review: The Familiars

SPOILERS AHEAD

If you’re following me on Insta, you probably know by now that I’m writing a novel. What I am yet to mention (I think?) is that it’s set on the witch trials. So when I first heard of The Familiars by Stacey Hall, I knew I had to get it.

A few months later, after being distracted by Christmas book stack, it’s now sitting closed on my bookshelf after spending a few days travelling everywhere with me. I couldn’t put it down.

The plot, characters and basically every aspect of this novel has been thoroughly researched (bar a few fictional embroideries), but none of that bogged down the story. Something happened in every chapter, the pacing was perfect, and I fell in love with two main characters, Fleetwood and Alice.

Fleetwood was my favourite character. I loved how determined she was, and that she was outspoken and didn’t hesitate to speak unless she needed to. There were many scenes throughout the book that occurred around the dining table – where Fleetwood would hear most of the news concerning the Pendle witches – and she always asked lots of questions and dug for information, even though this would not have been within her wifely role.

Even though I liked the character of Alice, I personally felt that there wasn’t much revealed about her. By the end of the novel, we know about her home and family, her previous job, little info on her mother, and the fact she can’t read, but nothing about her personality itself. She serves as a shadow throughout the book, popping in and out fairly quickly for such an important character.

Although, saying that, the scene where Fleetwood teaches Alice to write her name was one of my favourites. It was so well thought out, like how Alice questioned why Fleetwood’s name is longer even though it has the same amount of syllables as her own. ‘She smiled and took it from me’ was one of the few times that I could remember where Alice smiled in this book, so it was nice to see her doing something for herself, not being a midwife or working to provide for her drunken father. A moment of pure happiness.

It was also nice to see Fleetwood fulfilling the motherly role that she desperately wants. At this point, we’re unsure if she will survive the birth of her child, so this scene at least provided her with a small chance to have an impact on someone’s life.

One thing that I was disappointed about was that we didn’t get to see the trial of the Pendle witches. While witches are mentioned over and over, and we see the Devizes child who is alluded to be one, as is Alice, we don’t really witness any hangings or anything. We see the prison in which they are kept – which Hall described amazingly well, I remember feeling a chill when reading that section – but I would have liked to see the trial itself, especially as it’s such a significant historical event. Fleetwood was unconscious during childbirth so missed it, but Richard travelled there to rescue Alice for her, maybe we could have switched to his POV for a chapter and witnessed this ourselves?

This is only a small criticism though, as I still loved the novel and would definitely pick it up again. Books based on the witch trials are my favourites, so if there are any you recommend, please let me know!

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