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The Familiars by Stacey Halls
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The Familiars

by Stacey Halls

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The Familiars, written by Stacey Halls, is a fictionalized account of the Pendle witch trials. The novel opens with Lady Fleetwood Shuttleworth, a 17-year-old woman who is pregnant and unwell. Thrice she has been pregnant, but each time, her baby died before birth. Desperate to finally have a healthy child and terrified that this time she might die too, Fleetwood employs the services of a young midwife by the name of Alice Grey. With Alice's help, Fleetwood regains her health, and she and her unborn child begin to thrive.

Meanwhile, accusations of witchcraft inundate Lancashire, and Alice is implicated. Determined to prove her friend's innocence and with time rapidly running out, these women must work together to save each other from certain death. ...more ( )
  K_T_C | Feb 25, 2019 |
‘’Justice means fairness. Luck of prejudice.’’

I’ve always loved Pendle Hill and the stories of the women who were accused of witchcraft during one of the darkest moments in the history of Europe. The fascinating legends found a perfect home in Jeanette Winterson’s The Daylight Gate, a novel full of darkness, raw beauty and folklore. Stacey Hall’s The Familiars is not as vicious as Winterson’s masterpiece but it is no less poignant, atmospheric and an absolutely beautiful novel, fully doing justice to its dark themes of prejudice, injustice and sheer violence against women. Sadly, these are issues that have not been extinguished in our world. Centuries later we face the same dangers, albeit wrapped in a different, more ‘’civilized’’ package.

Pendle Hill and Malkin Tower are in the centre of attention in Fleetwood’ household. She is the young wife of a noble house, her mission to produce an heir - a male heir, let us not forget - and things have not been going well. Fleetwood is with child, one more chance to do her ‘’duty’’. Her fortune brings her to Alive, an eerie girl who seems to know nature and its gifts as well as an experienced wise woman. Or as well as a witch...The witch hunt is in full swing under the reign of King James and Fleetwood has to face her husband’s wrongdoings, her fear for her pregnancy and the injustice against women who know Nature better than anyone.

‘’I wouldn’t wish a girl’s life on anyone.’’

The Familiars are the spirits in objects and animals that act as replicas of the so-called ‘’witches’’. This belief lends the name to the title of this beautiful book that seems to be perfect. Indeed, I couldn’t find a single feature that would have made me reconsider my rating. The technical elements are brilliantly composed. The era, the dialogue, the atmosphere of terror, of suspicion and prejudice will captivate your heart from the first chapters. This novel is an example of how a writer can create female protagonists that do not resemble any stereotype but are fully imagined and brought to life so realistically that the readers feel as if they’re watching actual people of flesh and blood fighting for the right to have a voice. This is why I won’t tire you over technicalities. What I feel the need to focus on is the exquisite treatment of the themes that make this novel such a beautiful and frightening experience.

The main theme reflected in the use of the witch-hunt era as the setting is the position of women in a society that seems to take an almost orgasmic satisfaction in supporting every possible prejudice against them. Men practice infidelity because it is their ‘’right’’. Women are not even allowed to choose their own midwife. Pregnancy becomes an obligation. Something you must do because society tells you to. And if you don’t want children of your own, everyone will look at you at best with apprehension and at worst with disgust. I am using the Present tense intentionally because things haven’t changed much. Not as long as the Trumps of the world tell us what to do with our bodies and our own choices. Religion and politics have always lent themselves as culprits of irrationalities, dogmas have long been used as pretexts for absolute control over the fates of women. Take the ridiculous Daemonologie, written by King James, as an example. One of the most incompetent, ludicrous monarchs of Europe that led dozens of women to their death.

There are men encouraged to feel superior by oppressing women because they feared their intelligence and independence. Women bow to an absurd will and condemn other women because they are influenced by uneducated priests and are envious of the women who live their lives according to their rules without needing a man and a surname to sustain them or verify their existence. These issues are still relevant to our world. Many men cannot recognize women’s right to equality. Many women still need a man to verify their worth. Flushing out certain parts of our anatomy on Instagram, projecting ourselves as objects does not help. This is not emancipation. It is outright prostitution. Let us not fear the words and speak clearly.

What can be better than a Historical Fiction novel that prompts you to think about how universal and relevant certain issues are, how vital in our daily experience. This novel by Stacey Halls is like a heavy storm that has been brewing for hours. Like the grey sky over Pendle Hill. Like the fragile hope that comes with the arrival of a child in the world…

‘’Do we not have eyes and ears like our husbands, and the men who will condemn them?’’

Many thanks to MIRA and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

My reviews can also be found on https://theopinionatedreaderblog.wordpress.com ( )
  AmaliaGavea | Feb 16, 2019 |
The Familiars by Stacey Halls is an historical fiction tale featuring Fleetwood Shuttleworth in the time of the Pendle witch trials of 1612. Based on real characters from history in Lancashire England, Fleetwood is 17 years old, married and and pregnant again after failing to carry her three previous pregnancies to term.

Fleetwood is mistress at Gawthorpe Hall and meets Alice Gray, a wise woman and midwife. Alice agrees to help Fleetwood deliver her baby safely but soon finds herself swept up in accusations of witchcraft.

Despite being fiction, I love that the characters, locations and events in The Familiars were based on historical fact. It was a fascinating insight into the period and the characters and I was instantly caught up in their stories. Fleetwood and Alice depend on each other for survival and their plight highlights the limitations placed on women at the time and the ridiculous accusations - and fear - of witchcraft.

If that wasn't enough, The Familiars is a physically stunning book. I adore the cover design with bronze foiling, forest foliage and the spot UV noose that encircles our main character. The title page and map immediately dropped me into the time period and the images of the fox and sprigs of lavender throughout the novel kept the level of enchantment full to overflowing.

It's not often that an unsolicited book from a publisher results in a five star reading experience, but The Familiars by Stacey Halls is an exception to the rule. I absolutely loved it!

Highly recommended.

* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin * ( )
1 vote Carpe_Librum | Feb 8, 2019 |
I am firmly at 4.5 stars on this one. I really loved it. The piece really depicted the insanity of the witch trials and really drives home that saying 'good men need do nothing to let evil triumph' (forgive the completely mangled quote - but you get my point). I so appreciated the MC Fleetwood. She stood up for what she believed in, while living in an insufferable time period for women, never questioning herself or wavering in her conviction. I thought the story line was tight and kept me very interested, so much so I was surprised to see this was a debut author. I am only holding back the last half star because I thought a bit more was needed to really keep the story and the reader in the time period. I would have liked to have known more about the rigors of day to day life in that time period. I am very, very thankful to NetGalley and the publisher for allowing me to read an advanced copy in exchange for my honest review. ( )
  Kathl33n | Nov 21, 2018 |
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