The Familiars, by Stacey Halls; Book Review

Lancashire 1612, Fleetwood Shuttleworth is 17 years old and pregnant for the fourth time. But as mistress at Gawthorpe Hall, she still has no living child, and her husband Richard is anxious for an heir. Then she crosses paths by chance with Alice Gray, a young midwife, who promises to help her give birth to a healthy baby.

When Alice is drawn into the witchcraft accusations that are sweeping the north-west, Fleetwood risks everything by trying to help her. As the legendary Pendle witch trials approach and Fleetwoods stomach continues to grow, time is running out and both their lives are at stake…

I walked past the book-shop window (whilst very much NOT on a book shopping trip) and did a double take – right there was the next book in the series that I was reading. That did it – I was going in. Whilst in there loading up on the next three books in that series the cashier just happened to mention a multiple-books-deal that they had going. Well, in that case it would have been rude not to. I was browsing the shelves and then I saw it.

I had picked this book up several times recently and decided that I was interested, only to put it back down again on the threat of ‘getting rid of books you’ve already got before getting new ones’ and ‘something about needing space on the bookselves’. On this specific occasion I was delightfully unsupervised, and just a little under the influence (of the books, nothing worse). It came home with me, and awaited its perfect moment, which was yesterday.

Yesterday I sat on my deck in my garden in the glorious sunshine and I started to read ‘The Familiars’ – and then I packed up and went inside where it was cooler! The first page or two took me a moment to get into the voice of the charecter, and then I found myself gently lulled into the world and conundrums of Fleetwood Shuttleworth.

What a strange name? I remember thinking it was an odd choice for a main character’s name, until I got to the end of the book and found out that she actually existed, along with most of the main characters. I loved the exert at the end by the author about where she got the inspiration and information from to base her book on (the story itself is made up around the true events of the time). She describes the lure of history and the hole in the story that she was prompted to fill.

The book was exciting, and the story was constantly developing, with the stakes getting higher and higher. I felt indignant, surprised and really quite invested in how the plot was unfurling – please be warned that this is not a tale one can simply read. Fleetwood and Alice became important, very real people with absolutely real consequences and I simply could not turn that page fast enough.

To say that I devoured it in a single sitting might not be entirely correct – my dog started gazing mournfully at her bowl just as things were starting to get really quite tense, requiring me to briefly return to real life. And I almost burnt my dinner after dipping back in for ‘a few more pages’. Never mind.

Very early in the story it becomes clear that a large amount of women (and some men) are going to trial to be judged as witches. Anyone who has read historical fiction from the perspective of a woman has probably come accross the conundrum of witchcraft allegations – the allegation is the proof. This is something that is brought clearly to the forefront in this book about the Pendle Witch Trials. Accounts of the Pendle witches online discuss the motives of the judges, the politics of the time and the belief that ‘outing witches’ would result in political gain. I will leave you to consider how that influences the trials. Fleetwood, who is close to the magistrate Roger Newell, hears much of the build up towards the trial from him and their circle as the plot progresses.

After having read the book I was amazed by how accurate to the true tale the author remained while also having space to create the story that she has. The personal life of Fleetwood has many twists and turns, with her own very dire set of consequences looming just ahead of you at all times. Stacey Halls has done a marvelous job of writing true history into a fictional tale that evokes emotion and interest, with the plot building up steadily to an absolute pinnacle of tension. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and would strongly recommend it to any lovers of historical fiction, or simply after a good story.

Published by BeckyBookBlog

My name is Becky and I run a blog about Books

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