The Familiars: charming and magical

The Familiars by Stacey Hall is a charming tale of female friendship, pregnancy, betrayal and witchcraft. With a light magical undertone, this book reads like a historical mystery set in my home county of Lancashire. I found this story easy to get into and impossible to put down. The Familiars by Stacey Halls is out now from Bonnier Zaffre.

The story
The Familiars by Stacey Halls follows Fleetwood, a pregnant woman who is desperate to have her baby and live through the process. After heart-breaking news from the doctor, she seeks out help in the form of a local midwife, Alice, who uses herbs and tinctures to help ease her pain throughout the pregnancy and promises to help her survive. With the Pendle witch trials happening in a nearby town, the men are suspicious of all the women, making Fleetwood’s husband Richard very sceptical of Alice and her methods of healing. As she gets closer to Alice, Fleetwood becomes increasingly interested in her background and connection with the witch trials. But can she survive the truths she uncovers?

Why I liked this book…
The Familiars by Stacey Halls is a great book because it is thoroughly researched, with names of real people who were present during the actual Pendle witch trials. Making it a convincing narrative, the characters are also very relatable; many women fear miscarriages and as a woman who’s had many, Fleetwood is wise to find a midwife she can trust. Alice is a poor girl who doesn’t want much to do with the family after previous negative experiences in stepping out of her boundaries, so she helps and heals while being fiercely independent.
Richard and Roger are the more questionable characters; Richard is a pompous man who enjoys controlling Fleetwood and focuses more on himself and his travels than his pregnant wife, while Roger is instrumental in rounding up ‘suspicious’ women for the trials. This displeases the female characters who understand that you can be suspected of being a witch for very small reasons.
Halls’ narrative is set up to read like a mystery novel, with Fleetwood journeying places on her horse and asking inquisitive questions, as well as sneaking into places using her surname. I enjoyed this part a lot, because I feel as though Fleetwood has been plucked from a rogue detective narrative, been given a sense of responsibility with the pregnancy and a friend to care for in Alice, and placed in this wonderful landscape. I especially like the way the forest is constantly used, it almost feels as though it is a character of its own, obscuring the truth and protecting the witches and their familiars.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It is a solid 4* for me, only because I found the beginning a bit dull as I was waiting for the first reveal which led into the drama of the rest of the novel. I would recommend this book to people who love historical narratives, fiction with a touch of magic/fantasy or people who want a good mystery set in a whole different world. Thank you Bonnier Zaffre and Stacey Halls for my gorgeous signed proof copy of The Familiars in exchange for an honest review.

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