Written by Tamzin Merchant • Illustrated by Paola Escobar • Published February 2, 2021
Celebrity author’s debut novel is a whimsical read with a plucky heroine.
In eighteenth-century London, Cordelia Hatmaker (11) is the youngest Hatmaker of Hatmaker House. Her millinery family has been crafting magical headgear since Henry VIII established six Makers of the Royal Garb: Hatmakers, Cloakmakers, Glovemakers, Watchmakers, Bootmakers, and Canemakers. Now, it’s the Hatmakers’ honor to Make a Concentration Hat for Mad King George. They have the garland of rosemary for remembrance, the skein of spider silk woven by a Brown Study Spider, the Fathom Glass droplet, and the blossom from a St. Aegis Vine. They’re just waiting for the special ingredient: the ear feather of an Athenian Owl. But when Lord Witloof arrives to announce that Prospero Hatmaker’s ship has been lost at sea, everything seems to go downhill. The Concentration Hat is trampled underfoot, the king is prescribed a trip to the seaside, and the young Princess Georgina seems powerless to help Cordelia find her father. Worse, when the princess commissions Peace Clothes to enter negotiations with Louis XVI of France, the items are stolen, one by one, from the Makers’ homes, and an emergency meeting at the Guildhall ends with the Makers at each other’s throats. Cordelia is accused of the thefts and even her secret friend, Goose Bootmaker, thinks that she had something to do with it. Lord Witloof threatens to outlaw Making if the items are not recreated by noon the next day. As the deadline approaches, can Cordelia solve the mysterious disappearance of the Clothes, stop a war, save her family’s livelihood, and change her friend’s mind? It’s a tall order, to be sure, but “with wildness in [her] wits and magic in [her] fingertips,” Cordelia Hatmaker might just have the courage and ingenuity that she needs to pull it off.
Best known for playing Georgiana Darcy in the 2005 Pride & Prejudice, Tamzin Merchant’s authorial debut features a creative story and charming illustrations by Paola Escobar. The book is marketed toward middle-grade readers age 9–12, but the vocabulary may appeal to a slightly younger audience. People of all ages may find the pacing in the first half of the novel somewhat slow, but the shift in Chapter 23 will keep most reading to the end. Unfortunately, Merchant’s ingenuity is currently greater than her technical skill, causing her plot and character development to fall short of Escobar’s illustrations.