Monday, May 20, 2019

Review - The Familiars by Stacey Halls

Title: The Familiars
Author: Stacey Halls
Pages: 432
Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
Release Date: 9th February 2019

Blurb from Goodreads:
The Essex Serpent meets The Miniaturist in this rich and compelling historical novel, set against the frenzy of the real 1612 Witch Trials of Pendle Hill, that explores the rights of 17th century women, as the fate of a nobelwoman and her unborn child rests on proving the innocence of her midwife, an accused witch.

Young Fleetwood Shuttleworth, noblewoman of Gawthorpe Hall, one of the finest houses in Lancashire, is pregnant for the fourth time. None of her previous pregnancies have been successful, and her husband Richard is anxious for an heir. When Fleetwood finds a hidden letter from the doctor who delivered her last stillbirth, she learns of the prediction that she will not survive another pregnancy. By chance she meets a midwife named Alice Grey, who promises to help Fleetwood deliver a healthy baby and prove the physician wrong. But Alice herself is soon drawn into the witchcraft accusations that are sweeping the area. Fleetwood must risk everything to help clear her name.

But is there more to Alice than meets the eye? As the two women’s lives become inextricably bound together, the now infamous Witch Trials of 1612 approach, and Fleetwood’s impending delivery looms. Time is running out, and both their lives are at stake. Only they know the truth. Only they can save each other.

Fleetwood Shuttleworth, Alice Grey and all the other characters in this novel are based on real people who fell under the spell of these witch trials. Even woodland creatures, "the familiars," are suspected of aiding the local sorceresses in their practice of dark magic. In the early 17th century Lancashire was deemed a lawless county full of Catholics, criminals and conspirators, and King James I was obsessed with capturing witches, who were mostly poor, illiterate women.

Historian have asked, “Was witch-hunting woman-hunting?” THE FAMILIARS explores the themes of women’s rights in this period, many of which still resonate today.

My Review:
*I received an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Bonnier Zaffre and NetGalley*

Teenager Fleetwood Shuttleworth lives with her husband at Gawthorpe Hall in Lancashire. She is pregnant for the fourth time, with all her previous pregnancies having ended in miscarriage or stillbirth. Fleetwood's husband, Richard, is eager for an heir, so when Fleetwood discovers a letter from a doctor who fears that Fleetwood's next pregnancy might kill her, she enlists the help of a midwife named Alice Gray. Fleetwood is determined that with Alice's help she will give birth to a healthy baby, but she soon finds herself drawn into the local witch trials when Alice is accused of being a witch.
Is Alice innocent? Is she a mere midwife, or something else entirely?
Will Fleetwood's friendship with Alice save her or ruin her?

The cover for The Familiars instantly drew me in (it's so beautiful!), and the blurb intrigued me – especially seeing as the book is based on real events and real people. Going in to this I didn't know much about the witch trials that happened in England, and I'm very glad that I wasn't alive back then!
Fleetwood was a likeable protagonist. I felt sorry for her given what she had been through, and really hoped that both she and the baby would make it through the pregnancy okay. I liked that she had a big dog that followed her around everywhere. I also liked Fleetwood's friendship with Alice – she had never really had any friends so it was nice to see her bond with someone.
The plot was interesting, but I wasn't particularly shocked by anything that happened, and I wasn't gripped.
The writing style was easy to follow and I liked that the reader is left with some unanswered questions.

Overall this was an enjoyable read that I would recommend.

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