Chance led to Charlotte Raven’s transformation from chimney sweep to wealthy, 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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Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for The Emperor's Conspiracy includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Charlotte Raven hasn’t always been a proper lady. Beneath her prim and proper gloves lie the scars of her former life: Charlotte used to be “Charlie,” a girl of the streets who dressed as a boy to work as a chimney sweep. After Lady Catherine Howe took her in, Charlotte gained access to the cream of the crop of London society. But Charlotte keeps a foot in her old world—she still visits the “rookeries,” London’s seamy side, to see her childhood friend Luke, who has worked his way to the top of London’s organized crime system. With her unique access to the rookeries, Charlotte is indispensable to a top-secret investigation: England’s gold is slowly disappearing, and the Crown is desperate to stop the smugglers. A handsome secret agent, Edward Durnham, needs Charlotte’s help to untangle this vast conspiracy of society lords and crime lords. But when Charlotte finds herself falling for Edward, Luke’s jealousy threatens to boil over. Charlotte soon discovers that Luke is a linchpin in the gold conspiracy, which is Napoleon’s scheme to ruin England’s economy. In the end, Charlotte realizes that as much as she longs to begin a new life with Edward, she will always be faithful to herself, from chimney sweep to proper lady.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. The Emperor’s Conspiracy opens in 1799, with a frightened child stuck in Lady Catherine Howe’s chimney. What is the effect of this brief flashback, before the novel switches to Charlotte’s adventures in 1811? What do we learn about Charlotte and Catherine’s bond through their unusual first meeting?
2. Discuss the risk that Charlotte takes in warning Emma Holliday about Lord Frethers. Why does Charlotte choose to trust Emma with the secrets of her past? How does Emma react to Charlotte’s unusual tale?
3. Recall your first impression of Lord Edward Durnham. What kind of welcome does he give Emma when she and her sons show up at his door? What does Charlotte observe about Edward on their first meeting? How do her impressions of him change throughout the rest of the novel?
4. When Charlotte considers her dual life, “She smiled at the idea of being a captive princess in the rookeries, or a restrained mouse in the glitter of the ton” (page 144). In what ways is this image of Charlotte’s life an exaggeration? What kernel of truth does the statement contain—what kind of “captive” or “mouse” is Charlotte within these two worlds?
5. By living in the gin house on Tothill Road, Luke has made “a new jail for himself, all of his own making. He could escape whenever he wanted, and yet he chose to remain” (page 227). Discuss how the gin house resembles the Hulks, the jail where Luke was confined as a youth. Why has Luke recreated the horrors of the Hulks on Tothill Road?
6. Peter, an informant from the rookeries, calls Charlotte “a hope-killer. . . . But kindness? Luck like that—it’s a million-to-one chance, and you already took the one chance going” (page 90). Explain what Peter means by a “hope-killer.” Why does he believe that Charlotte’s fate is unique? Is her success due to luck, effort, or a combination? Explain your answer.
7. Discuss the smuggling operation that Edward and Charlotte discover in The Emperor’s Conspiracy. Which part of their investigation did you find the most surprising? At which point do Edward and Charlotte begin to understand the enormity of this conspiracy?
8. Consider the two villains in The Emperor’s Conspiracy: Lord Frethers and Lord Hawthorne. What kinds of harm did each inflict on Charlotte or Edward in the past? What scars do Charlotte and Edward still bear? Which villain did you find more menacing in the end, and why?
9. Discuss the levels of surveillance on Charlotte and Edward. Why are they followed by “watchers” at every turn? How does the threat of gossip affect their budding relationship?
10. At Lady Crowder’s ball, Charlotte wonders about Edward, “Could she both want to see him, and wish she never saw him again, at the same time?” (page 191). Discuss Charlotte’s conflicted feelings for Edward. Why does she have trouble pinpointing how she feels about him? How does Lady Crowder’s ball serve as a turning point in their relationship?
11. Consider which characters in The Emperor’s Conspiracy are the most loyal and disloyal to England. Which lords of the ton and crooks of the rookeries seem most willing to betray their country? Which high-class and low-class characters try to defend the Crown, and why?
12. According to Charlotte, “we are what we make ourselves” (page 281). Discuss how this statement applies to each of the main characters of the novel: Charlotte, Edward, Luke, and Emma. How have they made their own fates? What forces are beyond their control, and how do they attempt to remake themselves within those limitations?
13. Discuss Charlotte’s relationship with members of her staff: Gary, Kit, and Betsy. Why has Charlotte brought them to Lady Catherine’s house? How does she earn their loyalty? Why does Kit agree to stop spying on Charlotte for Luke?
14. Discuss the novel’s ending, when Charlotte wonders if she will share evidence that implicates Luke in the smuggling conspiracy. Why would Charlotte choose to hide the proof from Edward? Do you think this represents a rift between Charlotte and Edward? Explain your answer.
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Learn all about London’s dynamic street language by tuning in to an NPR radio program about “Cockney rhyming slang.” Listen here: http://www.npr.org/2012/03/14/148574426/olympics-letter-from-london.
2. It’s not just in the “stews” of old London that people are homeless and hungry. Visit www.volunteermatch.org to find a nonprofit organization that helps the homeless in your area. Consider volunteering or donating to a local shelter.
3. Come to your book club meeting dressed in the styles of Regency England! Whether you choose to be a chimney sweep of the rookeries or a lady of the ton, wear some accessories that represent early-nineteenth-century England. For some inspiration on the fashions of the era, visit http://www.fashion-era.com/regency_fashion.htm.
4. The Emperor’s Conspiracy is inspired by a true story: France’s secret smuggling operation during the Napoleonic Wars! Read about England’s struggle to suppress smuggling before, during, and after the wars at this informative site: http://www.smuggling.co.uk/history_expansion.html.
5. Learn about the Hulks and other jails in British history through this illustrated BBC News timeline: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/4887704.stm.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
*Huge sigh of satisfaction* This is THAT book, the one where history melts into the background, the writing disappears and players emerge spitting character and bold love so that... I sigh. Charlotte - Charlie - is a great character. She's headstrong and intelligent. Her guardian/savior is the sweetest, smartest lady. It's a household of two great brains with different kinds of strength and I loved seeing the strong women. Charlie's childhood friend, the crime lord, is so dark and mysterious and powerful. I loved the dirty grit of the streets and the society that pulsed beneath the city. There's no fluffy cuteness about it... it's as real as poverty. Edward Durnham really doesn't have much of a chance of participating in Charlie's life or in this story, but he's stubborn and persistent and won't take "stay away" as an answer. He causes more trouble than he helps, sometimes, blundering where he doesn't belong. But his heart has been awoken and he understands Charlie in ways no one else can. I love his view of her and their romance is delicate and fresh. I could hug the pacing... this book is hard to put down. It flies by. I might have been frustrated only because it ended and I could have continued reading their story for a long time. My Rating: 5 - I need this book in my library so I can reread it often!! (I rec'd my ARC from Edelweiss.) I love a story that doesn't center around romance, but yet has some... a story that has so much tangible history, but doesn't clobber me with it... a mystery that I can't second-guess and is not overbearing. This is one of my favorite books this year. Like this, Like that... I was reminded a little of Soulless, Alanna, & Crown Duel. There's a bit of mystery and smart players, a great thief and underworld, but also a play-acting society where appearances rule. I loved the smart new combination of some of my favorite elements!
The setting, pace, writing and characters were written well. Moments where it got weird, creepy but where you couldn't stop reading, wanting to know what happens next. The ending was unexpected but not quite at the same time. It makes you wonder is it going to have a sequel or will it be left as it is? Love the cover though. Mysterious but interesting as well.
What were the odds for a beautiful child dumped in the slums of London to fend for herself? If not for a young boy of streets taking Charlotte Raven under his wings she would not have survived. She disguised herself as a boy and worked as a chimney sweep. The options for little girls was even worse than that of a boy chimney sweep. She would have permanent scars from the work. One day as she is cleaning a chimney she becomes stuck in the chimney her only alternative was to go further up the chimney and come out in another apartment. What happens next will expose her as being a girl into the hands of a child molester. She manages to escape the horrible man and get back up the chimney and into the apartment of an angel. This angel becomes her guardian and gives her a life that is only for the rich elite of London. Charlotte never turned her back on the people that were there for her while living in the slums. They remained an important part of her life. Charlotte turns into a beautiful woman of influential society attending parties and being sought out by potential suitors. While attending a party she over hears a conversation from the very man that tried to molest her as a child. He is planning to have the children of her hostess to come stay at his home. She feels she must warn the woman. In an attempt to protect the children from this evil man the mother agrees to leave her home with the children and stay with her brother Lord Edward Durnham or with Charlotte. Now not only is Charlotte in danger but so is Lord Edward. Something is not right, it seems Lord Edward's brother-in-law has gotten into something very shady and has put everyone in danger. Who is the villain behind all of this chaos? The author has written a nail biting novel with mystery, suspense and romance. A who done it that will no doubt surprise the reader. There is also a reconciliation of ones past in order to follow God's will. Charlotte's character is a headstrong and fearless woman not to be messed with. Lord Edward reminds me of the saying, "his bark is bigger than his bite". Which is an attitude he acquired from an unhappy childhood of emotional abuse. I highly recommend this book. Disclosure: I won a copy of this book from the author and was not required to write a review. This is my hones opinion.
Michelle Diener in her new book, “The Emperor's Conspiracy” published by Gallery Books takes us into the life of Charlotte Raven. From the back cover: From nineteenth-century London’s elegant ballrooms to its darkest slums, a spirited young woman and a nobleman investigating for the Crown unmask a plot by Napoleon to bleed England of its gold. Chance led to Charlotte Raven’s transformation from chimney sweep to wealthy, 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. Michelle Diener has done it again which means get ready for a nail-biting, page-turning thriller. Ms. Diener knows how to write history. There really was a secret smuggling operation by France to drain England’s gold. Lord Edward Durnham is assigned to put an end to this conspiracy and he needs Charlotte to aid him. Joining forces puts both their lives in deadly danger as they race about trying to find England’s enemies to end their threat. ”The Emperor’s Conspiracy” is well crafted suspense. It is also a good romance as well. Ms. Diener creates characters are so real that you care for all of them. “The Emperor’s Conspiracy” is great fun to read. I am so hoping that there will be more stories featuring Charlotte and Lord Edward. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Gallery Books. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
If you love historical novels with a a touch of suspense and a hint of mystery, Michelle Deiner’s latest novel, The Emperor’s Consiracy, is sure to please. The author has a knack for writing snappy, action packed novels that are quick and easy to read – pure delight for those who love to escape into a page turner. In The Emperor’s Conspiracy, a young woman named Charlotte Raven, who rose to great wealth from the dregs of England’s impoverished slums, finds herself aiding English Lord Edward Durnham in thwarting a plot by Napoleon to steal a great deal of England’s wealth. Because of her connections to the underworld from which she was raised from, Charlotte is able to lead Edward through a maze of cutthroats, murderers, and crime lords to thwart the plot. Set in 19th century London, the story is full of colorful characters from all walks of life. The tale sweeps us into luscious ball rooms and then plunges us into slimy back streets. The heroine struggles to move away from her past, but her character never forgets those who once aided her when she was most desperate. The author knows how to write to make reading easy and pleasurable. This story was interesting from start to finish. Definitely another winner for this terrific author. Recommended for those who love historical fiction and who want a quick and intriguing read.