‘The Familiars’ by Stacey Halls

‘In a time of suspicion and accusation, to be a woman is the greatest risk of all…’

I really enjoyed this book. Set with the Pendle witch trials as the backdrop, this centres around Fleetwood Shuttleworth, a young mistress of Gawthorpe Hall, who after losing three babies is pregnant for the fourth time. I liked the character of Fleetwood and found her narrative to be engaging and believed in her life in Lancashire in 1612. Her world soon changes after discovering a letter, hidden by her husband Richard that another pregnancy could be disastrous for her. Her trust and belief in him is drastically changed.
It is her following encounter with Alice Grey, who agrees to become Fleetwood’s midwife, that pulls the witch trials further into the story and these two women become linked through the resulting tumult. Alice uses natural remedies when helping people and it is this use of herbs that casts the shadow of witchcraft over her.
I find the witch trials fascinating and this book is based on actual places, people and events. The author grew up in Lancashire and was inspired after a visit to the actual Gawthorpe Hall in Padiham. Although this is a work of fiction, I love that these characters were imagined from real people and after reading I was able to further research their lives and the awful plight of women during these trials.
It was also great to see the friendship that developed between Fleetwood and Alice despite their contrasting backgrounds, the belief they had in each other and the lengths they would go through to try and save each other during incredibly horrific experiences.
An intriguing story of a young girl trying to survive in a time of accusation, hypocrisy, persecution and betrayal.

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