Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
Publication Date: 7th Feb 2019
I read the blurb of The Familiars briefly and knew from what I’d read that it would be a bit of me. I didn’t however realise that it was based on the Pendle Witch trials.
Now if you’re a Most Haunted fan like myself then you’ll know a little about Demdyke and her family. With this in mind I was fizzing with anticipation when I opened the cover.
1612 in Lancashire, 17 year old Fleetwood Shuttleworth is married and pregnant for the fourth time. Her previous 3 babies were lost and her fourth seems like the only chance she will have to provide her husband Richard with an heir to Gawsthorpe Hall.
Fleetwood fights anxiety daily about her body and whether she is strong enough to carry this baby to full term, particularly as she has found correspondence addressed to her husband from a physician who states quite categorically that she will die if she becomes pregnant again.
When she encounters Alice Grey in the woods surrounding Gawsthorpe Hall one day they strike up a tentative friendship based on Alice’s astute observations regarding Fleetwood’s failing health in her pregnancy.
When Alice tells Fleetwood she is a midwife who has successfully delivered babies, and goes on to offer herbal remedies to ease Fleetwood’s suffering, Fleetwood wastes no time in offering Alice the position of being her own dedicated midwife, convinced Alice will be able to successfully see her through childbirth.
Around the same time Lancashire is abuzz with rumours and stories surrounding a group of women from Pendle Hill who have been accused of being witches. A high powered friend of Fleetwood and Richard is involved in bringing these women to trial and ultimately their demise, but just how involved is Alice in the group and how far will Fleetwood go to protect her employee and ultimately her baby and her life.
This is a very solid and accomplished piece of historical fiction. Set around the time of the famous Pendle witch trials, there are some names of ‘witches’ who actually existed. Indeed, there was also a Shuttleworth family and a Gawsthorpe Hall. It always lends a little gravitas to a book, in my opinion, when some of the details are not borne of fiction.
For me though, I would have liked more details of the witches but I understand that this was Fleetwood’s story.
The characterisation in this book is great. Both Fleetwood and Alice (and Fleetwood’s mother) are fascinating. I enjoyed watching their tentative relationship unfold. Seeing them bond and form a connection. Alice is a difficult one to judge at first, she is quite cold and detached and very introspective. Conversely Fleetwood can be quite impulsive and petulant. Two very different women who can still connect and each offer the other something they need.
I have read a review which questions the authenticity of some of the phrases and language used in the time period in which the story is set. I have to say that I didn’t notice this. I did however have to google what ‘marchpane’ was as Fleetwood tends to eat a lot of it! (Its marzipan by the way).
All in all I found this a very enjoyable piece of historical fiction. A very solid debut which makes me very excited to find out what else the author is going to do.
If you’re a historical fiction fan I would definitely say get your hands on a copy.
Thank you to the publisher for the proof copy.
See you soon.
Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx