At the time of writing my review, I notice that The Familiars by Stacey Halls has a well-deserved best seller flag on Amazon (hardcover). This is a debut you won’t want to miss.
In a time of
suspicion and accusation, to be a woman is the greatest risk of all . . .
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.
The Familiars by Stacey Halls is published by Zaffre (February 2019) and is available to purchase in digital, hardcover and audiobook formats.
Cunning women and hedgewitches have always been a part of life, although their skills haven’t always been understood. This superstition mixed with politics and religion is a powder keg waiting to explode. In The Familiars, Stacey Halls writing brings the legend of the Pendle witch trials to life. I love a story that weaves fact and fiction!
The connection between Fleetwood and Alice is complex. Fleetwood, having led a lonely life is craving the closeness a friendship brings. She feels alienated at Gawthorpe Hall with what she perceives as the servants laughing at her and being ‘told off’ by husband Richard. Her desperation in wanting to give Richard an heir is palpable as is the fear of her impending death. Alice appears to be a godsend but neither of them figure on the magistrate …
I was so drawn into these characters’ lives. I found myself backing Fleetwood wholeheartedly (loved watching her strength and endurance come through) and felt such rage at the magistrate. I thought Jennet was portrayed really well.
I enjoyed the pace, atmosphere and Stacey Halls writing style.
Fleetwood in church on Easter Sunday feels:
My head felt light, as though I was an hourglass needing to be tipped upside down.
Perfect analogy and fitting for the time period.
There is a twist – one I didn’t expect! This made me re-think how I felt about one of the characters.
Some people are unable to relinquish power and make a final push to gain just a little more notoriety. Some people attempt the impossible and persevere. In The Familiars we see the most noblest of actions as well as the most abhorrent that humanity is capable of.
I wonder where Stacey Halls will take us with her next novel and watch with interest.
A recommended read from me.
Stacey Halls 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 Stylist.co.uk, 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.
Read all posts in the historical fiction genre on Jera’s Jamboree.