The Hatmakers by Tamzin Merchant

Imagine if clothes could affect your mood or change aspects of your personality. A hat could give you a confidence boost, give you a dash of bravado, help you sleep or fall in love. In Tamzin Merchant’s enchanting debut middle grade book, The Hatmakers, clothes have these magical properties and their creators are highly valued craftspeople.

Cordelia is part of the Hatmaker family. For centuries her family have been the creators of the headpieces worn by the British royal family. They use their skills to create hats that keep the monarchs level-headed, improve their concentration and help them negotiate peace. They use materials from plants, birds, and insects to create their masterpieces. The Bootmakers, Cloakmakers, Glovemakers and Watchmakers also create their masterpieces, that come together to form the Royal Garb. While the clothes have power individually, they are more powerful if all of them are worn at the same time. However, a rift between the families has left them untrusting of each other. The Hatmakers work their magic, not only for the royal family, but for anyone who needs a special hat to improve their life. When Cordelia receives word that her father’s ship has been wrecked and he is missing, she knows that he can’t be dead. She knows that she needs to ask the king to send a ship to find him. The King, however, is acting rather strangely indeed. It is hoped that a special hat will return the king to normal, but when this doesn’t work, the king’s advisor, Lord Witloof, suggests a holiday by the sea might help and puts Princess Georgina in charge. Cordelia knows that she must convince the princess to send a ship to find her father but every attempt to ask for her help is thwarted. Meanwhile, each of the Maker’s houses are broken into and their precious materials, needed for making their creations, are stolen. Cordelia is accused of being the thief and so she sets out to discover the true thief. She uncovers a plot that will set England at war with France, and when the rest of her family are imprisoned, it is up to Cordelia and her friends to foil the plot and save her family.

The Hatmakers is tantalisingly good! From the moment I picked up this book I was captivated by its magic and I didn’t want to put it down. Tamzin takes us back to a time to a London filled with horse and carts, Lords and Ladies, scruffy orphans and lavish palaces. While it seems familiar, it is also a London filled with magic, where clothes can make a person who they wish to be. As with all magic there is a dark side to this creation of garments, and one particular outfit will make your skin crawl. There are plenty of twists in the story to keep you guessing, with many of the characters not who they first appear to be.

There are so many things I loved about this book. Tamzin is a gifted storyteller, whose words wrap you up in a comforting blanket. I became immersed in her story as soon as I started reading and the language that she uses paints a vivid picture of her world. The idea of clothes being created, with special ingredients entwined in them and added to them to give them certain properties, is just amazing. It is fascinating to read the descriptions of Cordelia’s aunts and uncle creating the different aspects of the hats. Cordelia is left in charge of the hat shop in one part of the story and she knows that she is not allowed to create new hats. However, she has several customers who come in to the shop needing specific hats. This was my favourite part of the book, as Cordelia creates hats for them (even though she knows she shouldn’t) and the hats have unexpected consequences. Two young men, who need a hat to help them win a pistol duel, get hats of a different kind, and an actor gets more than a cure for stage fright. I love the idea of food being a kind of magic too. The Hatmaker’s Cook suggests that food is a kind of magic because it ‘can heal all manner of maladies.’

Tamzin’s glossary at the back of the book adds even more to the story. The glossary is fascinating and lists the ingredients that are ‘most potent and valuable for apprentice hat makers.’ Each ingredient is named, with a description of what it looks like or where it comes from, and what property it possesses. The Sicilian Leaping Bean ‘gives the wearer a sense of levity and gladness of heart,’ the Feather of the Athenian Owl ‘can be used for cleverness, concentration and contemplation,’ and Mellow Daisies ‘promote a happy-go-lucky attitude and a sunny outlook.’ I could imagine a faded, leather-bound book filled with these descriptions and drawings of the ingredients for identification.

Paola Escobar’s cover and internal illustrations are like the ingredients added to the Hatmaker hats. They give the book an extra magical quality. Paolo’s cover illustration invites you in to the world of the Hatmakers and his internal illustrations give you glimpses of the characters and the events of the story. I love that Paolo has even topped the Hatmaker house with giant hats.

The ending perfectly wraps up the story but leaves the promise of more adventures to come. I’m already dying to get back to the world of The Hatmakers and find out what happens next.

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