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.
The Familiars by Stacey Hall was an interesting work of fiction based on events and people from the real Pendle Witch Trials of 1612. The story is told by Fleetwood Shuttleworth’s point of view. Fleetwood is a noblewoman who is anxious to have a baby after having had several miscarriages.
Fleetwood soon meets Alice Gray, a midwife who assures Fleetwood she can help her carry her pregnancy to term. They start a friendship in the midst of the Witch Trials and Alice is accused of being a witch and practicing witchcraft.
This book had several very good points from a feminist point of view. It elicited issues of female powerlessness in a society that expected women to behave in a certain way and the power that a patriarchal society exerted over them. I also really enjoyed Fleetwood and Alice’s friendship.
Where the book fell short for me was in the slow pace of the narrative. Divided into four parts, I struggled with the pace until the middle of part two. Also, Fleetwood’s alienation and naivete got on my nerves at times.
Overall, I recommend this book to anyone interested in witch trials, and the oppressive rules women in 17th century England were subjected to.
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.