I love a gorgeous cover so it probably goes without saying that I was thrilled to find a copy of Stacey Halls’ The Familiars in the March Bookish Escape Crate (those bronze foil details!). The subject of the novel sits pretty firmly inside my wheelhouse too – I’m always fascinated by stories about traditional or folk medicine, and the ‘wise’ women who practised it, as well as their persecution during ‘witch’ trials. Here’s a bit about the book (from Goodreads)…
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.
This was a quick and engaging read set around the Pendle with trials in 1612 England. It was a fairly easy read, although I want to note here - in case it isn’t clear from the description above - that the story centres around fertility issues and pregnancy loss, so if that is something you aren’t into reading right now it might not be for you.
There are a lot of interesting issues to think about in this book, including the role of women in society (what is the value of a wife who can’t provide an heir?), and the persecution/bullying of women (in particular) during witch trials. I enjoyed seeing those unfold through the eyes of a young woman of the time, but to be honest I felt like it really only touched quite superficially on the issues and I would have liked to have gone deeper.
Having the narrative kind of skim across the issues rather than explore them more deeply was one of the things that kept it on the light side, and I feel like this would make it quite a good beach/holiday read, and maybe a good starting point if you were looking to start reading a bit more into things like the witch trials.
Overall, I gave this one 3.5 out of 5 stars, and would recommend it for fans of books like Hannah Kent’s The Good People.