At the heart of April Lady lies a cautionary tale about how suspicion and resentment can grow when spouses do not communicate with one another. However, there was nothing preachy about this enjoyable novel, told with Georgette Heyer's customary wit.
Nell is a 19-year-old bride, madly in love with her husband, Lord Cardross. She fears, however, that this worldly, much older gentleman married her only because he needed a wife and found Nell more amiable than other ladies of the ton. She cannot forget her mother's admonitions not to hang on Giles and to look the other way should he take a mistress. So she holds him at arm's length ...
Giles is head-over-heels in love with Nell but suspects she only married him for his vast fortune. After all, he brought the dibs into tune again for her impoverished father and brother (i.e. got them out of debt). His suspicions grow after Nell overspends her quarterly allowance and seems to be concealing something from him. So he holds her at arm's length ...
Nell finds herself in debt partly because she lent her brother Dysart, a chronic gambler, 300 pounds, something which her husband had asked her not to do. She believes Giles has settled all of her bills, but she forgets one tucked at the back of a drawer: 300 pounds for a lavish court dress. Ashamed and fearful of Giles's reaction, she asks her brother to raise the money for her. Of course, complications ensue.
The reader is aware all along Giles would forgive his bride if only she told him the whole truth. But she is young, lacks confidence and is terrified of losing any affection he may hold for her. Nell could have been a tiresome character, but in Heyer's hands I found myself rooting for her. Toward the end of the novel, she finds her confidence and strength, which was a joy to see.
Two subplots concern Letty, Giles's flighty, naive half-sister, who is determined to marry a young man of no fortune and position, and Dysart, a well-meaning rouge who has fallen into bad company. Heyer deftly resolved these plot threads with a great deal of sparkling humor. Dysart, in fact, helps Nell out of her difficulties in ways she never expected.
Once again, Heyer's characterizations were one of the best things about the novel. Even when the characters exasperated me, I sympathized with them. They were all likable despite their many flaws. Heyer's characters are so vivid, they seem to live on after I have reached the final page.
My favorite minor character was a cousin of Letty's who helped her and her beau meet and make plans behind Giles's back. The cousin, Selina, imagined herself as the heroine of a Gothic novel, complete with melodramatic dialogue. Her scenes were laugh-out-loud funny (even my husband thought so when I read one aloud to him.)