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The Emperor’s Conspiracy by Michelle Diener

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Emperors Conspiracy

Michelle Diener
Historical Romance/Fiction
Pub date: 27 Nov, 2012 (ARC review)

H/h - Lord Edward Durnham/Charlotte Raven
Setting: London, 1811.

Read in Nov, 2012.
My rating:

                                                 [spoiler alert]

I must accede to this point that Michelle Diener’s The Emperor’s Conspiracy had great potentials. I liked the author’s writing. She was a new-to-me author before I read this novel, so I didn’t know what to expect. Although I enjoyed some parts of the story, some parts left me unsatisfied and somewhat disappointed. I’ll try to elaborate in my review.

Charlotte, the h of the story, comes straight from the gutter of London. Born to a prostitute mother, who died leaving her young, Charlotte didn’t know safety in her childhood. Her mother’s co-workers were planning to sell a 4 yrs old Charlotte, until she was somewhat rescued. I must say that the majority of Charlotte’s life until now had been pretty hazy to accumulate. We just learn some stuff from the musings and so on, but some are left entirely to imagination, a process I didn’t like. She worked as a chimney sweep, and met this young boy, Luke, who protected her. It was a life of drudgery and survival. Charlotte became Luke’s lover (something that shocked me a lot) at the age to 12 because he wanted it and she wanted to return his favor for looking out for her. Anyway, one day, after an incident that left her stuck in the chimney of Catherine, the widowed Lady Howe, guardian angels finally looked down on her. As the man who employed her left, Charlotte is saved by Catherine and then, taken in as her ward. Since then, Charlotte has lived the life of a privileged. She has everything a nobleman’s daughter would have- education, poise, good humor and a fat dowry. Yet Charlotte is still unmarried. So far, we didn’t know the whys and hows of her spinsterhood. But we learn that Charlotte hovers somewhere in the middle of the both sides of London society; the gutter and the sparkle. She never feels at home, no matter how loving and protective Catherine has been to her. Charlotte’s suitors, the few ones who come across, leave her soon enough. Charlotte knows ‘the reason’, and yet, she can’t do anything. Now she has resigned to spinsterhood. Not that she was interested in any man since Luke, yet when she sees Edward, her mind changes.

In one of the country parties, Charlotte hears rumors that the host, Lord Holiday is letting his 3 young boys ‘spend the weekend’ with another lord, Frethers. Charlotte is instantly horrified. She knows Frethers and his dirty proclivity towards young boys from an experience of her past. She used to dress as boys when she was a chimney sweep.......... Even though Charlotte was saved from being molested by him, so far she couldn’t share this story with anyone. Yet, Charlotte feels the emergency. She has to save the boys. Charlotte takes a chance and talks to the boys’ mother Lady Holiday, Emma. Emma believes in her instantly and faces her husband, who stutters and stammers about the whole thing. It was well-known that Lord Holiday had a penchant for impulsive investments and lost most of their wealth. Frethers is one of the wealthiest of the Ton. The equation seemed justified to the pervert and the back-boneless little creep. Charlotte decides to leave the next day. Even though Frethers can’t recognize her anymore, she can’t tolerate another moment. Emma begs Charlotte help her as she had decided to leave her husband. Emma’s brother, Lord Durnham, Edward is in London. She doesn’t know how he’ll take all these since Edward argued against this match. But Emma and her step-father were resolute, so a strain in the relationship began. Right now, Emma doesn’t have anywhere else to go. Charlotte welcomes Emma to stay with her and Catherine. They are the only people in the house, apart from the servants and Catherine is very wealthy indeed. Emma wants to talk to Edward first, which is how, in London, Charlotte meets with him. On the first meeting, there are some attractions.

Edward is the peer of the realm and handsome, even if he looks a bit gruff for his age. Edward, by no means, is a bad man. He’s perfectly responsible and respectable. He loves his sister, but when she made her choice, he could do nothing. He works for the government in secret, something no one but a chosen few know about and so, his instincts always expressed something negative about Holiday. Emma can’t bring herself to explain what Holiday has done, and so there is a little misunderstanding. Emma leaves with Charlotte, who tells Edward that someday he’ll understand what happened. I found it hard to believe that as a secret agent and a supposedly experienced man, Edward couldn’t put the two and two together when Emma was faltering. It’s later when he meets up with Dervish, his senior and a good friend, that things become clear. Hearing Frether’s name makes Dervish pale and Edward guesses something isn’t right. Poor Dervish knows what Frethers can do, and it made me sad for him. Here, we also get little glimpses of some crime that Edward is investigating at the moment but the results are, as of yet, inconclusive.

To this far, I was quite enjoying the story. The atmosphere that MD drew was amazing. Then came more revelations about Charlotte and her involvement with the gutter side of London. Apparently, Charlotte is still involved with Luke, though not sexually. We learn that Luke asked her more than once to come and live with him, but Charlotte always made excuses not to, i.e. not wanting to leave Catherine alone etc. Whereas Charlotte was living a charmed life, Luke’s was in pure hell. He was already becoming the little crime lord when he was arrested and taken to a Hulk. Charlotte was already living with Catherine, who bailed Luke out from there. But by then, Luke was physically gravely ill and mentally battered. He had this accident that left his hips broken. And though he was able to recover with Charlotte’s care, and can walk, Luke’s in constant pain. But he doesn’t let it show. He braved everything in the last 10 or so years, his only ray of hope Charlotte. Luke couldn’t live in that life with the ‘nobs’, so he left. He wanted to make money so Charlotte would come and live with him again. But, of course, Charlotte never did. To say that Luke was disappointed wouldn’t express it quite accurately. He was hurt and hurt some more by Charlotte over the story. Luke is now one of the most prominent crime lords. He has dark, deep connections and various businesses. And he’s still taking care of Charlotte in his own way. He has men looking after her house, and some that Charlotte has taken in over the years and employed, report back to him.

Charlotte knows it all. She feels suffocated, yet no less contained that she is being looked after. Then we hear that Luke also fends off her suitors, jealous as he is. Charlotte’s musings tell us that this was one of the reasons why she never could marry. It makes her angry because she has never looked at Luke anything but a family. I can’t comment on their sex life as teenagers since that was entirely left to imagination, so much so that sometimes it was hard to believe that they were anything but platonic friends. I could see that her calculations were logical. She has come to know a better life, so how could she return to that gutter? She might’ve, if Luke used his money to live like a ‘nob’ but since he’s bitter and vengeful, Charlotte can’t possibly go back to him. Yes, she blames everything on Luke and his ‘bitterness’, yet the next moment, goes on to say that she loves him (though ‘not that way’). When all these came into light and Charlotte’s b*tchy attitude towards Luke, I begin to feel pissed. It was hard for me since in the beginning I really liked her cool carriage and her logical mind. But she came off as a cold fish, in and out. There is more of her blabbering as to why she can’t go back to Luke. I’ll come to those later on.

One day, while Charlotte goes out at night with one of her friends from the slums (now employed at Catherine’s), Kit because of Luke’s summon. Edward, who didn’t know much about Charlotte, wanted to know more and was spying on her house. He told himself that it was because he wanted to know how safe Emma was here, but there was no denying the attraction. But what is this, she going out at night? He follows her, and finds surprises after surprises. He couldn’t believe that she is actually wading through the slum at the dead of the night! Edward doesn’t know what to think. Anyway, when she’s out after sometimes (meeting Luke, who was still trying to convince her to return), Edwards begins to follow her back. On the way, he’s attacked and threatened, which told him that someone’s watching over Charlotte. This incident makes him utterly suspicious.

Luke and Charlotte’s meeting give us the glimpses of their relationship. It’s apparent that Charlotte’s safely is Luke’s first priority, no matter what... and I mean NO MATTER. Some of Luke’s men (and their women) don’t like her, and aptly call her a snotty b*tch. I felt that they cared for Luke more than her, in real sense but they were aware of Luke’s code where she was concerned. In any case, at first she would just go to meet up with Luke and forbid him to do this and that. Later, she would investigate on behalf of Edward... In between, Holiday is murdered, and a plot begins surfacing. There weren’t any close clues as to what might’ve happened but it was considered suicide. He had reasons aplenty. Emma is sad for her sons but not really devastated. Edward confronts Charlotte about her nightly jaunts, and she confesses to him about her past. It was commendable that she didn’t feel any compunction about it and was forthright even about her past relationship with Luke. Later, discussing with Dervish, when the plot of a conspiracy comes to light, Edward asks Charlotte to help him out because she knows the gutter of London well.

Edward had to tell Charlotte about his job if he wanted any help from her. Charlotte begins to feel attracted to Edward as they work together. Her denial of Luke’s request for returning to him was in the air and among the people they both know but they don’t discuss it up front anymore. Much later, when Luke would request, she’d cut him off with something or the other, trying to prove that it’s him to blame. How could I blame him for being bitter and disappointed? His life has been all but unfair and the only ray of hope for whom he has done everything, has only denied him do far. I was coming to dislike Charlotte more and more. The only thing I wanted was to yell at Luke to show her the middle finger and move on with his life, to find someone else. I had the compulsion to hold and comfort him. I felt sad. And yes, I kinda lost interest in the story too since I felt I don’t care for the main characters any longer. Don’t get me wrong, Edward was a nice hero and all, but Luke had all my attentions by then. He was way smarter than Edward, toeing his ways successfully through the dangers of the rookery.

This was what going on about 70% of the book, this miserable love triangle. If it wasn’t there, I would’ve enjoyed the story a bit more. Then, even when the plot of conspiracy by the French comes to light, it was sort of hazy IMO. Maybe it was me, I don’t know but I couldn’t really figure out what was really happening. Edward finds about Luke’s involvement in the gold smuggling though, to which Frethers, Holiday and a few other lords were also a party to. One of them even threats Charlotte, a move I thought totally moronic, seeing what a secretive issue their conspiracy is supposed be. They thought they can intimidate her with the secrets of her past. It was in the air from Edward’s attentions and all that that Charlotte was aiming to become either his mistress or his wife and these people thought revealing her past would scurry her to do their bidding; to glean information from Edward anyhow. But Charlotte wasn’t scared because Edward already knew it all. Instead she informs him about the threat.

From this point, things take rather interesting turns and let me tell you, Luke only proved what a smart SOB he is, since his involvement to the whole thing was mainly to get more information. He made money, of course but he had his own plans. But Charlotte obviously got the wrong impression about the whole thing, thinking the worse and her blame-game on Luke was still running. Some more twist about Charlotte’s paternity and the involvement of a new party at the top of this conspiracy plan come into light.

Luke still wanted revenge on the ‘nobs’, and the information he stored from the whole exchanges/his networks, could give him the lead. I didn’t, for once, think Luke was being stupid. Reckless? Yes. A bit impulsive? Kind of, since he thought, without Charlotte his life is meaningless. But, he wasn’t stupid. He knew exactly what he was doing from the beginning. And he is the one who gives them the biggest lead, all because he cared for Charlotte still, finally giving up his idea of revenge. At one point, he finally realizes that Charlotte will never be his, especially when she kept on repeating that same ol’ same ol’ sh*t- that she’d always thought of him as family. Her interest in Edward wasn’t a secret to anyone anymore. But the death knell on my dislike of Charlotte came when she said that she thought of Luke more as a ‘brother’ than anything else. Huh? OMG! WTF??? He was your lover, and you thought of him... what?? Then it was also implied that Luke has lost his manhood in that accident; another ‘logical’ reason for Charlotte to deny him, right? She did try to imply that she couldn’t take on with another man because she felt guilty that she’d would betray Luke, but her whole narrative sounded bullsh*t to me. It was so horrible; I couldn’t even imagine what Luke felt! How could I even blame him for thinking that is the main reason Charlotte wouldn’t return to him?

Then there was an epic quote by her to Edwards where she goes to explain how she never liked Luke’s touch and ‘endured’ because she felt ‘indebted’ to him (as she expressing her feeling for Edward, who was rather jealous of Luke and all the attentions Charlotte pay him *eyeroll*). To me, who’s heart was still aching for Luke, it sounded like a reason for a big, fat b*tchslap:
“Wait! I love him, but I’m not in love with him. I’ve just told you, he’s my family. My brother. Yes, I was his lover, but that was at his insistence at a time I felt too indebted to him to refuse. But since then, when he was taken to the Hulks, I have never felt any wish to lie with another man. Not once. I thought I was too cold inside. Dead there, because I was too young before and while I pretended I was happy to sleep with him, it felt wrong to me. And I dreaded it. I dreaded it so much that for a time I was relieved when he went to the Hulks. Relieved! While he was suffering unspeakable agony, I was happy I didn’t have to pretend to enjoy what he did to me.”

You don’t wanna know what I was feeling at that moment!!

So, even though I did enjoy some parts of this story (definitely the last part and the resolve of the whole conspiracy), you can see why I couldn’t enjoy it as a whole. There was no love scene and no intensity/heat in Edward and Charlotte’s relationship. I bid good riddance to her, thank you! The Emperor’s Conspiracy also had an open-ended finish, with Luke going somewhere else for a vacation. I was scared that MD would kill him off to smooth things over but thank the Lord that she didn’t. I would’ve been rather... mad, if that was the case. Now, my only wish is that someday, Luke is given the opportunity to tell his own story and find someone to love him. Don’t think I have to mention that I’ll be looking forward to that. 3.5 stars.

I was auto-approved for this ARC by Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books via edelweiss which didn’t influence my review and rating in any way.


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