BOOK REVIEW: The Familiars by Stacey Halls

To save her child, she will trust a stranger.To protect a secret, she must risk her life.
Fleetwood Shuttleworth is 17 years old, 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 the North-West, 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.
Only they know the truth. Only they can save each other.

Publisher: Zaffre
Pages: 432

I am so pleased that I finally got around to reading this book as it is wonderful. It is definitely in my top 5 of books that I have read this year. Fleetwood Shuttleworth is mistress of Gawthorpe Hall in Lancashire, she is only 17 years old and pregnant with her 4th child. The three previous pregnancies have not gone full term and she is feeling the pressure to provide her husband Richard with the precious heir that he wants. Fleetwood meets Alice Grey, a midwife who uses natural remedies and says she can ensure that Alice and her child will both survive this time. Fleetwood employs Alice and takes her into her home, she feels a connection to this young woman and trusts her to keep to her word. Rumours of witchcraft are building in the local area and Richard and Fleetwood have many influential friends who want to impress the King by bringing those accused to justice. When Alice becomes implicated in the infamous Pendle Witch Trials, Fleetwood is torn between loyalty to her husband and loyalty to her new friend who has promised to keep her and her unborn child alive. Fleetwood is determined to save Alice but she will have to risk everything to do so.
Stacey Halls has written such a fantastic story, I just could not stop turning the pages. I instantly liked Fleetwood as a character and it was interesting to see her grow and develop throughout the story. Halls explores how little power women had at this point in history, although Fleetwood is married to Richard and mistress of one of the finest houses in the country, she has very limited power. The women accused of witchcraft are damned not just by their sex but also because they are poor. They have no power whatsoever and nothing to bargain with, Fleetwood recognises this fact and knows she must try to help in any way she can. 
The Pendle Witch Trials provide a fascinating backdrop to Fleetwood’s story and Stacey Halls research shines through. She weaves her story around the reported facts to create a haunting account of those troubled times. 

I can highly recommend The Familiars, the writing is enticing and vivid, I loved the story that Stacey Halls told and I can’t wait to read more by this author. 

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