Based on historical fact, this is a new, fictional take on witch trials of the 17th Century.
It’s 1612 and in the quiet countryside of Lancashire, all Fleetwood Shuttleworth wants is to give her husband a child in The Familiars by Stacey Halls. Wild and unknowingly, she stumbles across life-changing information that has her fall head-first into the political troubles that are stirring the local people – claims of witches.
With the region on edge and a political battle raging to garner the favour of the king, Fleetwood’s world is exploding and taking her midwife Alice, her dog Puck, and her husband Richard with it.
Quietly understated with an unexplainable magic, Halls has brilliantly brought Fleetwood Shuttleworth and 17th century Lancashire to life on the pages of The Familiars. Using Fleetwood to explore and explain the world around her in a way that any young woman could understand, Halls has an easy writing style that is able to capture the reader and draw them in.
A good balance of well-written dialogue, action and thoughtful musings, Fleetwood’s life is a fascinating representation of what a well-monied young woman’s life could have been like in that period, with the trials and tribulations of social class constantly reminded to the reader. There are very real themes surrounding a woman’s role in that period and Halls does not go easy on the subject.
Perhaps the greatest disappointment is, in fact, the best part of this novel – the unknowable factor of just how much magic occurred and what truly happened at Malkin Tower. Based on historical fact with a fictional take, the tale is intriguing and frustratingly non-specific on the events. On that front alone, I hope Halls explores this historical fiction genre further.
This is a novel for older teens, young adults and lovers of historical fiction, but also readers looking for a new spin on the age-old witch trial. It is definitively not a romance and Halls’ writing style makes it an excellent pre-bed read, (though good luck putting it down mid-chapter).
A must-read for 2019.
Reviewed by Zoe Butler
Twitter: @ Zoe_Rambles
Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Released: February 2019