Book Review: The Familiars by Stacey Halls

A book set in Lancashire, written by a Lancastrian and reviewed by a Lancastrian.

  • Title: The Familiars
  • Author: Stacey Halls
  • Publisher: Zaffre
  • Date Published: 2019
  • Date Written: 2018
  • Length: (hardback) 420 pages
  • ISBN: (hardback) 978-1-78576-611-4
  • Genre: Historical Fiction

The Familiars by Stacey Halls made a special connection with me. The book is set in Lancashire in the early 1600s and is a beautiful, fictional tale set around the very real people and events which took place during the Pendle Witch trials, a part of history that my hometown is built around, with many residents still believing in curses of the Pendle Witches.

“If you were born in the Lunesdale area, you will return here to die.”

– A popular tale around the pubs of Lancaster

The Pendle Witch trials took place at Lancaster Castle, a place I work directly across the road from and in the past I have worked in bars where Lancaster Legends speak of old wells and secret tunnels in the cellars which lead up to the hidden entrances within the castle. So when I saw that there was a fictional book about the events that took place four hundred years ago across the road from me, I had to buy it. Not to mention it is a Waterstones exclusive, signed by Stacey Halls, with a beautiful cover, painted pages and free bookmark – I wouldn’t have been able to resist it whatever it was about.

I love historical fiction and adore a little magic in stories and Halls managed to get the perfect balance of respectfully, carefully and skilfully creating believable personalities for her characters, whilst making them relatable to readers of the twenty-first century. She touches on subjects around early feminism and gives the reader an insight into how different life was for women in the 1600s, but also, how similar these women truly were to us now. Parts of the book were so captivating that I was able to personally feel how helpless, trapped and stuck the main character was. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes to read historical fiction, has an interest in witchcraft or the history surrounding witch trials or anyone who loves to read a book with a strong female lead. The book can be descriptively dark natured in parts, so for this reason, I wouldn’t recommend the book for anyone younger than fifteen.

The book has a beautifully illustrated map of Lancashire when you open it up and actually does become useful as you read; the story is set in various towns and cities within Lancashire which characters are often travelling to.

The main character is Mistress of Gawthorpe Hall, Fleetwood Shuttleworth. A seventeen-year-old who has already suffered the misfortune of a miscarriage three times and is now on her fourth pregnancy. Fleetwood found a letter which her husband, Richard, was hiding from her, stating that she will not survive this pregnancy. Fleetwood hired Alice Gray to be her midwife under the promise that both Fleetwood and the baby would survive. However, somehow, Alice gets tangled up amongst the witchcraft allegations of the Legendary Pendle Witch Trials and both Fleetwood and Alice’s lives become endangered. Stacey Halls captured the strong bond and love between two people in friendship, I laughed and cried along with both leading girls in the story. I can’t choose a favourite character between Alice or Fleetwood, they were both so different from each other, yet relatable at the same time. The Familiars offers lots of twists and turns throughout the story, keeping you on edge at the end of each chapter; once you pick up the book, it is hard to put it back down again. My Mum read it straight after me and Adored this book too! A 2019 must-read.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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