You guys know I’m mad for witches, right? So I absolutely couldn’t resist the idea of The Familiars, which is set during the Pendle witch trials – and even on top of my high expectations, I was surprised by how beautiful, fluid, and atmospheric the writing is. This is a gorgeous book inside and out.
Book: The Familiars by Stacey Halls
Read before: I read the first three chapters in E-ARC format, then came back to the paper book a month later so I had time to savour it.
Ownership: Physical ARC provided free of charge by Bonnier Zaffre for fair review. All opinions my own.
From the very beginning of this book, there is such a strong sense of voice that you can’t help but fall in love with Fleetwood. Seventeen, and pregnant for the fourth time (hopefully, the first successful time), she has run into the woods after finding a letter that her husband has concealed from her, in which her doctor says that another pregnancy would surely kill her. There’s such an overwhelming amount of emotion in all Fleetwood’s prose – I instantly wanted to defend her and stand by her as she realises that her marriage is not the dream she thought it was. Fleetwood is at once very mature and very young, and I thought that she was captured perfectly as a young woman striving to be perfect in a world which really only allows a very narrow definition of female perfection. I’d do anything for Fleetwood.
Much of the emotional drama in the story revolves around Fleetwood’s husband’s betrayal, and the solace that she finds in Alice Gray’s friendship and midwifery. Alice is a woman with knowledge of plants and healing. She knows women’s medicine, and lives independently – all fine reasons, in a witch-hunter’s mind, to condemn her as a witch. Her friendship with Fleetwood is a fascinating study in the way that two very different women work, and their every interaction is so well-drawn that I felt like I was in the room. Befriending Alice makes Fleetwood realise that for all her limits, she has an immense amount of privilege as a rich man’s wife, and her character growth is just wonderful. Alice is the catalyst that makes Fleetwood coalesce into an adult, into her own woman.
Oh, just every moment of this book is so beautifully written. I lost myself in the pages and barely noticed I was even reading. Everything about this seems to have been written to appeal to me: strong, flawed women; deep platonic friendships; the claustrophobia that is so often missing in male-authored historical fiction; proper historical cunning women with medicinal herbs… Look, if you weren’t already suckered in by that astonishingly beautiful cover, then just trust me. You’ll want to read this.
Five out of five cats (or should I say, familiars!).