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The Familiars, by Stacey Hall (audiobook read by Katy Sobey)

TRIGGER WARNING: miscarriage and stillbirth
Fleetwood Sutherland is a 17 year old wife in the north of England during the reign of James I. She is pregnant for the fourth time but has lost her previous babies. She has found a doctor’s letter advising her husband not to get her pregnant again; advice he has ignored and she is devastated that he has put his desire for an heir above his love for her. Fleetwood finds a midwife, Alice Gray, but local women are being accused of witchcraft and Alice is in danger…
The Familiars is an historical book set in the seventeenth century but with bucketloads of emotion. My degree is in history and my dissertation was on witchcraft so I LOVED THIS BOOK!!!
I was totally absorbed in this book from the start. Fleetwood (terrible name, took me ages to get used to it) is so young but has already endured three pregnancies which ended too soon. Now she is terrified as her new baby grows and seeks a midwife for support. She cannot turn to her husband as he appears careless of her life at the expense of an heir.
The Pendle witch trials form the background to this book and Alice Gray is a genuine figure from this historical event. The tense atmosphere is sustained well as the danger grows. Fleetwood and Alice’s lives beome intertwined and they need to save each other to save themselves.
There is an important theme of women’s bodies and the desire of patriarchy to control them. The miracle of life and birth alongside the fear of death and the supernatural also underpin the plot. I felt that the historical, and some might say hysterical, elements to the book were accurately portrayed, from the depictions of hierarchical class and gender relationships to the witch-finding fervour of the 1600s.
I really liked the narrative style of the book and thought the audio recording matched it perfectly. This allowed me to be transported back in time and be totally absorbed by the story.
The Familiars has drama and emotion with a brilliant cast of characters.

The Familiars book cover

Book blurb:
To save her child, she will trust a stranger. To protect a secret, she must risk her life….
Fleetwood Shuttleworth is 17 years old, married and pregnant for the fourth time. But as the mistress at Gawthorpe Hall, she still has no living child, and her husband, Richard, is anxious for an heir. When Fleetwood finds a letter she isn’t supposed to read from the doctor who delivered her third stillbirth, she is dealt the crushing blow that she will not survive another pregnancy.
Then she crosses paths by chance with Alice Gray, a young midwife. Alice promises to help her give birth to a healthy baby and to prove the physician wrong.
As Alice is drawn into the witchcraft accusations that are sweeping the North-West, Fleetwood risks everything by trying to help her. But is there more to Alice than meets the eye?
Soon the two women’s lives will become inextricably bound together as the legendary trial at Lancaster approaches, and Fleetwood’s stomach continues to grow. Time is running out, and both their lives are at stake.
Only they know the truth. Only they can save each other.
Stacey Halls is the Winner of the Women’s Prize Futures Award for her novel Mrs England.
About the author
Stacey Halls grew up in Rossendale, Lancashire, as the daughter of market traders. She has always been fascinated by the Pendle witches. She studied journalism at the University of Central Lancashire and moved to London aged 21. Stacey was media editor at The Bookseller and books editor at Stylist.co.uk, and has also written for Psychologies, the Independent and Fabulous magazine, where she now works as Deputy Chief Sub Editor. The Familiars is her first novel.


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