5 out of 5 stars
By Stacey Halls
Firstly I can't start this review without commenting on the beautiful book cover, end papers and artistry in the illustrations. Secondly, this is such a special book, wonderfully written. The type of book you get easily lost in. It's probably one of my favourite reads of 2019.
The Familiars follows 17 year old Fleetwood Shuttleworth, married, and pregnant for the fourth time. But as the mistress at Gawthorpe Hall, she still has no living child, and her husband Richard is anxious for an heir. When Fleetwood finds a letter she isn't supposed to read from the doctor who delivered her third stillbirth, she is dealt the crushing blow that she will not survive another pregnancy. Then she crosses paths by chance with Alice Gray, a young midwife. Alice promises to help her give birth to a healthy baby, and to prove the physician wrong. As Alice is drawn into the witchcraft accusations that are sweeping north west England, Fleetwood risks everything by trying to help her. But is there more to Alice than meets the eye?
Soon the two women's lives will become inextricably bound together as the legendary trial at Lancaster approaches, and Fleetwood's stomach continues to grow. Time is running out, and both their lives are at stake.
Based on the real Pendle witch trials of the time there is a real haunting quality to this book, particularly so since some of the events are historically accurate. The brutality against women accused of witchcraft provides the backdrop for an intriguing friendship between Fleetwood and her mysterious midwife Alice. Despite the difference in the backgrounds, the friendship is both endearing and captivating. The plot itself has plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader engaged, whilst thoughtfully exploring universal themes of persecution and betrayal.
All in all, a superb first novel from Stacey Halls