Synopsis 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.
The Pendle Witch Trials of 1612 was a real event and was one of the most famous witch trials in English history, most likely because it was one of the best documented trials. The story in The Familiars uses this documented history and fills in the holes by developing a narrative between one of the accused (Alice Grey) and the wife of a local nobleman (Fleetwood Shuttleworth). Alice and Fleetwood were real people. After reading the book I’d encourage you to at least to go Wikipedia and read a little bit about the trials, about Richard Shuttleworth, and learn about Gawthorpe Hall where the Shuttleworths lived.
Here are my Pros and Cons:
- Creative fiction weaved around a very factual event (see Con #1).
- Very readable historical fiction novel.
- The book definitely emphasizes the plight of women during this time period – from the expectations of a wife (must bear a son!) to accusations of all sorts if you didn’t toe the line as defined by men (for the most part). Here are some things that could result in being accused of witchcraft if you were female – sleepwalking, can’t bear a son, too smart, knowledge of healing plants, too ugly, own a pet, live independently of a man, midwife that delivers a deceased child, have a medical condition like epilepsy or a deformity, argumentative, have an opinion… shall I go on? Women also accused other women of witchcraft! This wasn’t just a men against women thing. I’d have never made it in this time period. I’m way too opinionated to have survived! Seriously!
- While I didn’t really connect to Fleetwood, I did think her evolution was well developed – from an immature 17-year old to a woman willing to fight for what she knows is right.
- I personally would have liked a little more about the trials themselves. A little more detail about why the women (and two men) were accused of witchcraft in the first place would have helped the book in my opinion. The information that is presented appears to be factually accurate, but I would have loved a lot more detail about the witch accusations and trials and a whole lot less of the marital issues between Fleetwood and Richard.
- Fleetwood was kind of a boring character. I didn’t connect to her one bit.
- The way Alice spoke and communicated was weird for me. I understand that she was uneducated and poor, but she seemed super evasive when asked direct questions. It is almost like the author wanted us to wonder if Alice really was a witch.
- I didn’t feel like the characters were well-developed and the atmosphere of the book was tepid at best for me. The story also seemed a bit rushed at the end which disappointed me.
As many books as I have read in my life, and as a lover of history in general (and English history in particular!), I am ashamed to say I was not familiar with the Pendle Witch Trials. I live in the U.S. and we are taught about the Salem Witch Trials (which occurred in Massachusetts some 80 years after the Pendle trials) in our history classes in school. The Familiars introduced me to some history I was previously unaware of and I felt compelled to research and read more about the trials. That is always a good thing!
While this book didn’t dazzle me, it was enjoyable and interesting to read.
Published February 19, 2019 by Mira Books.
My rating – 3 out of 5
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