Name: The Familiars
Author: Stacey Halls
Number of Pages: 400 (Hardback)
Published: February 7th 2019 by Bonnier Zaffre
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 isn¹t supposed to read from the doctor who delivered her third stillbirth, she is dealt the crushing blow that she will not survive another pregnancy.
When 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.
When 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?
As the two women’s lives become inextricably bound together, the legendary trial at Lancaster approaches, and Fleetwood¹s 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.
The Familiars is a historical novel with a compelling friendship at it’s heart.
Set in a time when people could be accused of being witches, which carried the ultimate penalty of death, it charts the course of a difficult pregnancy for young Fleetwood Shuttleworth, and her growing friendship and dependence on a young woman called Alice Gray, who serves as her midwife and becomes embroiled in the case of the Pendle witches, an actual real life event which inspires this fictional narrative.
When Alice’s life is threatened, Fleetwood remains undeterred by either her ever-closer confinement, or the rumours and tales being spun around this particular group of people, and she sets out to save the life of the woman she believes will help save her in turn.
Fleetwood is a character I warmed to very quickly. She’s so young, and yet has endured a great deal in that short life, from a ridiculously young first marriage, to several failed pregnancies. When we meet her she’s living with the belief that this next pregnancy will probably be the end of her life. Despite this, and other revelations as the story goes on, she remains determined and resolved to help Alice, and refuses to bow to the pressure of older, educated and equally determined men, who want to see these ‘witches’ punished.
The fear and suspicion surrounding supposed ‘witches’ is apparent throughout the novel, but the story of Alice and Fleetwood doesn’t really touch on anything you could deem witchcraft, and is instead grounded in the growing friendship between two young woman trying to thrive in difficult circumstances. Alice is a young woman who knows about herbs and natural medicines and healing.
I enjoyed The Familiars, although I think when I picked it up I may have hoped for a little more of the magic/witchcraft theme. Go into this one expecting an engaging historical tale and it’s well worth your reading time.