t yet read the rest of the trilogy: if you like the words “queer historical fantasy romance in a secret magical society in early 1900s England,” and you like subterfuge and drama and intrigue and very horny sex scenes which may make you sweat… read the whole series.
The first two books are fun in their own rights. A Marvellous Light starts with uneven pacing, but quickly opened my eyes to the connection between intrigue, society drama, and the birth of the spy fiction genre. A Restless Truth nailed the pacing and added a hefty helping of murder mystery to the blend. They’re both queer romances with characters that feel like well-written, believable people. I’ve fled from romances with romantic leads who seem bad for each other or make me want to scream, and these books felt like a refuge from that. They’re worth reading. A Power Unbound continues in that vein.
Ready for details that will spoil the first two books? Great.
In A Power Unbound, the race for the Last Contract’s final piece is afoot, but no one knows where the damn thing is. Roped back in by Robin, Edwin, Violet, and Maud, Lord Hawthorn offers his reluctant and prickly assistance. The quintet pry apart the magical puzzles of Violet’s recently inherited home in hopes of uncovering some clues, but as the house’s wards and illusions mislead them all, our heroes finally conclude they need the help of Alan Ross—the reporter, pornographer, and sometime thief whose magic-bending assistance aided Violet and Maud on the voyage of the Lyric. While Lord Hawthorn and Alan Ross trade quips and butt heads (and other things), the group uncovers plotting, treachery, and a looming disaster that could consume the entirety of England’s magical society if it isn’t stopped—and they’re the only ones able to prevent it.
For the first time in her trilogy, Marske may have written a book that could suffer on its own. That’s not a failing of this book; I think it’s the inevitable consequence of how much Marske built up in the first two books. In order to do the impossible and give the reader a satisfying resolution (as she’s done twice already) for the completion of her trilogy, Marske inevitably leaned on more context from the prior books than the first two books did.
It’s worth reading all three books, because in A Power Unbound Freya Marske delivers on all her promised revelations and resolutions, all the plot lines she’s laid out over the course of her trilogy. Then, as she has throughout this trilogy, she opens the door for future escapades. Heck, she makes it look effortless, and she does it without leaving me feeling cheated or misled.
You know how sometimes authors will write in a twist, or open some kind of narrative door for whatever their next story may be, right at the end of an otherwise satisfying resolution? You know how that can ruin the feel of a good conclusion? Freya Marske doesn’t do that. Yes, she certainly opens up paths for herself for later. But she somehow does that without robbing me of the satisfaction of a good denouement. I think she’s done that three times now, three for three. It’s damn impressive.
Speaking of impressive, I have to praise the way Marske has written her Dominant/submissive erotica, and how she’s included light consensual non-consent. However, if BDSM is not for you, chunks of this book might not be appealing. You can probably still enjoy it given that sex scenes don’t actually make up that much of the book, but you deserve the warning.
BDSM and consensual non-consent erotica is the kind of thing that can be done well, and is more often done extremely poorly. There’s a lot of bad erotica claiming to show kink while instead teaching people dangerous assumptions and bad consent practices. This frustrates me—it’s one thing to sell fantasies as fantasy, it’s another to sell fantasy as fact. Marske seems very aware of this pitfall, as she’s elegantly avoided it.
It’s not often that I have the pleasure of reading BDSM kink that makes me feel seen. Even rarer: BDSM erotica that includes good consent practices in ways that heighten the sex scene and accentuate the deliciousness of the underlying dynamics. A Power Unbound does both well. Marske doesn’t do anything wildly anachronistic here, like putting too-obviously modern terms in early 1900s characters’ mouths. She just shows that people can engage in kink with each other with respect and agency, even when their scenes are exploring the opposite of that.
So if you’re looking for hot queer romance in a secret magical society in Edwardian England, or if you love magical alternate history and don’t mind sexy times in your genre fiction, this is a marvelous (sorry, “Marvellous”) conclusion to an excellent trilogy. I would recommend the whole series. I certainly recommend this book.