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Review: The Hatmakers by Tamzin Merchant

The Hatmakers by Tamzin Merchant
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Age category: Middle Grade
Release Date: February 2, 2021

Tamzin Merchant’s middle grade novel tells the story of the magical Hatmakers, who have served the royal family of England for generations. Into each hat, they are able to add magic through various ingredients, always carefully weighing, measuring, and planning how each tiny decoration will interact with another to create the desired effect on the wearer. But someone is trying to stir up a war between France and English, the king seems to be acting more and more out of touch with reality, and as if all that weren’t bad enough, the head of the household, Prospero Hatmaker, has gone down with his ship in a terrible storm. At the center of all this is his daughter Cordelia, who–upon hearing that her father is “lost at sea”–decides that if he’s lost, he can be found. She spends much of time in the book attempting to acquire the means to go search for him, running into the bigger problems of royalty and war almost incidentally. Her main adversaries, as she sees them at the start, are the other Maker houses: The Glovemakers, Watchmakers, Bootmakers, and Cloakmakers. Cordelia doesn’t have near the distaste for them as the rest of her family, however, and even keeps a strong friendship with a boy her age in the Bootmaker household.

I absolutely adored the magic system in this book. There’s tons of stories about different characters having access to different magical elements and being stronger when they all come together. But in The Hatmakers, rather than usual fire/air/earth/water, these families work their magic through different articles of clothing. The rivalry between the families, although a bit heavy-handed, makes sense within the world, especially later on in the book as we learn a little more about the rough history between them.

Cordelia checks all boxes on the perky middle grade heroine list: she’s resourceful, clever, doesn’t take no for an answer, and she’s capable of working with or without adults’ help. From an adult standpoint, I would have preferred her to be a bit more nuanced–making more mistakes and struggling due to her own faults rather than the faults of others. But for children who just want a character they can step into the shoes (or hat) of and experience an exciting adventure in a unique world with, Cordelia serves as a perfectly adequate reader avatar. Adults may see the twist at the end coming, but it will take plenty a young reader by surprise, and the pieces of the story fit together nicely.

If you need something for a curious middle grade reader who’s tried the more popular series and is looking for something new, The Hatmakers is a nice choice.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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