Hello everyone and welcome to a brand new edition of Lil Red’s Book Club! It has been a while since our last book club meeting because I have been so busy with the move and housewarming party. But we’re back, baby, and today we will be discussing a very unique book called The Familiars by Stacey Halls. Before we begin, I am putting a big fat trigger warning on The Familiars because it is based on the main character’s series of miscarriages. Now, let’s get to it and, as always, without giving any spoilers away:
*Before we begin our synopsis, we must note that The Familiars is based in England in 1612 during the infamous Pendle Witch Trials.
Fleetwood Shuttleworth (Coolest name ever) is the young mistress of the great Gawthorpe Hall and is with child. Actually, with her fourth child because she has miscarried thrice at just seventeen years old. Fleetwood has had a difficult pregnancy every single time and this one is no different. She can barely keep food down, can’t sleep, and her hair is falling out in clumps.
Her physical health is declining but her mental health is close to the brink too because Fleetwood has discovered a secret correspondence between her husband and doctor. In this letter, the doctor explains that both baby and mother won’t survive this next birth. Knowing that her earthly life will soon come to an end, it is no wonder that her mental health is deteriorating as well.
While walking in the vast woods surrounding Gawthorpe Hall with her faithful dog, Puck, Fleetwood meets a young woman named Alice. She pays what her husband considers a trespasser no mind until Alice and her cross paths again when she has fallen from her horse. Fleetwood learns that Alice is a midwife and hires her to be the savior of herself and unborn child.
Alice has been trained by her mother, who was also a midwife, and cares for her charges with herbs, roots, and things found in nature. And, her methods seem to work because almost instantly, Fleetwood has regained her appetite, sleeps peacefully, and her hair has stopped falling out. Despite Alice’s success, Fleetwood’s husband is suspicious of her, especially because witch trials have just begun and accusations are flying left and right between counties.
Fleetwood’s husband, Richard, is a powerful young man and has the potential to go far in the government. Because of these close family ties, Fleetwood learns that Alice will soon be arrested and tried for witchcraft. She also finds out that her husband might not be the person she fell in love with after all.
Desperate to be away from Richard and fearful for herself and child if Alice stops caring for her, Fleetwood and her midwife flee to safety. The time in the haven of Fleetwood’s mother’s home is cut short, however, and Alice is taken away to the gaols. Will Alice be hung for witchcraft? Will Fleetwood and her child live without her care? Read The Familiars to find out!
I am quite torn about The Familiars because on one hand, I really enjoyed it. On the other, I was so ready for it to be over. This read was a slow burn and written in old English so some of the chapters seemed to drag on endlessly. At first, I was charmed by reading what felt like The Crucible (My favorite!) but there were times when my patience wore thin because there was so much context to wrap my head around.
The Familiars introduced a lot of characters at once and it was difficult to keep track of them all. This was especially true when the witches and their accusers came into play. Of course, every character held their own significance but I think that I would have liked it better if the focus were only on a handful of people. I like an involved story line as much as the next but when I have to go back and reread sections to remember who someone was, I start to get irritated!
Although the characters were plentiful, I did love both Fleetwood and Alice and they each shone as heroines. Fleetwood was brave, determined, and wasn’t afraid to let her opinion be known to a man. And, that was a rarity in 1612! Alice was a perfect character to compliment Fleetwood’s brashness with and was shy, intelligent, and kind. My heart ached when Alice was sent to the gaols and I was rooting for both of them every step of the way.
The synopsis that I provided, truly, doesn’t begin to cover a quarter of what The Familiars is all about and it’s a big bite to chew off. If you can stick with it, I think you will find things about it that you enjoy. However, I ain’t mad at ya if you don’t! Overall, I am going to rate The Familiars with a six out of ten stars. I loved the main characters and primary plot but I don’t think that speaks well for a book if I was thrilled when it was finally over. Take it or leave it, because my opinion is somewhere right in the middle.
What are you currently reading? What should I read next? I want to hear from all of you, so leave me a comment and let’s chat! Much love. -Sarah