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.
Best known for playing Georgiana Darcy in the 2005 Pride & Prejudice, Merchant’s first foray into historical fantasy features inventive world building and charming illustrations by Paola Escobar.
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.
Merchant’s ingenuity is greater than her technical skill, which causes her characters and plot to fall short of her ideas. The pacing is a bit slow in the first half of the book, but the shift at Chapter 23 will keep you reading to the end. Intended for middle-grade readers ages 9–12, the most enchanting thing about Merchant’s fledgling effort is Escobar’s illustrations.