The Familiars is an explosive novel set in Lancashire.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: February 2019
‘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.’ – Goodreads
What a novel! If you haven’t read The Familiars already allow me to summarise it for you. Based in Lancashire, England, 17 year old noblewoman Fleetwood Shuttleworth finds herself with child again – after several unsuccessful pregnancies, and worried about her status as a wife, Fleetwood employs the help of local midwife Alice. But as the Pendle witch trials loom, any midwife seen to be practising ‘unconventional’ methods find themselves at risk of suspicion. As husband turns against wife and friend turns against friend, can Fleetwood give birth to a healthy child, and save her dearest friend at the same time?
She is a midwife, like her mother before her. Are you like the king now, thinking all wise women and poor women and midwives are carrying out the Devil’s work? Why, he must be the largest employer in Lancashire.
Though the premise is a little dreary, I loved this book. Not only was it fascinating to read a novel about events (relatively) local to me, but Hall’s way of writing is wonderful. She manages to balance the line between easy-read and detailed historical fiction perfectly. Every single character is fleshed out and given some sort of motive or quirk. The relationship between Fleetwood and her mother was a particular stand-out for me – her mother is neither saint nor villain, and their interactions are so accurate as to how our own relationships are with our mothers. Conversations between Fleetwood and Alice are compelling, and you even find yourself wondering, despite Fleetwood’s testimonies, whether Alice is truly an innocent midwife.
I remembered Alice’s words: I am afraid of lies. Now I knew what she meant: lies had the power to destroy lives but also create them.
I would love to give this five stars, however something was lacking in Fleetwood herself – she was perhaps too heroic, too impulsive, dare I say a little annoying at times. In comparison to other side-characters, she lacked a protagonist’s spark. But, this is still an amazing novel that I highly recommend for anybody looking to research witch trials in England. And if you’re from the Lancashire area, this is a must read.