Tuesday 1 October 2019

BLOG TOUR: The Familiars - Stacey Halls

To save her child, she will trust a stranger. To protect a secret, she must risk her life...

Lancashire 1612

Fleetwood Shuttleworth is 17 years old, married, and pregnant for the fourth time. But as the mistress at Gawthorpe Hall, she still has no living child, and her husband Richard is anxious for an heir. When Fleetwood finds a letter she isn’t supposed to read from the doctor who delivered her third stillbirth, she is dealt the crushing blow that she will not survive another pregnancy.

When she crosses paths by chance with Alice Gray, a young midwife, Alice promises to help her give birth to a healthy baby, and to prove the physician wrong.

When Alice is drawn into the witchcraft accusations that are sweeping the North-West, Fleetwood risks everything by trying to help her. But is there more to Alice than meets the eye?

As the two women's lives become inextricably bound together, the legendary trial at Lancaster approaches, and Fleetwood’s stomach continues to grow. Time is running out, and both their lives are at stake.

Only they know the truth. Only they can save each other.

What did I think?

I think it is impossible to write a review of The Familiars that will even come close to doing it justice.  Even whilst I was reading it, I kept stopping to take a breath and gather my thoughts, often pronouncing out loud 'this is brilliant'.  The Familiars sweeps the board of positive adjectives; think of one and you could use it to describe this book: exceptional, outstanding, epic, awesome, fantastic, exquisite and brilliant to name but a few.  

To make this story even more exceptional, is the fact that the characters in the book were real people.  Stacey Halls brings them back to life with her beautiful and expressive writing and now they are immortalised in print.  Although the story itself is a work of fiction, I like to think that this is the true story of Fleetwood Shuttleworth and her midwife, Alice Gray; two women who saved each other's lives.  

I've always been intrigued by stories of witches and witchfinders.  These clever, caring women who were natural healers still helped people even when they were at risk of being branded a witch.  Whether for fame or fortune, they were hunted and rounded up, unfairly tried and hung.  With witchfinders scouring the length and breadth of the country, no town was left unscathed and The Familiars is set in 17th century Lancashire around the time of the Pendle witch trials, one of the most famous witch trials in England.

Aged 17 and already having suffered three miscarriages, Fleetwood Shuttleworth finds herself pregnant again.  Already frightened for the life of her unborn child, she finds a letter from her doctor to her husband which claims that she will not survive another pregnancy.  Determined to give her husband an heir, she enlists the help of a woman she finds in the woods, Alice Gray, to be her midwife.  With the help of Alice's herbs and tinctures, Fleetwood's unborn child grows stronger each day but then Fleetwood is dealt a crushing blow when Alice is arrested with the Pendle witches.  Only Alice can save Fleetwood's life in childbirth and only Fleetwood can save Alice from the gallows.

Oh my word!  The Familiars is most definitely my book of the year, if not the decade.  What an outstanding novel and what an exceptional debut!  It's so good that I bought a beautiful hardback copy after reading my advance review copy.  Stacey Halls is a natural storyteller; her writing is effusive, seductive and descriptive, breathing life into her historical fiction novel and making the characters almost pop from the page.  Stacey Halls is not only an author to watch, she's an author you MUST READ!!!  I've already got a copy of her next novel (The Foundling) on pre-order, although I'm not sure how she can eclipse the utter perfection of The Familiars

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

About the author:

Stacey Halls grew up in Rossendale, Lancashire, as the daughter of market traders. She has always been fascinated by the Pendle witches. She studied journalism at the University of Central Lancashire and moved to London aged 21. She was media editor at The Bookseller and books editor at Stylist.co.uk, and has also worked as a journalist for Psychologies, the Independent and Fabulous magazine. TV rights have been sold to The Bureau production company.

The Familiars is her first novel and her second, The Foundling, is coming Feb 2020. Say hello @Stacey_Halls on Twitter and @StaceyHallsAuthor on Instagram.

Themes include women and power, social history of witches. Stacey has done huge amounts of research and can speak eloquently on Gawthorpe Manor and her real life heroine Fleetwood. 

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