The Magic Jack-o'-Lantern
How do you feel about brownies? Oh, not the edible kind but the shaggy, brown, invisible kind? For those not in the know, brownies supposedly resided in every home in England, taking care of little every day details for the owners. Some people could even see these brownies and befriended them. In Sandra Heath’s The Magic Jack-o’-Lantern, brownies are an integral part of the story. Miss Polly Peach lives at Horditall House with her uncle and Bodkin, the resident brownie. Halloween is right around the corner and while Bodkin is looking forward to it (it’s his birthday as well) , he is still distraught over the loss of his sweetheart Nutmeg (yes, another brownie) who had seemingly disappeared a few months earlier.
It takes two incidents, occurring almost simultaneously, to get the ball rolling. The first is Sir Dominic Fortune riding by Horditall House, which happens because Polly’s neighbor put up signposts stating it’s the way to Bath. Of course, it’s really a money-making scheme because the signposts don’t really lead to Bath, but to the neighbor’s yard, where, when the carriages get stuck, he charges their owners for use of his yard. Polly almost calls out a warning to Dominic, but decides against it when he gives her a haughty and condescending look.
The second incident is Bodkin’s discovery that Polly’s Uncle Hordwell had sold Nutmeg to Sir Benjamin Beddem, the man that her uncle wants Polly to marry. Beddem, taking a page from Nostradomus, stands to make a lot of money from Nutmeg. He has the ability to make her visible to everyone and plans to charge money for this. Since brownies are furry and about two feet tall, they would be quite a sight to see. But a funny thing happens to an upset brownie: he or she becomes a boggart. As a boggart, brownies can cause no end of mischief and frustration. Bodkin decides to go to Bath to find Nutmeg and make Beddem’s and Hordwell’s life miserable. Polly, being a peach of a gal, makes off for Bath right behind him.
In Bath, Polly doesn’t find Bodkin but she does find Sir Dominic. The two recognize each other and Dominic is furious at Polly for not warning him about her neighbor. In return she tells him he was too haughty for his own good and got what he deserved. Dominic is in Bath to find a wife since his supposed true love, Lady Georgiana, has decided to on someone else. It is then that the first of many, far too many, misunderstandings occur – Bodkin believes Polly has betrayed him. From there, they just snowball. Misunderstanding heaped upon misunderstanding. You know what they say; too may misunderstandings spoil the story – or something like that. Bodkin keeps causing trouble, Dominic thinks it’s Polly, Polly knows it’s Bodkin but how can she tell Dominic? When she finally does tell him; he takes it a little too well and agrees to help find Nutmeg. Just when you think the misunderstandings are done, another one pops up, and then another. After about eight or nine of them, I wanted to scream. In general, I am not a fan of the Big Misunderstanding, but when they are used judiciously there is less to complain about. They are not used judiciously here.
Eventually, the villain is vanquished, Bodkin finds Nutmeg and Dominic finds his bride, Polly. Separately, I enjoyed Polly and Dominic, but together they got on my nerves. Sir Dominic seems to fall out of love with Georgiana fairly quickly after just professing his love for her. Polly is suspicious at first, and who would blame her? The most likable characters in the book are the brownies. Not only do we have Bodkin but we are introduced to Ragwort, a city brownie who is an expert on brownie lore.
If you have enjoyed Sandra Heath’s Regency Romances in the past, you might like this quirky story. But for me, the misunderstandings and the fact that I just couldn’t connect with the hero and heroine really spoiled the story. And while I did enjoy the brownies, all in all, I’d rather have the edible ones.