I first tried to read April Lady five years ago but didn’t get very far with it, so when it was one of the ten books I chose at random for my Ten from the TBR project I didn’t feel very enthusiastic about trying it again. It seems, though, that it had probably just been the wrong book at the wrong time (I was very new to Heyer then and had previously only read The Talisman Ring) and on my second attempt I found it much more enjoyable.
April Lady is one of Heyer’s Regency romances – although the couple in this novel are already married at the beginning of the book and the romantic aspect of their story centres around learning to love and trust each other. Nell Irvine, our heroine, is only seventeen when she marries the Earl of Cardross in what she believes to be a marriage of convenience. Nell does love her husband, but he is much older than she is and – as her new sister-in-law informs her – he has had a mistress until very recently, so Nell isn’t sure exactly why he has chosen to marry her.
Cardross (Giles) is also very rich, but his new wife has no experience of managing money and quickly finds herself in trouble. Cardross helps her to pay off her debts, but when Nell discovers another outstanding dressmaker’s bill that she had forgotten about she decides to keep it hidden from her husband. She is sure he will be angry with her and the last thing she wants is for him to think she only married him for his money. To make matters worse, Nell has also been giving money to her brother, Dysart, to cover his gambling debts and she knows Giles won’t be happy about that either!
April Lady follows Nell as, with the help of Dysart, she tries to obtain the three hundred pounds she needs to pay the dressmaker – while ensuring that her husband is kept in blissful ignorance. It’s obvious to the reader from the beginning that Giles does love Nell and that all they need to do is talk to each other, but each is unaware of the other’s feelings and their lack of communication leads to a whole series of misunderstandings. But Nell is not the only woman with a secret in the Cardross household. Her young sister-in-law, Letty, is determined to marry the man she loves, Jeremy Allandale…but Giles disapproves. Will Letty be tempted to elope against her brother’s will?
This book reminded me very much of an earlier Heyer novel, The Convenient Marriage, which I read about a year ago. It seemed to me that the characters of Nell, Cardross and Dysart (and the relationships between them) were very similar to Horry, Rule and Pelham in The Convenient Marriage and large parts of the plot were almost the same too, right down to a scene in which Nell’s carriage is held up by highwaymen on the way to a ball. However, I didn’t find April Lady as entertaining to read as The Convenient Marriage; the dialogue wasn’t as funny and although Nell didn’t annoy me as much as Horry did, I preferred Rule to Cardross and Pelham to Dysart. Maybe I would have felt differently about this book if it had been the one I’d read first, as I found it difficult not to make comparisons.
I did enjoy April Lady but I didn’t love it and I wouldn’t rank it very highly on my list of Heyer novels read so far. I still have plenty of her books left to read, though, including some that I’m particularly looking forward to as I know they’re big favourites with Heyer fans. I’m also wondering if I could find time to read another one of her mysteries before the end of October for this year’s RIP challenge, having enjoyed Envious Casca a few years ago.