The Familiars is a book with a strong sense of history throughout. I love a book which inspires me to go and find out more about something I’ve read in it and this book did exactly that. Set in the early 17th Century, it tells the story of young Fleetwood Shuttleworth, married to Richard, pregnant for the fourth time but with no living child so far. When she meets Alice Grey in the grounds of Gawthorpe, the estate her husband owns, and discovers she is a midwife, she becomes convinced the mysterious young woman is the only one who can help her to safely have her child.
The Familiars is so beautifully written. Stacey Halls paints a vivid picture of this fascinating time in history. It’s a time of fear and suspicion, of mistrust of anything that could be construed as witchcraft. It was certainly a dangerous time to be a woman. In previous years, many had consulted ‘wise women’, women who worked with herbs and natural remedies to help those with ill health but when King James VI & I came to the throne he literally began a witchhunt.
“Most women are wise… He has driven them into the shadows…. The king has muddled wise women with witchcraft.”
I was fascinated to read that many of the main characters in this book did exist in real life, although the author has woven her fictional tale around them, and that Alice was one of those tried as a witch. There is something of a mystery regarding her trial and its outcome, which is very intriguing.
Fleetwood was a wonderful character who seemed wise beyond her years and was furious at the injustices she could see. To a certain extent she was helpless against the patriarchy of the time but she throughout the book she became stronger, braver and more determined. She put herself in such danger to fight the system. To stand up for someone accused of witchcraft was to risk accusation yourself.
The Familiars is a bewitching tale and that is a word I have used deliberately. It’s a brilliant debut novel which transported me to another time. An atmospheric and very satisfying read.
I can’t finish this review without mentioning the beautiful cover. Intricately designed, the more you look at it, the more you notice. And the more you read, the more you realise the significance of the items depicted on the front cover. Below is a short video showing some of the process behind the stunning final illustrations from The Familiars website.
The Familiars is published by Bonnier Zaffre and available now in hardback and ebook formats. The paperback will follow in September. You should be able to buy or order a copy from your usual book retailer or you can order a copy online here: The Familiars
From the back of the book
In a time of suspicion and accusation, to be a woman is the greatest risk of all . . .
Fleetwood Shuttleworth is 17 years old, married, and pregnant for the fourth time. But as the mistress at Gawthorpe Hall, she still has no living child, and her husband Richard is anxious for an heir. When Fleetwood finds a letter she isn’t supposed to read from the doctor who delivered her third stillbirth, she is dealt the crushing blow that she will not survive another pregnancy.
Then she crosses paths by chance with Alice Gray, a young midwife. Alice promises to help her give birth to a healthy baby, and to prove the physician wrong.
As Alice is drawn into the witchcraft accusations that are sweeping the north-west, Fleetwood risks everything by trying to help her. But is there more to Alice than meets the eye?
Soon the two women’s lives will become inextricably bound together as the legendary trial at Lancaster approaches, and Fleetwood’s stomach continues to grow. Time is running out, and both their lives are at stake.
Only they know the truth. Only they can save each other.
About the author
Stacey Halls grew up in Rossendale, Lancashire, as the daughter of market traders. She has always been fascinated by the Pendle witches. She studied journalism at the University of Central Lancashire and moved to London aged 21. She was media editor at The Bookseller and books editor at Stylist.co.uk, and has also written for Psychologies, the Independent and Fabulous magazine, where she now works as Deputy Chief Sub Editor. The Familiars is her first novel. You can find her on Instagram @staceyhallsauthor and Twitter @stacey_halls
(Author bio from http://thefamiliarsbook.com/)