The Emperor’s Conspiracy by Michelle Diener brilliantly ties in Napoleon Bonaparte’s shrewd operation to steal gold guineas meant for England’s treasury with the owlers in London’s rookeries who perform the grunge work and facilitate the operation coordinated by members of England’s upper echelon who are profiting from the transaction and give the owlers their orders. This is the setting for a budding romance between an English agent investigating the case and a lady who is the point in which all the lines meet. Diener’s story has multiple layers and never once does the reader feel lost in the entanglements. She sheds light on an aspect of Regency England which isn’t often illuminated in literature, and she does so while incorporating a heart pounding romance.
The cast of players is a rich assortment of characters. The lady in the center of it all is Charlotte Raven who leads a somewhat double life with one foot in the rookeries where she was raised by her unwed mother and worked as a chimney sweeper, and the other foot in the privileged world of England’s aristocracy after Lady Catherine Howe makes Charlotte her ward. Caught between her past and her present situation which enables her the means to improve her life and that of her friends, Charlotte stands still on the cusp of a crossroads where she must choose which road she will take for good.
The English agent Lord Edward Durnham becomes a catalyst for Charlotte helping her see the choice is clear. They meet under uncommon circumstances as Charlotte has saved his nephews from being molested by a member of England’s haute ton. Both grateful and suspicious, Durnham never lets Miss Raven out of his sights which is precarious as she is being guarded by the crime lord Luke Bracken who owes his life to Charlotte, affectionately calling her “Charlie” for donning boys clothes when she lived in the rookeries.
Between the interactions of Edward, Charlotte and Luke, the illicit scheme orchestrated by Napoleon is revealed incrementally to the reader, or at least Diener’s interpretation of how the scheme played out. She tells in the author’s notes that historical evidence shows Napoleon conceived a plot to push England into an economic collapse by means of smuggling all of the country’s gold. This is likely why historians tout Boney, as he has been sardonically referred to, as a clever strategist and a superior leader.
Diener’s story illuminates aspects of history which aren’t often depicted in literature. Her attributes as a writer make it possible for readers to comprehend the complexity of Napoleon’s scheme and the integration of England’s upper and lower echelons of society who turn to each other in order to profit. It’s a story which fans of romance and Regency England will applaud.