“’I bet you are not afraid of anything’, I said.
‘Of course I am,’ she said, and she pulled at a loose thread in her apron. ‘I am afraid of lies.’-”
― Stacey Halls, The Familiars
Special thanks to my bookish comrade, Umaymah (@theduchessofkanta – Instagram) for the book recommendation. It is because of books like this that I find historical fiction intriguing and enjoyable. This story is based on the Lancaster Witch Trials of 1612 in England and It served as a good introduction to that time in English history for me. I enjoyed reading this book so much and I see myself coming back here soon.
“The Two Turtle Doves”, as they were fondly called by Roger Nowell their close family friend and neighbor, Richard and Fleetwood have been married for four years. At age 17, Fleetwood has lost three pregnancies and is pregnant again. She is afraid she will die while trying to give birth to this child and her prayers are answered when fate brings Alice Grey a young midwife her way. Fleetwood is surprisingly comfortable in Alice’s company and within a short interval, the duo develop some sort of odd friendship despite their social class disparity but when Alice is accused of witchcraft, Fleetwood must try all that she can to save her from hanging. She knows that helping Alice will put her against many including her husband but she also believes that her life and the life of her unborn child depend on Alice.
The trials in Lancaster in August 1612 are among the most famous witchcraft trials in history and for me, this is the beauty of reading historical fiction where you learn about history in a fun way. Besides, the main theme which the story is based upon (The Pendle Witches of Lancaster), other important sub themes also highlighted in this story were child marriage, child abuse and the level of patriarchal oppression at the time. I was plagued with the knowledge that Fleetwood was married off at age 13, barely a child but forced to play the role of an adult woman who was expected to command a household and bare children. Then and even now in some cultures, a woman is always at a man’s mercy, from your father’s house to your husband’s house and if you did not produce an heir as a wife as fast as possible, you would never be respected by your husband, his family or the community at large no matter your class. This has been the plight of many women and many suffer in silence. I am glad I came in these modern times when things are better but I know I don’t speak for everyone even now.
I love the name “Fleetwood” I find it lovely and different. She was my favorite character and I admired her courage and tenacity. Her character shows that courage does not necessarily mean a lack of fear but the power to forge through despite all odds. Alice Grey was also an interesting character and she was a reflection of the fate of most women in the lower classes and how vulnerable they were. Roger Nowell, I disliked immensely because he never loved anyone but himself and his hunger for fame. He is the typical cunning manipulator that is ever ready to throw anyone in his way under the bus and society let him get away with it. A key lesson I learnt from this story comes from Fleetwood’s relationship with her mother. It has taught me to always remember that my perspective of things may not always be the whole picture and try to sometimes give a benefit of doubt or better still, communicate my feelings to my loved one, giving him/her a chance to explain their actions. This did not still put her mother in my good books but in the circumstances surrounding their lives, I came to understand the reason for the choices she made and her limitations. Richard turned out to be a disappointment to me as I expected more from him but since he was also dancing to the tune of societal pressures, his behavior was inevitable and his attempt to explain his actions at the end were still unacceptable to me.
This book is well written, well paced and believable. The title, “The familiars” is also apt with respect to what it represents in the story and I found it quite enchanting. I can not say I found anything I didn’t like about it. I have quickly done some research on the Pendle Witches saga and I think that the book captured and represented the history very well in the story. For a debut, the author has done a brilliant job and I applaud her effort.
If you love historical fiction and authors like Philippa Gregory who effortlessly fictionize true history in a beautiful way, then this is your book. I have had a couple of 5 star reads this year but this one stands out as my best so far. I am off to read the author’s second work “The Foundling” and I hope it will thrill me like this one did.
Continue to Stay Home and Stay Safe.
Rating: 5 Stars
Published: February 7th, 2019 by Bonnier Zaffre
Genre: Historical Fiction
Purchase @ www.amazon.com/thefamiliars
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. She 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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