I’m a bit late to the party on this one. Published in February this year I bought the book as a hardcover because I fell in love with its cover. It was such beautiful autumnal colours and a bizarre combination of delicate William Morris type motifs intertwined with a noose.
I don’t often read historical fiction as I often find it a bit frustrating when authors take liberties with their characters and the books often feel out of place and not of their time. No such problems with this fascinating book by Stacey Halls. Acquired by Bonnier Zaffre following a fierce 9 way publisher auction – The Familiars was one of the biggest debut fiction launches of the year.
Fleetwood Shuttleworth (best fictional heroine name ever!) is just seventeen but she is married and already pregnant for the fourth time. None of the other babies went to term and she is aware how keenly her husband Richard wants an heir to his estate. When Fleetwood comes across a letter to her husband from the physician who assisted with her third pregnancy she is utterly devastated to discover that she is not expected to survive another pregnancy.
While riding in the woods she comes across a young woman called Alice Gray who claims to be a midwife. Alice promises her that she will help her deliver a healthy baby. Despite the concerns of her husband Richard, Fleetword employs Alice and their lives become intertwined. Set in 1612 this part of the north-west of England is caught up in the persecution of witches. The trials of the Pendle witches are among the most famous witch trials in English history. When Alice is caught up in the accusations the lives of both Fleetwood and Alice are caught in the balance.
Beautifully written this book transports you straight to 1612 and to the fear and recrimination that existed at the time. Where it could be a crime just to be a woman. Those who failed to take communion at church or who purported to be healers were automatically suspected of witchcraft. Although Alice’s story isn’t a factual one the Pendle Witch trials did exist and I urge you to read more about it as it is a truly fascinating period of English history.
UK Publication date: Feb 7 2019. 432 pages.
Prolific reader, enthusiastic theatre and movie-goer and ex-Olivier Awards judge who spent twenty years working in the music industry in London. I love sharing my favourite books with friends - nearly always spoiler-free as I hate reading a synopsis of the whole book in other reviews.