On Hist Fic Saturday
Let's go back to ....1612
7 February 2019
My thanks to the publishers for my copy of this book
The events which led to twenty people being brought to trial, at the August assizes at Lancaster Castle are well documented, as is the fate of the ten who were found guilty of witchcraft and subsequently executed on Gallows Hill, in Lancaster, on the 20th August 1612. It's impossible to live in my part of Lancashire and not know of the fate of the Pendle Witches and their story is one which continues to survive and thrive as writers and historians remain fascinated by them.
The Familiars keeps the theme of the Pendle Witches alive but gives an altogether different twist on the story by introducing us to Fleetwood Shuttleworth, the seventeen year old mistress of Gawthorpe Hall, who is expecting her third child. After two miscarriages this child is all the more precious and with Fleetwood's husband keen for a male heir, Fleetwood will do all that she can to keep the child safe. When she meets, Alice Gray, a young midwife, with a skill for healing, Fleetwood's dependence on her to keep the pregnancy viable is made all the more poignant when, almost inadvertently, Fleetwood and Alice get drawn into the frenzy surrounding the search for witches in the county of Lancaster.
Living in the shadow of Pendle Hill, the tiny hamlets and villages start to some alive, and the hidden places, which once had such an innocence about them, are gradually transformed into something dark and dangerous. Fleetwood's role as the young mistress of one of the largest houses in the area, and her growing reliance on Alice is viewed with mistrust, not just by Fleetwood's husband, Richard, but also by Roger Nowell, a close acquaintance of the Shuttleworth's, whose role as a local magistrate will prove to have devastating consequences.
Beautifully written and weaving together well documented fact with fiction, The Familiars brings to life the sad story of the witches of Pendle. The stark terror of living in such a dangerous a time seems to sit in direct contrast against the smug complacency of men who were so dismissive of the plight of the witches, and as the story progresses, the dawning realisation that Fleetwood is in grave danger gives a rather sharp edge to what is quite a terrifying story.
I must just give out a mention about the book cover which is quite simply stunning in its design and which is so beautifully reminiscent of the story that I just want to keep looking at it 😻
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. 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.
Twitter @stacey_halls #TheFamiliars