*claps slowly* Well played, Ms. Carriger. Well played, indeed. Coming into the penultimate book in the Parasol Protectorate, I was curious to see how, exactly, the supernatural chessboard would be set. And it delights me to say that HOLY CRAP that ending was brilliant. I imagine that Gail Carriger sits there, smiles to herself and sips tea as she quite calmly sets off her plot guns. From the beginning, you can see the plot quietly clicking in motion: The vampires are pissed about Alexia being pregnant; the ghosts are worried over a plot to kill the queen; and Alexia’s man harem of Conall, Lyall and Akeldama have concocted a plot to keep the werewolves and the vampires happy. And as things escalate, the twists and turns that the plot throws at the reader fall into a much larger picture of what’s been really going on. There’s no eight-foot tall obvious signs, but quiet little clues that got hinted at or a nod as Alexia uncovers more of the past. And this is where her world-building shines. There’s several plot threads that tie back into the previous books (specifically Changeless) and they just add to the larger history. And the revelations, while at first shocking, completely make sense. For example, there is a very big revelation involving Lyall. When I read this part, I had to restrain myself from the automatic reaction of chucking my book across an airport concourse while screaming incoherently. The fact that I wanted to read more and that I was in public made me keep going.Alexia manages to become fiercer with each book. The ending of Heartless is pretty much one big Crowning Moment of Awesome for her as Alexia wrangles her way out of a massive political situation. And fights off a many-tentacled octomaton through the streets of London. While eight months pregnant. And she manages to remain strong-willed, lady-like and relatively calm throughout everything. Yet, Alexia’s still prone to making mistakes. We spend half the book relating about a plot against the queen, and Alexia digs deeper into the past—until she re-examines the initial message. Her general dislike for her half-sisters leads to another revelation and mistake. But the flaws and cock-ups only serve to make Alexia more believable and real. (If you notice that I’m dancing around plot points, it’s intentional. You HAVE to read this for yourself.) Conall’s attention to his pack really shows in this installment. In the last two books, we got the sense of how close wolfpacks are, but we never really get to see how much Conall cares about his fellow pack members. Yes, he’s brash and occasionally to concerned about how soon he can bed his wife. But you see how much he cares about each individual wolf. This mostly shows up with Biffy’s continued lack of control and resistance to his change. Conall knows Biffy hates it, but he’s going to help the boy as best as he can. Speaking of, holy tragic wolf-vamp romance, Batman. Akeldama’s put up more of a front than ever, and time Biffy comes up in conversation, another piece of my heart crumbles into bits.Normally, I’d squee over Lyall at this point but—gah. Yes, he’s still my favorite character, but…that aforementioned revelation just about killed me.Ivy continues to be more awesome with each book. I loved her nonchalant “Yes, and?” reaction when Alexia reveals her soulless nature. And she’s a surprisingly effective spy! The thought of Ivy (aka Puff Bonnet) spying for Alexia delights me so.And then there's Genevieve. Oh, ma cherie. Much like Floote, she’s one of the most aloof characters in the series, and with each book, there’s so much more mystery added to her. She’s in this book as much, but her appearances were so well-done, and I can’t get any further than that.It honestly astounds me that this series isn’t as popular as it should be. It’s fantastically well-written and fun and entertaining and has everything in a book and it all works. There’s two reasons why I’m disappointed with this book and those are a) it’s not next March and b) there’s only one more book in the first series. This is one of the best historical romance/paranormal/steampunk series out there and just needs more love.