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.
Disclaimer: I was provided with an ARC copy of the book by Harper Collins India in exchange for an honest review. However, all the thoughts, feelings and opinions expressed in this review are my own.
Trigger Warnings: Violent Visuals and Infidelity
The Familiars by Stacey Halls, is a gothic historical fiction and is based on the idea of “familiars” that witches are “known” to have; they maybe dogs, bats or any kind of animals and is based in era of King James, who is known to have zealously persecuted any person suspected to have ties to witchcraft; non – traditional healers (wise women) were quite the easy target.
In The Familiars; Fleetwood Shuttleworth is a young 17 year old bride in what is a happy marriage with one cloud hanging over her head – she has till date, been unable to produce an heir for her husband. When she stumbles upon a missive declaring a threat to her health and her pregnancy; it leads her to escape to the woods behind her castle where she runs into another young woman, a strange one at that, Alison Gray.
Fleetwood quickly comes to trust Alison, not only with her health but with her complicated pregnancy as well; taking Alison on as her midwife. But there are other forces at work, secrets that have been kept and betrayals waiting to happen – and throughout it all, we see quite the character growth in Fleetwood; from a young naïve girl to a strong sure woman, who has the métier to turn the tide her way!
While this is a historical fiction; the plot definitely moves at a steady pace; with enough factual points inter mingled with the fiction; to keep the readers interested. However, it lacked *that special something* that would have truly made it a spine chilling gothic fiction and one that gives shudders long after you are done with the book.
Nevertheless; The Familiars is a book I would recommend, if you are not exactly a fan of horror or gothic fiction but are definitely fascinated with the genre. This book should also feature on your TBR, if you are a fan of historical fiction; but sometimes give up on the genre because of the slowness of the plot.
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