The Familiars by Stacey Halls

Book Review

the familiars

Book Description:

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.


My Thoughts:

Based on The Pendle Witch Trials of 1612 this novel uses real life events and characters but brings them together in this fictional story.  Through the eyes of Fleetwood Shuttleworth a girl of just 17 already married and on her 4th pregnancy, we also read a brilliant story describing life for a girl such as Fleetwood at this time.

As the author mentions at the end of the book our main two characters Fleetwood and a young woman called Alice Grey are real life figures but whom only meet in this fictional story.  Two girls from very different backgrounds are brought together as Fleetwood, who is desperate to carry this pregnancy to full term and to deliver not only a healthy baby but also to survive the birth herself, hires local girl Alice as her midwife.

This book doesn’t go into great detail in explaining the witch trials themselves, but it is the backbone of the story behind Alice and therefore then the reason Fleetwood has to try and save Alice when she becomes caught up in the witchcraft accusations.

I found it a little slow to get going, but I soon got into it and enjoyed the read.  What I particularly enjoyed are the details it goes into in giving the reader a glimpse of what it could have been like to have been a young woman, wife and mother at this time in history.  Things such as the way she is treated and her expectations of what her life will pan out to be are very enlightening.  Her everyday activities such as getting washed and dressed and her use of her horse to get around really brought the character’s time setting to life.

Fleetwood is a wonderful character and I loved the relationships she has with the different people she comes into contact with.  Her husband and his friends, her mother and of course Alice.  The way in some parts of the book where she is talking to Roger and trying to hold her own in the conversation and her delight she has in finding friendship with Alice when they spend the time at her mother’s house not only shows a strong young women of independent thought and opinion, who wishes to have a happy home and life but also a very young girl thrown into the role of mistress of the house with no company to speak of.  I thought these interactions really highlighted the two sides to her character.

It also wonderfully captures the contrasts between Fleetwood’s way of life and the life experienced by other less fortunate members of the town.  Interweaving this with the witchcraft accusations makes for a brilliant historical read.

The authors end note is very interesting and had me hitting google to find out more around the story of the witch trials and the characters involved.

A great read that I would recommend to any historical fiction lover.

I read my own copy of this book and took part in a buddy read with some other bloggers.







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