**Find this and other reviews at The Demon Librarian book blog**I cut my reading teeth on historical romances. I can still remember the first time my mom put a Victoria Holt book into my hands, and later, when my older sister and I discovered the joys of Georgette Heyer. To this day, I've got a soft spot for the genre.The Emperor's Conspiracy is a very different type of historical novel. Set in England during the Napoleonic Wars, it contains the usual lords and ladies, balls and gowns, and of course the threat of scandal if you so much as breathe wrong. But don't be fooled. This isn't your typical Regency novel. From its very first pages, The Emperor's Conspiracy plunges you into society's seething underbelly, where plots and secrets and dubious alliances abound. It's a gritty tale, one that doesn't shy away from showing us just how dark this world can be. It's a bold move on the author's part, and I applaud Michelle Deiner for writing a story with actual meat and bones instead of a fluffy, and ultimately insubstantial, historical romance. There is, I suppose, what you could call a love triangle, but once again, the author takes the road less traveled. Instead of subjecting us to the usual "torn between two lovers" nonsense, it is made clear, pretty early on, that while Charlotte and Luke may share a very complicated history, there is no chance of a romance between them. That doesn't mean, though, that their relationship doesn't play a big role in the book, because it does. In fact, without Luke, I'm not sure there would be a story at all. He's a key player in everything that happens. He just isn't the right leading man for Charlotte. Edward, on the other hand, most definitely is. I loved how the Charlotte/Edward romance developed. Though they share an immediate and mutual attraction, they can't afford to act on it, for a number of reasons. What you get instead is a lot of lingering looks, fleeting touches, and a whole lot of sexual tension. They were so intensely aware of each other....it was hot stuff, let me tell you. The only thing I did not like about this book was the ambiguous ending. I wanted a clear-cut HEA and the author didn't give me one. Sure, it was obvious where things were headed, but I wanted to "see" it for myself. I don't like having to guess and assume. It annoys me. So for that, I am knocking off half a star from my rating. If you love historical novels with substance, strong, intelligent characters, and simmering romance, The Emperor's Conspiracy is just the book for you. 3.5 Stars ★★★1/2ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.