“The stars are full of stories, littlest Hatmaker. Following the stars will always lead you to great adventures.”

Cordelia Hatmaker gripped the ship’s wheel, the deck of Little Bear solid beneath her feet. She could smell adventure in the spring wind; it smelled of salt and sky laced with a hint of fresh tar. Stars spangled the rigging, winking with the promise of exciting escapades to come.

Her father, Prospero Hatmaker, stood on the deck beside her.

“But every adventurer needs a compass,” he added. “The heart is a compass. Follow your heart and you’ll go wisely and wildly all your life.”

Cordelia put her hand to her heart. She could feel it beating, soft and steady in her chest – a living creature.

“Is that today’s lesson, Father?” she asked.

Prospero grinned. “Today’s lesson is this: be careful of the ship’s biscuit! It doesn’t taste like biscuits at all!”

Cordelia grinned back.

They were not out at sea yet. All through autumn and winter, Cordelia had witnessed the ship being built and marvelled at the magic of making such a thing: a beast to ride the sea, made of wood and rope and canvas. She had climbed through the ribcage of its skeleton, been caught up in the crisscrossing sinews of rigging, and gaped at the baggy swags of sails that would fill, like lungs, with air. The ship was made of Fleetwood, which skimmed swiftly across water. The figurehead was a perfect little bear with fur carved into wind-blown ripples.

When the master shipwright, bobbing up from Greenwich on an important-looking barge, had come to inspect her, he had pronounced Little Bear “the finest vessel of her kind” and had added, “I’ll wager she’s the quickest too!” – causing Cordelia to glow with pride.

Tonight, Little Bear was quiet. After finishing the sticky job of tarring her hull, the shipbuilders had gone home, leaving Cordelia and her father listening to the lap and hush of the Thames just beyond the dry dock in which the ship had been built. In a few days, when the glistening tar had set, the dry dock would be flooded with water and Little Bear would float out onto the wide river.

“Then all that’s left to do,” Cordelia said, “is add provisions. Meaning food.”

“And water,” Prospero added.

“Yes,” Cordelia agreed. “Water’s very important for a sea voyage.”

The long-promised sea voyage! Now the spring tides were rising, it was nearly time to set off.

Cordelia and her father were going on a voyage to collect magical ingredients for the hats their family made. They were to sail to the Canary Islands, to search for the freckleleafed Vim Shrub and Songstress Snails, whose pearly trails warbled with silvery music. From the Canaries, they would sail due east to the coast of Morocco, where they planned to rummage in the sands for the flashing whorls of Storm Nautilus Conches.

Soon there would be a much greater demand than usual for ingredients, because next week, for the first time in two hundred and fifty years, King George was to declare that making magical things would be unrestricted for everyone in Britain once again.

For the past two and a half centuries, only the six Maker families of London had been allowed to create clothes using magical ingredients. But in a few days’ time, everyone would be able to express themselves using magical ingredients, free from the fear of arrest.

Cordelia loved feeling the tingle in her fingertips when she was making something magical, whether it be a bonnet to give the wearer confidence or a bicorn to inspire daydreams. When she and her father returned from their voyage, the cargo hold of Little Bear would be bursting with magical ingredients to transform people’s ordinary clothes into enchanted ones. Cordelia could not wait to set off.

However, one slight shadow was cast over the bright adventure: the rumours of a dangerous band of pirates calling themselves the Troublemakers.

First, these pirates had kidnapped the daughter of an important politician, snatching her from her boarding school bed in the middle of the night, leaving nothing but their names scrawled across the wall as a sign that they’d been there.

Then there had been chaos at the Winter Ball, when several lords had suddenly been attacked by their own garments, shrieking and howling as their boots suddenly made them leap as though their feet were on fire. Moments later, their hats clamped themselves over their eyes and the wearers began bellowing swear words in multiple languages. A nest of Whistling Wasps had been thrown into their midst, and the air filled with the sinister whistle of thousands of wasps mingled with the sound of stampeding revellers fleeing the scene. In the ruckus, several ice sculptures – not to mention Lady Trundlemonk’s nose – had been broken.

London had barely had time to recover from the Winter Ball (victims of the wasp stings were still whistling) when the Troublemakers struck again. Imp Eggs were crushed into the ink of a self-righteous magazine called The Quarterly Scorn and, rather than the usual articles sneering about the latest fashions, every single copy of the newest issue contained nothing but foul words and fart jokes from cover to cover.

Days later, the king’s horses were somehow fed CrazeHay, which led to neighing chaos in front of the palace. Riots broke out regularly at chocolate houses across the city, and strange orange caterpillars were placed on hundreds of paintings in the Royal Academy, so that very serious portraits of noble ladies and gentlemen all appeared to have bushy ginger moustaches. The caterpillars proved impossible to catch and several days later hatched into dazzling and distracting butterflies that caused three carriage accidents on Piccadilly, and Lady Clustertrunce to be tipped from her sedan chair into a large pile of horse poo.

All winter, the Troublemakers had gone on to create catastrophe and disaster throughout London, gloating about their actions in a morning newspaper called The Rude Awakening. Despite being the architects of some strange and spectacular acts of destruction, the Troublemakers had never actually been sighted. Rumours about them grew wilder in the dark. Some people claimed they were evil sorcerers, who wore the night like cloaks. Others insisted they transformed into ravens to flee the scenes of their crimes. One wild-eyed man was seen shouting at Speakers’ Corner that the Troublemakers were “the ghosts of traitors put to death in the Tower, risen from the dead for revenge”.

Excerpted with permission from The Troublemakers, Tamzin Merchant, illustrated by Paola Escobar, Puffin.