April Lady (by Georgette Heyer)

Georgette Heyer is unquestionably my favourite historical novelist. I own almost all of her books, and re-read them all periodically. They're not full of realism and gory details like so many other historical novels; instead they're character-driven with light romances, a great deal of incidental social history, and some humour. Oh, and they generally have a significant amount of plot too.

'April Lady', which I last read in 2001, features Giles, Lord Cardross, and his young wife, Nell. They married a year before the book opens. Giles had rescued Nell's family from a vast amount of debt, but she has no idea that he really loves her: she thought he just wanted to get married, and decided she was the least bad of the ladies available. He also does not know that Nell loves him: as time goes by, and she shows amazing extravagance and poor management, he wonders if she only married him for his money.

The plot revolves around Nell discovering a huge debt which she had forgotten to show her husband. A ball dress, which cost her £300. I find myself almost staggering at this amount: £300 sounds like a lot of money to pay for a dress even in 2005 (though no doubt ball-dresses do cost this much or more) but a couple of hundred years ago, it's a fantastic amount of money.

Not that Giles can't afford it - he really is very rich - but Nell, who loves him, is also scared of losing him. It doesn't help that she's lent £300 to her brother Dysart, who is a rather wild young man and has lost it gambling. So he tries to find ways to raise the money - including some very dubious methods - while Nell becomes increasingly more worried.

Meanwhile, Giles' excitable and passionate half-sister Letty, who lives with them, is in love with the strait-laced and somewhat unsuitable Jeremy Allendale.

The interactions between the characters are what drive this story forward: seeing their differing perspectives, understanding a bit of what goes on in their minds. Of course there's a highly satisfactory ending after a rather dramatic climax; even Georgette Heyer tended to be rather formulaic in her writing at times. But it's a formula I very much enjoy.

This isn't my favourite of her novels, but it's probably in my top twenty. The only (minor) problem that some people might have is the significant amount of period slang - highly authentic, as far as I know, but sometimes rendering conversations between minor characters rather difficult to follow.

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