The Familiars by Stacey Halls

I left the house with the letter because I did not know what else to do.

– Opening sentence

When this outrageously pretty book found its way though my letter box, I squealed a little. Who wouldn’t be instantly attracted to the cover artwork of The Familiars?

Loosely based on the Pendle witch trial in August 1612, the story follows a fictional account of Fleetwood Shuttleworth and Alice Gray – two real people, but with no historical evidence to tie them together.

There was a lot of hype about this book, and the opening chapter was certainly very gripping. After two heartbreaking miscarriages, Fleetwood is expecting her third child. However, after discovering a letter from her doctor to her husband, hidden from her, she has reason to fear for her life. The letter reads that another pregnancy could kill her.

Feeling betrayed and very much alone, Fleetwood stumbles across a young midwife, Alice Gray, who says she can help her. But when Alice is accused of being a witch, Fleetwood stands to lose the only person who can save her.

The Familiars is a good book, but it had the potential to be so much better. After the first chapter, the pacing slowed to a crawl and I found myself reading chapter after chapter without very much happening.

What’s more, I found myself getting genuinely angry, not just at the slow pacing but at the characters themselves. As a woman in the 1600s, Fleetwood dosen’t have a lot of control over her life. Her own mother can marry her away to whomever she chooses and her husband can keep another woman and be angry at Fleetwood when she gets upset about it.

I know this is reflective of the time period, and that the author probably wanted the reader to sympathise with these injustices, but it didn’t feel like I was getting angry on Fleetwood’s behalf. I was just getting angry with the book. It’s difficult for me to put it into words, but I have read multiple books with similar themes and not felt this way.

I think it may partly be due to Fleetwood’s internal monologue and her actions with dealing with these experiences; she very much gave in and accepted her fate, with little fight. I would find myself damning her decisions and rolling my eyes as I turned a new page. What’s more, the lack of remorse from her husband almost caused me to throw the book across the room.

Some readers may see this as a sign of a good book, to cause such a strong reaction. However, I didn’t finish The Familiars and gush with admiration. I just thought ‘thank God that’s over.’

Even the ending was disappointing. It just sort of ended without much of an explanation. The book had been (slowly) building up towards a dramatic ending, and it just fell a little bit flat.

As a reader, nothing breaks my heart more than a book with a beautiful cover, but average content within its pages.

I know this book has proved popular amongst other bloggers, please feel free to comment and tell me where I went wrong!

3 Stars (3 / 5)

Then I blinked, and it was gone.

– Final sentence

Leave A Comment