Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Emperor's Conspiracy by Michelle Diener

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: January 1, 2013

Chance led to Charlotte Raven’s transformation from chimney sweep to zwealthy, educated noblewoman, but she still walks a delicate tightrope between two worlds, unable to turn her back on the ruthless crime lord who was once her childhood protector. When Lord Edward Durnham is tapped to solve the mystery of England’s rapidly disappearing gold, his search leads him to the stews of London, and Charlotte becomes his intriguing guide to the city’s dark, forbidding underworld. But as her involvement brings Charlotte to the attention of men who have no qualms about who they hurt, and as Edward forges a grudging alliance with the dangerous ghosts of Charlotte’s former life, she faces a choice: to continue living in limbo, or to close the door on the past and risk her heart and her happiness on an unpredictable future.

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Sixth months. That is how long I eyed Michelle Diener's work before getting my hands on a copy. The premise intrigued me, but even after buying the book I was hesitant. I had never encountered Diener's in my literary wanderings before and despite my optimism, I was nervous the piece wouldn't live up to my expectations. As it turns out I needn't have worried. I found The Emperor's Conspiracy both a satisfying and enjoyable read. Fair warning, there are spoilers ahead.

Still with me? Fantastic. First and foremost I love how Diener incorporated a real event into her fiction. At first glance Napoleon's attempt to destroy the English economy by exporting gold guineas sounds entirely too far-fetched to be true but then again, the best historic events are the ones that don't seem at all possible. Diener got a lot of points not only for exposing me to an event of which I was previously unaware, but also for the creativity she exhibited in adapting it to her fiction.

As for the fictional premise, well a chimney sweep turned noblewoman was and is a little too implausible for my taste, but I will say it made Charlotte's adventures into the rookeries relatively believable. Don't misunderstand, I really liked how it all played out, but the amateur historian in me wasn't exactly jumping for joy. It is a delightfully fun idea, but lacking the authenticity I look for in historic fiction and though I expected this going into the book, I wanted to share this personal preference in my review as it helps explain the rating I ultimately issued and serves as a bit of a warning to those who prefer weightier historic pieces.

Now I want to talk about character analysis, or rather one particular character analysis: Luke Braken. Oh my goodness, I love this guy. Driven, dedicated, resourceful, I'll admit he is a little warped, but I still can't get over the depth Diener put into him. At first his possessive regard for Charlotte annoyed me, but he became increasingly fascinating as more and more of his background came to light. Then came the moment. "'You want to talk to me about the thousands starving in the stews, while nobs like you ride past them in carriages that cost enough to keep them for life? You want to talk about the Hulks, and Old Bailey, where they lock up children as young as six years old, punishing them as it they were adults, all for take a scrap or two to feed themselves or their families? You want to stand there and tell me I betrayed England? No, Lord Nob, England has betrayed me.'" In that passage he became something entirely different; wounded, complicated, provocative, memorable. Did I mention I loved this character?

By contrast Charlotte and Edward left me wanting. Our heroine was interesting enough, but she never had that defining moment. She spends most of the story trying to keep a foot in each world and though she ultimately stands up and declares she will no longer live to please those around her, the moment is significantly subtler than Luke's, almost anticlimactic by comparison. Edward's journey is similarly bland. Like Charlotte's, it never stuck the chord I wanted it to.

So, will I be reading Diener again? Without a doubt. The Emperor's Conspiracy definitely isn't your average regency romance, that's for sure. An entertaining series of imaginative story lines interwoven with a complex historic mystery, perfect for any lover of light historic fiction.

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She smiled at the idea of being a captive princess of the rookeries, or a restrained mouse in the glitter of the ton. But Catherine's love and generosity had never come with a single string attached. That was what had won her battle.
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1 comment:

Marg said...

I liked this a lot too, and like you this was my first introduction to Diener's writing. I do want to read more.