The Blurb (from Goodreads):
Young Fleetwood Shuttleworth, a noblewoman, is with child again. None of her previous pregnancies have borne fruit, and her husband, Richard, is anxious for an heir. Then Fleetwood discovers a hidden doctor’s letter that carries a dire prediction: she will not survive another birth. By chance she meets a midwife named Alice Grey, who promises to help her deliver a healthy baby. But Alice soon stands accused of witchcraft.
Is there more to Alice than meets the eye? Fleetwood must risk everything to prove her innocence. As the two women’s lives become intertwined, the Witch Trials of 1612 loom. Time is running out; both their lives are at stake. Only they know the truth. Only they can save each other.
Rich and compelling, set against the frenzy of the real Pendle Hill Witch Trials, this novel explores the rights of 17th-century women and raises the question: Was witch-hunting really women-hunting? Fleetwood Shuttleworth, Alice Grey and the other characters are actual historical figures. King James I was obsessed with asserting power over the lawless countryside (even woodland creatures, or “familiars,” were suspected of dark magic) by capturing “witches”—in reality mostly poor and illiterate women.
I’ve always been fascinated by historical witchcraft trials, and have read quite a few books inspired by the famous Pendle Hill witches who were accused and arrested in 1612 in Lancashire. I also love books set in the 17th century. So my ears pricked up when I heard of The Familiars, a debut novel which sparked a nine-way bidding war in the UK.
Fleetwood Shuttleworth is a young noblewoman who is with child once again – but all her previous pregnancies have ended tragically with miscarriage. Her husband needs an heir, but she is afraid of the cost of keeping on trying since she has found a letter from a doctor that says she will not survive another birth.
In her terror she flees into the forest, and there meets a midwife named Alice Grey, who promises to help her. But it is a dangerous time to be someone with herb-lore – accusations of witchcraft are tearing the small community apart, and Fleetwood is soon fighting for more than the life of her unborn child.
The character of Fleetwood Shuttleworth was inspired by a real-life woman with the same fabulous name, and the witch-hunt is also true. This gives this novel an extra depth of gravitas and relevance. The writing is swift and immersive, and Fleetwood herself is all too human. Loved it!
You might also like to read my review of The Coffin Path: