Review: The Emperor's Conspiracy by Michelle Diener

Sunday, August 19, 2012
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 338 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected November 27 2012
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 3/5

Set in early nineteenth-century England, this vivid and romantic historical novel goes from the most elegant ballrooms of London to the city’s most tawdry slums, as a spirited young woman helps unravel a plot by Napoleon to bleed England of all its gold.

Through good fortune, Charlotte Raven escaped the poverty of the London slums and is now an educated, wealthy Society lady. But she lives between two worlds, unable to completely turn her back on her old life—specifically Luke, her childhood protector and now a ruthless London crime lord.

When Lord Edward Durnham is asked to investigate the alarming movement of gold out of England, his search leads him to London, and his recent acquaintance with Charlotte affords him access to a dark world he barely knew existed. As they delve deeper into the underbelly of London, danger lurks at every turn, and Charlotte must navigate between her two worlds to save England.

And soon she faces a defining choice: to continue in the familiar limbo she’s lived in for years, or to take a painful and risky leap toward a happiness she never thought possible.

I hate to damn The Emperor's Conspiracy with faint praise, but the best adjectives I can come up with to describe it are: Decent. Okay. Not bad. Adequate. I was entertained, but never invested or engrossed in the story. All in all, it was an alright novel with less than perfect characterization. It also wasn't the exciting mystery I had hoped to get, and at times this read much more like a historical romance than a historical fiction novel... but it wasn't horrible. It just wasn't a great read for me, personally, though I can easily see why others might feel differently when it comes out later this year. It can be entertaining and amusing, but the flat characters, the cliched love triangle, and the third person limited POV didn't do much to make me fully invested, either. I didn't hate it and I would probably read another novel from this author -- especially since she has two Tudor-era novels, which is much more my forte than Regency England -- but this one, plain and simply, just didn't live up the inner expectations I had for it. (Yep, damning with faint praise it is.)

Easily started and finished in the same day, this Regency-era look at Britain and the main characters of Charlotte Raven and Lord Edward Durnham came off as somewhat cliche in several areas. I will say this for it: it reads quite easily and quickly. There's the down on her luck lady with a checkered past, caught between the crime lord she owes her survival to and the Lord who wants her for independence, fiery will, and humor. Unfortunately, these are all pretty shallow characters and their interactions across the board come off as formulaic and predictable throughout the novel. Neither Charlotte, nor Edward, or Luke, really get the time and attention they deserve. And what we do know about them is told to the reader, instead of shown by their actions or dialogue. They might be interesting, but they are sadly one-dimensional.

There's much more time and pages spent setting up a contest over protagonist Charlotte's affections than there is time spent on constructing a good conspiracy, or y'know, actually moving the plot along. Complete with one of my least favorite plot devices, instalove (honestly, what draws Charlotte and Edward together so fast? I read the damn thing and I can't tell you), The Emperor's Conspiracy falls victim to many easily avoidable traps. The plot takes way too long to kick in due to the first hundred pages being big on setting the scene, establishing the smallish cast of characters and their respective relationships. In a book of only 320 pages for the final edition, that is too long without any momentum or action or revelations abut the conspiracy at the heart of everything. The overall antagonist lacks a presence and I found the red herrings to be obvious as well as the final reveal. A little more subtlety or more authorial sleigh of hand would have gone a long way to making the conspiracy of the title more riveting.

For all my issues, I did like this for a couple reasons: it actually introduced me to some new facts about Britain and Napoleon's long-lived enmity for the country. Luke's experiences in the prison hulks was something I had never ever heard of, and gave his plotline a little more life than the others had. Also, the fact that the conspiracy Diener writes of is based in actual fact. That is fascinating to me; much more so than the scant attention it warrants here -- until the final 50 pages, that is. If there had been more interaction and attention spent with that aspect of the novel, rather than the pissing contest over Charlotte's time and attention and all people watching people watching other people for other people, I would've found myself giving this at least a 3.5/3.75 stars instead of merely a three.

The ending was nicely handled, and for once with this book, it didn't go the way I had predicted. The open-ended nature of the last page leaves room for maneuvering and a possible sequel, which is totally alright with me. I may have been less than enthused with my first experience with Michelle Diener's writing, but it probably will not be my last.


  1. Awesome review, as usual -- although how sad am I that this just failed?! Le sigh.

    1. I feel the same way. A lot of potential wasted on the same old same old. Sigh.


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