When we last left this world, everything was in complete tatters. Evie having been imprisoned by Keating, Nick presumed dead and Imogen's soul being imprisoned by her dark twin Anna, nothing looked hopeful for our merry band of steampunk characters. A Study of Ashes opens one year later with everything in disarray. As bad as the events of the last book were, the characters have no idea that things are going to escalate and get so much worse. You see, the kingdom is on the brink of war because the people are tired of the strangle hold of the steam barons and for their part, the barons are determined to draw the noose even tighter and consolidate their power. Can our merry crew survive the evil machinations and still get out in one piece?
A Study of Ashes is the darkest of the trilogy. With the return of Magnus, Evie is once again tempted by dark magic. With the fighting between the barons, even fearsome The Black Kingdom has a role to play. For those who are used to a lighter story, this might be disturbing; however, I found myself relishing it. Stories must after all progress to retain the interest of their readership. At times, A Study of Ashes felt like a blending of gothic horror and steampunk.
For as much as I enjoyed A Study of Ashes, I do feel that the story did get bogged down when it came time for the epic battle. I understand that this was necessary to explore the full scope of Evie's power but I do feel that it dragged on for a little to long. At times, I was even tempted to simply skim until the story had moved on. This might however be a matter of taste, as I have never been a fan of epic fight scenes.
After all that Evie has been through, she is not the same young brash woman we met in A Study in Silks. For me this is a good thing, as I am tired of protagonists who are dragged through the mill yet do not change. Evie still retains much of her spunk but it is darker somehow - more determined. I will however say that it was annoying that she was constantly reduced to a pile of mush when Niccolo looked in her direction. I understand finding comfort in love when times are tough, but did she constantly have to get distracted and drift away?
One of the largest distractions was the Imogen's storyline. It seemed out of place and rarely interacted with the characters that we have come to know. I often found myself irritated when we returned to her predicament because it felt like being pulled out of all of the action. That said, I am glad that Imogen got her happy ending. It is well worth mentioning that sidelining Imogen meant that Poppy had a much larger role to play. The problem is that Poppy is young and though brave, clearly out of her element. Not being a fan of YA, I found Poppy irritating but again, this is another case of your mileage may vary.
A Study in Ashes is a satisfactory ending to this trilogy. All of the storylines begun in the first book were neatly wrapped up. Holloway even gave us an interesting twist on the Baskerville Affair. We were introduced to Professor Moriarty and the story even left potential for more with what happened to Tobias (sorry no spoilers). It is my hope that Holloway uses these openings she left behind to continue on with these characters, perhaps even staring a much more mature Poppy. The sign of a good book is when it leaves you wanting more and A Study of Ashes definitely had me thinking that this shouldn't be the end to such a worthy series.