The Familiars – a review of Stacey Halls spellbinding debut novel

The Familiars is a wonderfully spellbinding debut novel and Sunday Times bestseller from Stacey Halls.

The historic fiction story is based on the Pendle Hill Witch Trial in Lancashire, 1612. It follows noblewoman Fleetwood Shuttleworth, which I would say is a brilliant character name – but was actually the real name of the mistress at Gawthorpe Hall.

The Familiars is an incredibly well-researched and beautifully written book, encapsulating the gothic ambience whilst conveying just the right era, dialogue and unfortunate attitude towards women.

I love the fact that real names of people like Alice and Fleetwood were used – it fills the gaps in history with imagination and creativity. I like to think this is exactly what happened.

Fleetwood finds herself pregnant for a fourth time at the age of 17, after suffering a number of miscarriages. She finds a note from her husband, Richard’s, doctor, claiming that Fleetwood shall die should she carry the baby to full term and deliver.

Determined to give her powerful partner an heir – and survive herself – she employs a mysterious midwife she met accidentally in the grounds of the hall: Miss Alice Grey.

The meek and mild youngster uses herbs and concoctions to help Fleetwood through her turbulent pregnancy, and her peculiar tactics do just the trick. But when Alice is arrested and put on trial for murder and witchcraft, a heavily-pregnant Fleetwood will do all she can to free her and protest her innocence.

The novel is full of suspense, twists, mistrusts and intricate details which paint a full picture of the characters – including her beast of a dog Puck, whose slobbery chops you can envisage in your head.

The tale shows just how strong women can be together – especially in a time when women had extremely limited power. It accurately depicts the societal structure of the time, but shows how barriers were begun to be broken down my our ancestral sisters. People like Fleetwood Shuttleworth – in this story, anyway – paved the way for women to fight for their voices to be heard. It’s pretty empowering and leaves you closing the last page with ultimate contentment and a little bit of mystery left ajar.

I can’t wait to get my hands on Stacey Hall’s latest release: The Foundling.

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