The Familiars by Stacey Halls
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.
I attended the launch party for this book, and got a free copy gifted by the publisher in exchange for a review (not that they force me to, the HotKey people are awesome!). I was already excited to get this book so an early copy was a boon.
When I first heard of “The Familiars” it hooked me in. It had a hint at magic, familiars and it was set in 17th Century England. (I know, why is that last part intriguing, right?)
I re-enacted for a few years this period, but focused more on the Civil War happening in England rather than the Witch hunts, however, this meant I had a lot of the background and historical knowledge of the period Fleetwood and Alice are in.
Life in general wasn’t easy, life as a woman wasn’t easy, being rich didn’t exactly exclude you from obligations, and this is well reflected in The Familiars. I couldn’t really find fault on the period characterization and how well it was done in ambient. That part was stunning, however it also meant that because it was doing so well at the historical part and the setting, the plot developed a little bit too slow.
This put me at war, because the historical part kept me thinking, oh yes and then this and that, but the actual story kept me going “come on, have something happen, please!”. It even takes a little bit for Alice to really enter Fleetwood’s life and I was itching for it by the time it happens. (I guess you could say that was well done?)
One of the best things here are the hints of “magic” (is it or isn’t it?), and the relationship/friendship between Fleetwood and Alice. They’re both very strong women in their very own ways, and you can see they are doing the best they can with what they’ve got.
A lot fo the time my heart was breaking for one or the other, or both, but at times it was also singing of happiness alongside them. So it was an interesting read.
So my take is that I enjoyed it greatly but wish it hadn’t been as slow as it was in developing the plot. Still, if you like period novels, a hint of magic and female friendship, this is a good book to go read.