Sunday, May 15, 2022

The Hatmakers

The Hatmakers
by Tamzin Merchant
illust. by Paola Escobar
Recommended Ages: 11+

When word reaches Cornelia Hatmaker's family that her father has been lost at sea, she isn't keen to accept his death. But as much as she'd like to run away to the sea to search for him, there are more important things afoot. In Cornelia's version of history, King Henry VIII established royal charters for Makers (with a capital M) of special clothes and accessories – hats, boots, cloaks, gloves and what not – and down to her present day (hint: there's a rather mad King George on the throne) those families remain in control of their specialized trades. But the Maker families don't get along, which may partly explain why they have such a hard time working together. These longstanding feuds could put the kingdom in danger, as France and England stand at the brink of a war, and Princess Georgina is counting on some upcoming peace negotiations, but before the Maker families can produce peace hats, gloves, boots, etc., their workshops are robbed, one by one.

The Princess's closest advisor, Lord Witloof, doesn't hold with traditional magic and thinks a factory churning out thousands of cannons would be a more effective deterrent to war. Now all the Maker families are in danger of being locked up as traitors to the crown, blamed for a situtation that seems ripe for war. But really, something fishy is going on behind the scenes. It's the kind of fishiness that the adults, from the Guildhall to the palace, seem unequipped to handle. So it's up to one 11-year-old girl with "magic in her fingertips," her forbidden best friend from the Bootmaker family, and a slightly reformed cutpurse to foil a treacherous plot, save the royal family, and stop a war.

Cornelia is a well crafted main character: vulnerable yet tough, good but with a sparkle of mischief, singleminded to a degree that sometimes seems to toe the line of self-delusion (for example, where it comes to accepting her father's death), very fallible yet capable of doing marvels under pressure. Her allies and enemies include an impossibly old great-great aunt, a momma's boy with an unexpected rebellious streak, a bear-like uncle who faints in distress, a ragamuffin with ink-stained fingers, a stern-faced governess with a pocketful of caramels, a flamboyant actor and a king who sometimes thinks he's a kangaroo. It's a thrilling book that generates laughs, excitement and almost unbearable suspense, all in an atmosphere of magic that spills over into a glossary of magical clothing ingredients.

British actress Tamzin Merchant's author credits also include the sequel to this book, The Mapmakers, released on May 3, 2022. Her acting credits, meanwhile, include the Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice, one of Henry VIII's wives on TV's The Tudors and leading roles on the series Salem and Carnival Row. Colombian artist Paola Escobar has decorated such books as Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré, a book based on the Disney animated film Encanto, a version of The Sleeping Beauty, an illustrated biography of Selena ("the queen of Tejano music"), and many other colorful books. Seriously, click that link on her name (above) for an eyeful of some impressive artwork.

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