Many of the characters and settings in the novel existed, and Halls has woven them into an arresting piece of fiction... Halls’s fast-paced storytelling does cast a spell. However, guests to the hall note how “modern” it is, and the same observation could be levelled at its headstrong, free-ranging young mistress, who seems more a product of our own time than the 17th century.
The Familiars is also a strong debut. It is 1612 and Fleetwood Shuttleworth, although only 17, has miscarried three times and is pregnant for the fourth time... The background to the novel is the real events of the Pendle witch trials, which led to the hanging of eight women and two men. Will Alice be accused? Stacey Halls tells a spirited tale.
The trials, for all the talk they create in the book, remain oddly flat. The vibrancy instead comes from Fleetwood herself... It is impossible not to get behind her efforts to secure for herself and her child some sort of sanctuary... Halls is clear on her message – a woman is not an end in herself – and finds inventive ways to get it across. At times, she even manages to get it through with humour... The writing is strong throughout, with descriptions appropriate to milieu and era...
When childless Fleetwood Shuttleworth, 17, discovers that she's pregnant for the fourth time, she recruits midwife Alice Gray to ensure this baby lives. But when Alice is drawn into the Pendle witch trials of 1612, their burgeoning friendship is tested. Historical fiction at its feminist best.