Book Review: The Familiars

Set in the Lancashire region and full of references from the local area to which I currently live, it’s such an interesting journey to read the book and to have actually SEEN the places referenced. It makes you look at the area in a slightly different way. This is one of the books to read in 2019, especially in the UK, so I was extra excited to get my hands on it, not only because of the trend, but also because the cover is oh so beautiful! Read on!

Synopsis:

The story takes place in 1612 at Gawthorpe Hall and follows the the life of Fleetwood and Richard Shuttleworth, who in their young marriage are desperate to have a child, but within a few years, Fleetwood has already had 3 miscarriages. After finding a letter addressed to her husband from the doctor stating that she will die the next time she miscarries, she is desperate to have an heir and also to fulfill her duties as a wife. A chance meeting with a “strange girl” in the forest, impressed by her knowledge of herbs, she requests her help to bring a healthy child into the world. Set around the famous Pendle Witch Trials, in a time where people are highly suspicious of the unknown, especially anything to do with witchcraft, Fleetwood naively sets out to defend Alice’s innocence and puts her reputation, status and name on the line in order to save Alice and her own life.

“’I bet you are not afraid of anything’, I said.

‘Of course I am,’ she said, and she pulled at a loose thread in her apron. ‘I am afraid of lies.’-”

Break it Down:

Fleetwood Shuttleworth, is 17-years-old and has already had 3 miscarriages, she is in her 4th pregnancy and so scared about having another miscarriage she is desperate to accept any help she can in order to bring an heir to her husband, Richard Shuttleworth. Upon a chance meeting of Alice Grey who offers her advice for her constant illness, Fleetwood decides to hire Alice as her midwife and they soon become friends. Unfortunately, Alice ends up being at the wrong place at the wrong time and gets implicated with a group of witches and her name is given to the magistrates. Doubly unfortunate is the fact that unbeknownst to Fleetwood, she returns home to Gawthorpe Hall after Richard and her mother force her to return, only to walk Alice into a trap and she’s then arrested. For whatever reason, I hadn’t expected Fleetwood to be as outspoken or as “rebellious” as she was in the book- I suppose because the book is based in the 1600’s you expect the women to not be as bold in their beliefs, especially as they would be called witches. I was fully in awe and cheering Fleetwood on, but also scared for her safety and that of her child’s as she was adamant about saving Alice.

Modern Day Gawthrope Hall

I have to say, I initially really liked Richard’s character, I felt that he was caring and loving towards Fleetwood and he seemed to really love her, but then finding out that he was keeping a mistress at Barton, Fleetwood’s childhood home, and that she was expecting his child- that really floored me. I kept willing her to run away, but then I had to keep reminding myself that it was the 1600’s and you couldn’t just do that- lol. He seemed to give her a lot of leeway when it came to the way she spoke to him and the actions she took- I don’t know if it’s because he’s sympathetic to the fact that she’s still quite young and spirited or if he resigned to the fact that he couldn’t really hold her down, or maybe it’s because of her pregnancy, he felt he owed her that- she seemed to be allowed a lot because he was desperate to have his heir. As the book develops and draws to an end, despite the fact that Richard seems to disappoint and in some ways betray Fleetwood on numerous occasions, it took me by surprise to find out that it was because of his bravery and fear of losing Fleetwood that he was the one to ultimately save Alice Grey’s life. Needless to say, I was impressed by how brazen Fleetwood was to fully ignore the obvious threat her long time family friend, magistrates and part of the King’s Court, Roger Nowell, and villain gave her. She ignored him, didn’t take no for an answer and did her own investigating to find out that Roger had paid people to say that Alice was a witch. I actually smiled to myself at the scene where she took Puck (her giant Mastiff dog) with her and Richard’s gun and threatened Alice’s ex to finally tell the truth and admit that he lied.

As the book enters the 4th and final section, it is revealed that Fleetwood survives the birth of their son Richard Lawrence Shuttleworth, Alice has helped to bring him into the world and has disappeared. The biggest revelation is when Fleetwood finally addresses Richard with the letter she found all those months ago, only for him to reveal that the it was really about Judith, Richard’s mistress. So some reason, the thought never crossed my mind that it would be about her, so kudos to Stacey Hall on that one.

Kind friends know and keep

Shuttleworth family motto

At the end of the book, there are some reading group questions so I thought I’d answer 3 of them:

Women are disproportionately targeted as part of the witch hunts in this period. Why do you think that was?

I think historically we live in a patriarchal society and women have always been seen as a force or as a threat, whether it be because we literally carry life or because of the power they can hold over men. But I believe the women who were targeted as witches in this era were the ones who were more outspoken or who didn’t adhere to the rules society mapped out for them. As a way to keep them in their place or to reiterate their power the notion of witchcraft was born. I do believe that some people did believe and did practice it, but I believe the majority were probably just women who knew a lot about herbs and natural remedies.

Richard is not your archetypal romantic hero, nor is he a villain. But is he more of one than the other?

As I said earlier, I initially really liked Richard’s character- his love for Fleetwood is very apparent, even in the leeway he allows her, but I’ll admit that he really angered me when he insisted on letting Roger Nowell in on things every time Fleetwood would turn to him for help. I think his need to be successful and be on the best terms with specific people within the higher social hierarchy was his goal and he didn’t really care for all the talk regarding his wife. But I also think that he felt some of the shame Fleetwood felt because he didn’t have an heir and his decisions were driven by his embarrassment over that. I think he towed the line very closely between being both a villain and a hero, but I suppose that’s like all of us in life. I just love how he was the one who ended up saving Alice Grey and then he faints!

Do you think Alice was a witch?

I love this question, mostly because it’s open to so much interpretation, but, I don’t feel like she was a witch- I think again she lived a life outside of the norm for that time and it was a very quick and easy label to put on someone in those days, especially as you needed very little evidence. But what I do think is that the fox that is constantly referenced in the book is Alice’s familiar, otherwise why would it be referenced so many times, especially the part about their eye colour. So then…maybe Alice was a witch?

Negatives?:

I can’t even wrack my mind to think of any. This book flowed so well, it was filled with action and drama, anticipation and suspense. It had me sitting on the edge of my seat, worried about Fleetwood’s character, scared she would either die from childbirth or from being tried and hung as a witch or a witch sympathizer. So, no negatives at all.

The RnR Rating:

4.5 out of 5

Would I recommend the book?:

100% I can totally see why it was on the UK’s Sunday Times Bestseller’s List, it’s a fantastic read!

Do you like historical dramas? Have you read this book? Let us know what you thought and if you agree or disagree with our review.

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