Title – The Familiars
Author – Stacey Halls
Genre – Adult Historical Fiction
Format – Hardback
Style – Prose
Standalone/series – Standalone
Page count – 416 pages
Date of Publication – 7th February 2019
Warning – there is the possibility of minor spoilers regarding the history of The Pendle Witch Trials.
It is 1612 and society is all ablaze with fear. All across Pendle in Lancashire, women are accused and arrested for witchcraft. People don’t know where to turn, especially Fleetwood Shuttleworth, the young mistress of Gawthorpe Hall who is fearing for her life and that of her unborn child. She has miscarried two or three times so this time, she and her baby have to live for the sake of herself and her husband Richard who wants an heir. One day whilst roaming around the grounds, she comes across Alice Grey, a local woman scrounging for food and as she seems well informed about herbs and midwifery Fleetwood appoints Alice as her midwife and companion. However it is not straightforward. They find themselves caught up in the witch scare and assizes at Lancaster Castle. Destined to know more, Fleetwood takes it upon herself to question why this is happening and what makes certain women be considered witches.
They burn witches, don’t they?
Often, where we live leaves its mark on us and I know for a fact that Lancaster left its mark on me. As a history student I had to know the history of where I lived and I couldn’t take one step in the city centre without knowing about the Pendle Witch Trials and the 10 or so women who hung in Lancaster Castle. Its legacy is everywhere! Of course knowing me and my interest in all things supernatural and witchy, I had to know more and I constantly dove into books and documentaries about the women who stood trial. So when I heard about The Familiars last year before YALC and its focus on Alice Grey (one of the women caught up in the trials), I had to read it. This book became one of my most anticipated releases of 2019 and I’m very glad to say that it delivered!
“Her spirit was there. He could see it, I know. After his death she was brought to his corpse and it bled at her touch.”
“The surest sign of a witch,” Roger said with confidence.
What I very much enjoy about this novel and insight into the Pendle Witch Trials is the female perspective and how the characters of Fleetwood and Alice react to the arrests and fear of witchcraft. Fleetwood especially constantly questions why this is happening and I really like that she decides to take it upon herself to understand what makes these women witches and call out Roger Nowell and his friends for singling them out. It might be a little reckless at times, especially in parts of the novel where she’s heavily pregnant, but she is determined to not see other women sullied for having that amazing knowledge of midwifery, herbs, caring for people and living from the earth. Personally I’ve always surmised that women at this time were deemed to be witches if they didn’t fit in or match up to King James 1st’s ideals, didn’t practise catholicism, and were educated by their elder female family members, and that was certainly captured within Fleetwood’s questioning and her need to prove Alice is more than what society deems her to be.
However, Fleetwood isn’t perfect, and is very quick to judge and assume the worst about Richard and her mother. As much as I can understand this behaviour, I think she can come across a bit like a whiny YA protagonist and not rationalise what she thinks, does and says before it happens. Nonetheless, I still like her a lot and she’s someone to rally behind and support.
I bet you are not afraid of anything’, I said.
‘Of course I am,’ she said, and she pulled at a loose thread in her apron. ‘I am afraid of lies.’
On the subject of Fleetwood sounding like a YA protagonist, the prose has a rather similar kind of style. I don’t see it as a criticism in any way, just that the prose is very fluid, easy to understand and read, and it doesn’t drag like a lot of other Adult Historical Fiction can do. I flew through this book within a maximum of two days which very rarely happens with historical fiction. Often they’re rather slow paced and it can take a while for the story to gather momentum but this wasn’t the case. In fact I think it makes The Familiars very readable and accessible to a wider audience, which is always great, especially for a novel that touches on fact and real people.
In terms of that history within the main story, Stacey Halls does a good job of balancing that with the fiction, so much so I was totally convinced Fleetwood Shuttleworth was fictional. SHE WAS A REAL PERSON!! My mind = blown! It doesn’t change anything, but it is still interesting to me nonetheless. I am also relatively satisfied in how she fictionally deals with a certain detail of Alice’s arc. It still doesn’t answer my questions, and I honestly think I will never get any answers, but it’s good enough that it fits and works within the story and fuels the characters to recognise the morally grey reality of witchcraft and the trials.
I think that’s everything.
My rating – 5★
Now I want to go away and read even more in depth about the real people in this book!
Have you read The Familiars yet?
What are your thoughts?
As always thanks for reading and have a brazzle dazzle day!