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Book Review: The Familiars By Stacey Halls


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.

Rich and compelling, set against the frenzy of the real Pendle Hill Witch Trials, this novel explores the rights of 17th-century women and raises the question: Was witch-hunting really women-hunting? Fleetwood Shuttleworth, Alice Grey and the other characters are actual historical figures. King James I was obsessed with asserting power over the lawless countryside (even woodland creatures, or “familiars,” were suspected of dark magic) by capturing “witches”—in reality mostly poor and illiterate women.


In the story, a young bride, Fleetwood Shuttleworth, is pregnant, and seeks out a midwife, Alice Grey, to assist her in trying to keep her baby to term after suffering multiple miscarriages previously (Uhm she is only 17, so no wonder.

The story focuses on the friendship that forms between them, and Fleetwood’s desire to help her friend when Alice becomes caught up in the frenzy as one of those accused of being a witch.

For me the story was a bit of a slow-burn, and there wasn’t as much on the witches/trials as I had imagined there would be. The story was at a very slow pace as well.

But it was an interesting look at how women were seen and treated in those days. I liked the second half of the book more, when Fleetwood breaks free of some of the norms/expectations for women, and takes more control of her life as she tries to help Alice.

3/5 Stars

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