I didn't review the previous books in the Parasol Protectorate, but if I had, I would have rated them at four and five stars. Given that, I was surprised that I can only grant three stars to _Heartless_.
Before I get as to why that is so, let me just briefly lay out the plot. _Heartless_ finds the "preternatural" Alexia now in the final weeks of her pregnancy and with very limited mobility suddenly called upon to quash a plot against the Queen's life, find a solution to continual vampire attempts on her own life, deal with her French inventor friend's melancholy (and crazy ghost Aunt), cope with her much unbeloved sister taking up residence in her home, and integrate a very unwilling new werewolf into her husband's pack. As usual, all these tasks will be accomplished with the assistance (competent or otherwise) of her unflappable butler, "looming" husband, oblivious best friend, London's gayest vampire, great quantities of tea and the worlds most dangerous parasol.
Why does this mix work less well here than in previous books? The answer will involve
First of all, Alexia seemed off her game in this book. Granted she is very pregnant, but that shouldn't have affected her wits. For some reason I never quite grasped, she becomes sure that the current attempt on "the Queen" must be tied to a failed attempt by the Scottish werewolves 20 years ago, and despite being told by multiple trustworthy people that it's very unlikely and no good can come from delving into that history, she bulls on. And in fact, there is no connection, and she learns things that make her very unhappy, ie: what everyone told her about the course of action was true. Now, clearly the sequence serves a purpose in the series meta-plot as important details about her father, husband, and other players are revealed, but by tying it all to a red-herring plot point, Carriger makes it all feel forced and unsatisfying. Surely the same facts could have been established in a more relevant manner?
Aside from wasting her time on a dead end, Alexia also seems much too oblivious to the consequences of introducing a swarmed vampire hive to her pack's castle. If the reader can pretty much predict the consequences (at least to the point of the hive not being able to leave if not that the werewolves will have to), then surely Alexia, who *lives* in the setting and is quite smart should be able to. She also misses clues about the emotional state of her inventor friend and her "son"'s strange absence.
This book also unwisely introduces (or at least I cannot recall it being stated in an earlier book) the concept that the location of vampire hives is secret. This is clearly nonsensical given that they host social functions constantly and that carraiges from all over London must converge there. However, even allowing that the way we allow that Lois never could tell Clark from Superman because of the glasses, it fails completely in that the London vampires have been trying to kill Alexia for months. It is one thing to keep someone's secret when you are nominally at peace, it is quite another to keep it (and for them to assume you will keep it) when they are making constant attempts on your life.
The ghost POV sections seem unnecessary to me as well, and really add very little to the book. (I'm also not clear why the ghost sees getting a message to Alexia as important).
That's not to say there aren't plenty of things to like about this book, for instance Alexia's complaint to her friend (more or less): "And creating an octomaton and rampaging across town was your first idea rather than talking to me?", the ongoing idea that Ivy is not as clueless as she seems and of course the sheer satisfaction of being able to consign one's sister to the dungeon.
Unanswered question 1 (or perhaps I just missed it): How *did* Biffy get out?
Unanswered question 2: Didn't anyone tell the cover artist that Alexia was very pregnant?