Book review – “The Familiars”

Usually there’s a little while between me finishing a book and writing a review; I have so many finished in 2019 already I haven’t even started writing about. But this particular book has captured me so much I can’t help but write about it immediately.

“The Familiars” is a historical fictional novel, with a twist of fantasy brought in. I listened to this as an Audible book, which leads me on to two points. Firstly, that the performance was absolutely breathtaking, and secondly, that the beauty of the physical book is truly something to behold. Even if, like me, you often listen to audio books, you need to at least look at this book. It is simply gorgeous.

“The Familiars” first caught my attention for personal reasons. The surname used for the main character is Shuttleworth, which happens to be a family name. Having never heard of it being used outside of my family, I was automatically intrigued. Then reading beyond the first few words, I was hooked, and knew I would need this book in my life immediately.

Whilst I’m delivering praise to everyone, the most praise must of course go to Stacey Halls. Speaking frankly, historical fiction can always be a slightly risky area if you are someone who knows their history. I’ve read all sorts of absurd comments. Historical fiction is possibly one of the most difficult areas to write, because you have to take yourself away entirely from everything you know and reply upon to create your story. Stacey Halls has gone above, beyond, and everywhere else it is possible to go both with her writing and her research, to create a world realistic to its time, whilst also summoning up characters so real you almost could call them friends.

The book focuses on Fleetwood Shuttleworth, and her terrifying mission to fulfill the only duty a woman was considered to have; produce an heir. Having lost previous babies, she is already overwhelmed at being pregnant again, when she comes across some information that makes it life… and almost certain death.

The only woman who can help her is a strange young woman she meets in the woods. Fleetwood has many questions regarding this woman, and yet, having never had a friend before, is grateful for her in so many ways, as well as relying on her to save her life.

When her midwife is accused of witchcraft, only Fleetwood can save her – and only the midwife can save Fleetwood.

The story weaves around you in a tapestry you feel you know so entirely. You feel furious when the midwife is accused of midwife, you feel Fleetwood’s fury and terror in her capture. You know, as every woman who has given birth knows, the risks she must face, and the possibility of being wrenched apart from the only person who could guarantee your safety is a genuine terror that hangs tights in your chest.

You feel also the constraints of being a woman in a time period where women should be giving birth, not opinions. You relate strongly to Fleetwood trying to find the balance of pushing to save her friend, and over stepping her mark; a balance all women can relate to today, no matter how much time has passed.

Stacey Halls has taken real people and created a world around them. If you love historical fiction, this book is for you. If you love fantasy and magic, this book is for you. If you love neither particularly but just want a good book? This. Book. Is. For. You.

A physically beautiful book, a talented author, and a magical story in so many ways.

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