Based around the real 1612 Pendle Witch Trials, this compelling novel explores the rights of 17th century women and the true fate of those accused of witchcraft. Fleetwood Shuttleworth, noblewoman of Gawthorpe Hall, is pregnant for the fourth time. She has never carried a baby to term. Desperate to deliver an heir for her husband, Richard, Fleetwood enlists the help of a local midwife named Alice Grey. But Alice is soon drawn into the accusations of witchcraft that are sweeping the area, and Fleetwood must risk everything to clear her name.
I love books about witches, especially ones based on real-life events, and The Familiars really hit the mark. I know next to nothing about the Pendle Witch Trials (although I do now want to learn more), but I do know that Fleetwood, Alice and all the other characters in this book are based on real people affected by these trials. The author has used the real names of the women accused and tried for witchcraft, and built a fictional story out of the mystery of what really happened, which is truly fascinating.
The story is wonderfully well-written. The author builds a mysterious, slightly haunting atmosphere without any inclusion of actual magic. The plot is quite simple and develops slowly, but this only adds to the atmosphere and realism.
Fleetwood was a slightly annoying character (though I adore her name), but she fitted well into the story and was bearable enough to read about. Her complete powerlessness against the men around her was frustrating but, considering that the story is based on truth, realistic and frightening. I kind of hated her husband but, for the time, his actions were to be expected.
Also, how beautiful is that cover?
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.