For her debut novel, journalist Stacey Halls has crafted an engaging and atmospheric tale out of a dark chapter from English history. Fleetwood Shuttleworth is 17 years old and pregnant for the fourth time when the story opens in the spring of 1612. Weak and sick after three previous miscarriages, Fleetwood discovers among her husband's papers a letter from her physician that says she will not survive another pregnancy. While reeling from the knowledge that her husband is willing to sacrifice her life in pursuit of an heir, she encounters Alice Gray in the woods, and the strange young woman promises to help her give birth to a healthy baby. But when accusations of witchcraft start sweeping the area, Fleetwood and Alice find themselves caught up in the furor and must fight to save each other.
The Pendle witch trials of 1612 are among the most famous in English history, and Halls takes historic people and events to form the bones of her story. Alice and Fleetwood both were actual people, and by conjuring this link between them, Halls has reimagined this bit of history into a compelling story of women grasping for a power and agency that society denied them. Alice remains something of a mystery, but Fleetwood is drawn with bold and gritty details, and her setting is equally evocative. The Familiars is a fascinating and intricate piece of historical fiction. --Judie Evans, librarian