(Probably more like 2.5 stars, but I rounded up.)
When I started Ashes of Twilight, I wasn't expecting anything, so as I read Kassy Tayler's novel, my hopes were neither sky high, nor too low. And I think having reasonable hopes really helped me enjoy this steampunk/dystopian mash-up more than I originally would have. Even though it wasn't a great read for me, it was a solid read, and just compelling enough to make me want to read the sequel.
Main character Wren falls into a few stereotypes - the pretty girl who doesn't see her own beauty or self-worth, and doesn't think she's worthy of love or fame - but I loved, right away, that she wanted more. Wren wasn't comfortable with life in the dome, living underground as a shiner (coming from generations of miners gives them the added benefit of seeing in the dark through eyes that literally shine). I applauded Wren's curiosity, and her drive - she wasn't so much the "special one" as in some dystopian books, as she just was an oridinary girl who wanted more out of her life. I like that about her, and that even though she makes some really bad decisions, Wren never does so selfishly, or because she wants power or leadership. She just wants to survive.
The world-building, although not the strongest I've read in other dystopians also wasn't the worst - putting it somewhere in the middle. I could believe in it, even though I saw some flaws (like: really, no one until Alex EVER questioned the dome?) It was interesting to see that society inside the dome still fell into caste systems: royals, shiners, scarabs, and so forth, and Tayler obviously gave some thought to how they all interacted together - or didn't. I was curious about the royals and wanted to know more about them, but I liked that we got a really in-depth look at the shiner's way of life. This was probably the strongest part of Ashes for me.
The plot of Ashes of Twilight wasn't bad, it just moved too jerkily for my taste, without a lot happening. At first it was all talk, talk, talk, then BAM, everything happened at once, which left the middle rather unsettling. Seeing Wren get caught up in everything was exciting, and for that part of Ashes, I did feel like I was right there with her. At that point though, Tayler's story became really predictable, which I didn't care for - but let me be clear: I still enjoyed it.
Also, a little side note: I loved that animals were given important roles, like Pip the canary, and Cat the cat. These little inclusions were cute, and gave Ashes some much-needed heart. When Tayler's writing was a bit lacking - repetitive, and well-formed, if sort of bland, the animals made me smile.
Finally, the romance. This was probably the weakest part of Ashes of Twilight for me. Wren went from being cowered by her "intended" to totally enamored within a few days for Pace, a side character who gets involved in the over-reaching plot. (Really, the continued insistence that James was an okay guy left me uncomfortable - he clearly wasn't.) Although I completely understand the circumstances under which Wren and Pace met, they quickly declared their insta-love for each other. And I don't mean a crush, or admitting to strong feelings. I mean full on eternal devotion, emotional attachment "I love you." That made me cringe, because Wren ended up losing herself in Pace, and I hate to see that in literature.
Final Thoughts: Ashes of Twilight provides solid world-building, and an interesting caste system, all of which is nicely complimented by the book's "frozen in time" feel, even though it's set in the future. Predictable twists plus insta-love kept me from really clicking with this one.