Mostly spoiler-free, some discussion of characters and character development.
A couple of months ago, I ran a poll on social media asking if you guys were interested in feminist literature. Across all three platforms, the majority were interested.
The plan is to review more books like this and write posts about why it is so important. I know feminism is a loaded term and for some its off-putting. It was for me for a long time. What I suggest is that you engage with it. Female characters have traditionally played particular social roles in literature. Those roles reflect social roles in real-life society.
So if we want a better world, we must tell better stories.
Female-written literature is often dark and twisty with unforgettable characters. It is more than an ideology. One of the best of these stories I have ever read was my latest read, The Familiars by Stacey Halls. And it is the subject of today’s review.
The Familiars is set against the backdrop of the Pendle Hill Witch Trials of 1612. The story follows a young gentry woman, Fleetwood Shuttleworth and her midwife Alice Grey.
Fleetwood is the 17-year-old mistress of Gawthorpe Hall in Lancashire. Fleetwood is again pregnant after suffering four miscarriages. And her life is in danger, Alice is a young midwife from a neighbouring village. After Alice saves Fleetwood from a horse-riding accident, she becomes Fleetwood’s midwife. Alice promises to deliver Fleetwood’s baby safely and save her life. When Alice is arrested for witchcraft, it is up to Fleetwood to keep Alice from hanging.
What I liked
My favourite thing was the characters. It usually is if I’m honest. The book is told from Fleetwood’s perspective, so it’s pretty easy to see her journey. And it’s difficult to remember that she is only 17. She is strong, loyal and fiercely determined. Alice is like a ghost, you can never quite see her. Which is interesting because, in the book, Fleetwood is described as “little ghost.” Alice is almost an enigma. You never have any sense of her real character. But still love her. I suspect that this is on purpose because that is how Fleetwood feels.
The character development was perfect, especially Richard Shuttleworth. The male characters are all kind of hard to like, but I feel by the end that I understand him better. And even though he is older than Fleetwood, he grew up the most in the book.
I liked that the book was based on historical characters and events. Gawthorpe Hall is in Lancashire. Although it was redesigned in the 1850s. It was built by the Shuttleworth family in the early 1600s. Richard Shuttleworth was involved in the witch hunts and was a British MP. And yes his wife’s name was Fleetwood Shuttleworth. But the characters in the book are fictional.
I don’t know much about the Pendle Witches, though I have heard of them. But having read this book, I would very much like to know more. My favourite historical element was the idea of the wise-woman and tradition. It gave a very subtle feel to the theme of witches which can be overdone.
The book has an ending. I want to mention that because it’s a pet peeve of mine, books that leave the end to the reader. No! If I want to write an ending, I will write a whole book. If I’m reading a book, I want to read an ending. End of!
I listened to the audiobook, rather than read it. And I thought the narration by Katy Sobey was excellent.
What I didn’t like.
There was only one thing I didn’t like, and that was around the character Alice. I would have loved to know more about her. I feel like her story is unfinished. I don’t generally wish for sequels, especially with a book as good as The Familiars. But, there’s still a part of me thinking what about Alice.
I loved the book! Can you tell? I recommend it for anyone interested in feminist and female-written literature. The themes include motherhood and the mother-daughter relationship. As well as the role of women in the home. From an inter-sectional feminist perspective, the issue of class divide is a prominent.
I would also recommend The Familiars to lovers of historical fiction. Or those interested
in the idea of the wise woman. It is set during a real event and the characters, though given personalities by the author, did exit. One of the best parts of historical literature is that once you finish the book, there’s always more to read.
For those of you who are new to the Girl Down a Rabbit Hole Blog, we rate books in brains. This is because I am a psychology student, and this blog is part psychology blog. And most of all, why not?
The Familiars by Stacey Halls gets 5/5 🧠 🧠🧠🧠🧠
As always, I’d love to know what you think. Have you read the book? Do you plan to? Or have you got a book recommendation for us?
Let us know in the comments.