Author: Stacey Halls
Review by: Tracy Acres on behalf of Kildare Libraries (Face) Book Club
This book is set in England in the 1600s during the Pendle Witch Trials. These trials are thebackdrop to the central story of a relationship between two young women trying to survive in a Patriarchal Society.
The main character, Fleetwood Shuttleworth, is a 17-year old girl who is already married to her second husband. Written in the first person, we see a once carefree girl very much in love with her husband fast becoming aware of her precarious situation. We begin to see that it is vital for Fleetwood, who has previously had several miscarriages, to produce an heir for her husband. To do so she turns for help to a local woman rumoured to be an expert in keeping babies to term. Unfortunately her husband’s close friend Roger, a man she has always admired and considered a friend, is also interested in this woman and other local women who he aims to bring up on charges of witchcraft to gain favour with King James.
The reader learns the truth alongside Fleetwood that almost everything that she believed to be true is false. Her husband, Roger, her mother and even the servants in her household are not who she thought them to be. We are pulled into her world of fear, desperation and paranoia. We meet her mother, on the surface a cold and hard woman and we explore the relationship between the two. We also see her growing awareness of the men around her, their power and her lack of it. We see Fleetwood fighting against patriarchy, growing in confidence and her preparedness to take on anything to save her baby and therefore her midwife, two women who need each other to survive. We see her growing up.
With its young innocent heroine on her journey to self knowledge and aspects of witchcraft and gothic horror, The Familiars invites comparisons with Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. The main characters are well drawn and the subject matter fascinating. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book which was our first online book club pick and I would definitely recommend it.
The online bookclub will meet again on Wednesday June 24th at 8.30pm via ZOOM. Please follow the group on Facebook for more details. This month’s pick is Step Sister by Jennifer Donnelly – available via Borrowbox in both ebook and audiobook format.