Stacey Halls comes to the blog today with her debut offering, a story of friendship amidst rumors, fear mongering and intolerance in 17th century England in
Imagine yourself a young girl of seventeen, pregnant for the fourth time in four years, losing the three previous pregnancies ending in stillbirths, but this is not your first marriage. At four you were married off to a beastly man of thirty who took his ‘conjugal rights’ soon after you first met. Believing your mother would send you off to this monster, and your only worth the size of your dowry and a once well-thought of name, and being alive in a time when women were little more than bargaining chips and property, without vote, voice, freedom or options. Such was Fleetwood’s life and at just seventeen she is scared, alone and worried that she has nothing but death to look forward to. A bit spoilt, a combination of position as mistress of a large house and her husband’s disregard of her need for company and companions, she’s often out and about riding or walking, mostly to escape the cage that her home has become.
But all is not well in the Lancashire area – her husband Richard’s good friend is determined to make a name for himself with the King, and the best way to effect his position and rise to fame is to rout out the current obsession held by James – witches. With several trials taking place in the Scottish highlands where fears and rumors run hand in hand, he’s jumping at any and every opportunity to make a statement with a large trial to sentence several women charged with witchcraft. The odd collection of midwives and healers have fallen prey to rumor, innuendo and bad feeling, and Fleetwood’s need for a midwife, and a friend, bring her into contact with Alice. A woman not many years older than herself, learned in the use of herbs and healing, with experience in midwifery.
Halls has managed to make this a story that while the ‘tension’ that drives Fleetwood’s growth is integrally tied to the accused women, the story is more clips of ‘rumor and superstition’ and tales suited more to fairy tales meant to scare children than actual witchcraft. The use of familiars, the ever-vigilant Roger never seeing one as he claims that familiars are only shown to those in league with the devil, and the frequent references to them is placed carefully, with frequent appearances of foxes (or one fox) to Fleetwood as to have special meaning. Oh this story was full of the contradictions and growth one would expect from a lonely and often friendless teenager, and her steady determination to save Alice from the noose and hopefully save herself in childbirth isn’t wholly selfless, but plausible and cleverly written. Halls has made a story of the people around the trials, as they show the false claims, superstitions and the danger of rumors when only one voice is allowed to be heard. Daring for her forthright actions, speech and determination to be heard, Fleetwood is a solidly unconventional heroine in a time when even contradicting one’s husband or the men in his circle could result in dire consequences. A lovely introduction to this author that promises good things in the future.
Title: The Familiars
Author: Stacey Halls
Genre: 17th Century, British, Friendship, Historical Fiction, Setting: Britain, Witches
Published by: Harlequin MIRA
Published on: 19 February, 2019
Source: Publisher Via Edelweiss
Audio Length: 9 Hours: 45 minutes
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To save her unborn child, she will trust a stranger.
To protect her secret, she must risk her life.
1612 Pendle Hill, England
Young Fleetwood Shuttleworth is with child again. As the mistress of Gawthorpe Hall, she is anxious to provide her husband with an heir. But none of her previous pregnancies have come to term. Then she discovers a hidden letter from her physician that warns her husband that she will not survive another pregnancy.
Distraught over the frightening revelation, Fleetwood wanders the woods of Pendle Hill, where she comes across a young local woman named Alice Gray who is gathering herbs. A midwife, Alice promises Fleetwood she can help her deliver a healthy baby. But soon Alice is drawn into the frenzied accusations of witchcraft sweeping the countryside. Even the woodland creatures, the “familiars,” are suspected of practicing the dark arts. Can Fleetwood trust that Alice is really who she says she is?
As the two women’s lives become intertwined, Fleetwood must risk everything to prove Alice’s innocence in order to save her own unborn child. The hunt for witches reaches fever pitch. Time is running out. The trials are about to begin. Both their lives are at stake. Only they know the truth. Only they can save each other.
Set against the Pendle Witch Trials of 1612, this rich and compelling novel draws its characters from historical figures as it explores the lives and rights of seventeenth-century women, ultimately raising the question: Is witch-hunting really just women-hunting?
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher Via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.