Within Ash and Stardust is the third and final installment in Chani Lynn Feener’s Xenith Trilogy, and while it did wrap up the series satisfactorily enough, it just fell a little flat for me.
This series is very much about a love triangle and it doesn’t hide that, which is fine; while it’s not my favorite trope, I’m willing to keep an open mind with love triangles so long as the story is compelling. In the first two books, this was the case; the love triangle at least worked in tandem with the political machinations and survival efforts of the characters, developing in reaction to the plot rather than being the only thing happening. Unfortunately, that is not the case in Within Ash and Stardust, where the main concern in every scene is very much about what Delaney is feeling about Ruckus and Trystan, regardless of whose POV we’re seeing, and the greater conflict over the fate of the two warring kingdoms feels like it’s only there to ensure there is action rather than because it is important to the story.
I just didn’t feel the stakes of the outer conflict, and that’s probably because they weren’t emphasized much. I vaguely remember from when I read the second book, Between Frost and Fury, Trystan’s father managing to threaten Earth as well as all of Xenith to blackmail Delaney into cooperating, but the only reference we get of that is along the lines of “and then he wants to conquer Earth too,” rather than reminding us specifically how or why this is a plausible danger. Even in terms of the fate of Xenith, where the characters are actually running and fighting, the danger doesn’t seem imminent until close to the end; Delaney even has time to go on a date with each of her would-be love interests in the midst of this life-and-death mission to make sure she’s good and torn about who to choose in the end. I don’t think my focus would be on living out an episode of The Bachelorette if I were anticipating the attack of a power-hungry homicidal king.
As to the love triangle itself, I understand why the author wanted to pair Delaney with Trystan over Ruckus (and I don’t count this as a spoiler because it’s pretty obvious once you get into book two that’s where the author wants it to go); while we do get more from Ruckus’s point of view in this book than we did in Between Frost and Fury, he still doesn’t get much more depth or development, leaving Trystan far and away the more interesting character. However, I couldn’t bring myself to celebrate Delaney’s choice. Trystan is a better man by the end of the series, but I still don’t know that the relationship is the healthiest; Delaney actually chose him in spite of the fact she still believed he might not let her go if she chose otherwise. Trystan does reveal in the end he wouldn’t do this anymore, which is good, but Delaney still made her choice before knowing he’d changed that much. I do like, however, that the author included Ruckus’s realization that he’d changed enough that he considered himself more of Earth than Xenith alongside Delaney’s increasing investment in Xenith’s fate; that added a deeper, more interesting layer to his and Delaney’s relationship so that her choice wasn’t entirely to do with who she loved more, but who was growing in the same direction she was.
Overall, I give Within Ash and Stardust 2.5 stars. It completes the series satisfactorily enough, but it’s not all that compelling on its own.