Sunday, September 6, 2020

The Familiars


Paperback: 418 pages                                                                                        
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Zaffre - Bonnier Books UK
Source: Library
First Sentence: I left the house with the letter because I did not know what else to do.
Favourite Quote: “- '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.'-”
Review Quote: Set against the furor leading up to the Pendle Witch Trials, Halls's winning novel is a quietly powerful and richly evocative tale.-- Publishers Weekly
Main Characters: Fleetwood Shuttleworth and Alice Gray

Setting: Lancashire, England in 1612.

My Opinion:  Witchcraft not being a subject I am overly interested in, I was not sure how much I was going to enjoy this recent selection for our Book Club. For example until reading this novel I had never even heard of the Pendle Witchcraft Trials. Probably a surprise to some, but I did say it was outside my realm of interest.

Set in 1612 in Lancashire, England the novel relates the friendship between the seventeen year old mistress of a local Manor House, Fleetwood Shuttleworth and Alice Gray a young midwife, after the latter promises to help Fleetwood to a successful full term pregnancy. Fleetwood has already suffered a series of miscarriages and Alice gives hope to her, as the pregnancy progresses so does their friendship.

Whilst the story is fictional, it follows the true historical timeline and most of the characters were real people. Shocking to be reminded just how cruelly men treated and controlled their womenfolk in the fifteenth century. The power of healing by women seemed to be immediately assumed as Witchcraft, certainly at these times in this region. To say anymore is saying too much and a spoiler. Apart from the story being woven around witchcraft I found it to be a well woven tale about these authentic characters. Enjoyed from an historical viewpoint but in all honesty at times I did find the witchcraft aspect tedious.

A great debut that I recommend to fans of Historical Fiction and possibly tales of Witchcraft, though I am no fan or expert on the latter. Will definitely be adding Stacey Halls new novel The Foundling to my Wishlist straight away.

 Precis Courtesy of  Goodreads:

Young Fleetwood Shuttleworth, a noblewoman, is with child again. None of her previous pregnancies have borne fruit, and her husband, Richard, is anxious for an heir. Then Fleetwood discovers a hidden doctor’s letter that carries a dire prediction: she will not survive another birth. By chance she meets a midwife named Alice Grey, who promises to help her deliver a healthy baby. But Alice soon stands accused of witchcraft.

Is there more to Alice than meets the eye? Fleetwood must risk everything to prove her innocence. As the two women’s lives become intertwined, the Witch Trials of 1612 loom. Time is running out; both their lives are at stake. Only they know the truth. Only they can save each other.

Rich and compelling, set against the frenzy of the real Pendle Hill Witch Trials, this novel explores the rights of 17th-century women and raises the question: Was witch-hunting really women-hunting? Fleetwood Shuttleworth, Alice Grey and the other characters are actual historical figures. King James I was obsessed with asserting power over the lawless countryside (even woodland creatures, or “familiars,” were suspected of dark magic) by capturing “witches”—in reality mostly poor and illiterate women.

Author Profile 

Stacey Halls

Stacey Halls was born in 1989, she 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, 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.

Photographs and Biographical Information courtesy of the following sites: