I initially came across this book online but didn’t think it was my kind of thing, then I saw it cheap in a supermarket and went for it… And I am so glad I did.
The Familiars is a fictitious account of the Pendle witch trials, which for those of you that aren’t familiar is one of the largest witch trials in England, which saw ten people executed as witches in the North-West in the early 17th century. I for one love the hisistory of witchcraft and witch trials and for whatever reason didn’t actually click that this book was about witch trials. Anyway, the book focuses on the life of Fleetwood Shuttleworth, a young mistress of a large house and a woman who desperately wants to become a mother. Fleetwood’s path crosses with a young woman called Alice who becomes Fleetwood’s midwife; unfortunately Alice is also one of the accused of witchcraft.
The book is told entirely through the voice of Fleetwood, who is a very likeable character and one the reader can very much empathise with. The book is also divided into four parts, which is something I quite like in fiction.
Halls’ blending of historical fact with her own imagination is beautiful, and while this book is more historical fiction than fantasy, there’s still a little bit of mystery and magic thrown in there (is Alice the fox?!) and the imagery is also lovely. The description of the scenery very much gives you a sense for 17th century England, especially this geographical location which is very remote and politics and religion have very much made it a place in which witchcraft accusations could (and clearly did) happen.
I would personally class this a pretty feminist work, the women are strong, independent and work together. Class and wealth also comes into play here, making the lives of the characters very different, especially the relationship between Fleetwood and Alice; however their differences are where you can see their individual strengths.
I don’t particularly have any negatives to discuss regarding this book, it was a thoroughly enjoyable book that was a beautiful blend of fiction and historical fact.
I’m very much looking forwards to Stacey Halls next book next year.