I have heard, more than 5 publishers were contending to acquire the publishing rights of the book The Familiars by Stacey Halls. So much excitement for a book by a newbie writer has to kindle a lot of curiosity about it. So I didn’t take much time and grab the first opportunity to read The Familiars.
What is it about?
The Familiars title gives an impression of some fireworks and spine chilling scenes of magic and games of demons at play. I picked up The Familiars with the thought to read a fantasy story about witch, witchcraft and magic.
But really, The Familiars has nothing of that sort. It is actually a historical fiction with a fictional story line partially based on the real characters.
The story was set in 17th century Britain in a town called Gawthorpe. During those days in Britain, women who cure people by giving them some mysterious herbs were wise women and just in case if the patient died then they used to look upon as a witch.
The author has cleverly linked the fictional story of the book The Familiars with the real historical event of the trials of the Pendle witches in 1612 in Lancashire.
Story in Brief
Fleetwood had suffered three painful miscarriages in a row and thoroughly dishearten. During her fourth pregnancy, she finds a midwife named Alice Gray and instantly felt she could help her to see through her nine months of pregnancy and help deliver the baby.
The two women strike a bond, but in lieu of growing political ambition of Roger, one of the friends of Fleetwood, threatens to engulf lives of Fleetwood, Alice and the unborn child. The life of all these three humans got tangled and only they could save each other.
The story revolves around the fact how in the 17th century Britain, women’s were held guilty of witchcraft till they prove themselves innocent. They were confined in a pathetic situation. And people like Roger pursue it for their political benefits.
I marvel, how the author churned out an intriguing and a fascinating story line and then wove it with the whole issue of witchery and witchcraft.
The author’s cleverness could also be seen in her characterization. All the characters appear to be clear cut and well defined.
But that is not the case. The author fooled me about my interpretation of the characters. And not just one character, but all of them.
The disparity between the impression given about the characters and their realities enabled the author to throw one surprise after another which would blow away your mind.
Fleetwood as the protagonist was a flawed character. She had this habit to quickly jump at conclusions and forms impression about people, which affects her relation with near ones. I thought her as a weakling and meek.
But as her physical strength returns during her fourth pregnancy, she actually turns out as a determined and daring woman.
She reminds me of Vidya Balan in the movie Kahani carrying the baby bump in search of her husband. Fleetwood has done the same for her midwife Alice, but in pursuit to prove her innocence and her bump was real. Her sudden courage surprised me.
Alice was an important and extremely mysterious character of the story. Till the end, I was guessing about her real identity. She appears to be the trump card of the author. Her story has been revealed in bits and pieces, as of, Stacey Halls wants you to keep guessing about her.
But something left me disappointed. The author didn’t give a fitting closure to her character. I wanted to read more about Alice and what become of her, about her feelings during the trial.
The Familiars beautifully captures the friendship and sisterhood between Fleetwood and Alice Gray, complicated relation between Fleetwood and her mother and an unusual relation of trust and betrayal between Fleetwood and her husband Richard.
The book has a fantastic story line. But the narrative lacks pace. The story moves at the snail speed good enough to drowse instead of grip you.
You have to keep patience while reading initial few chapters. As you will get a hook of the story line, the narrative picks up the pace and was actually fascinating to read.
Who was the familiar in the story. I have my suspects, but the author just never explained or hinted upon anything.
Also a few mysterious happenings in the story go unanswered. Stacey Halls just dropped hints like something spine chilling would occur, as the teasers. They just aroused a feeling of something fearful and deep sense of mystery.
What I Loved
The story line was pretty great. Stacey Halls hacked out an interesting story.
She has struck a perfect balance between the historical facts and fiction. Nothing going over the board.
I loved the way the author has used the characters and special elements to infuse mystery into the story line and catch you off the guard.
What I didn’t like
Pace. The snail pace kills. You have to keep patience. After the first few chapters the story opens up.
The mystery remains mystery. Doesn’t find concrete answers. Stacey Halls just keeps it open for the readers to imagine their own conclusions.
Alice’s character was not fully explored. There was so much into her character and you will just get glimpses.
Just go for it. You will love it as a historical fiction lover. But there is nothing like magic or witchcraft in it. So really nothing for fantasy lovers.
Ratings – 4/5
Stacey Halls grew up in Rossendale, Lancashire. She studied journalism at the University of Central, Lancashire and moved to London aged 21. Worked as media editor at the Bookseller and books editor at Stylist.co.uk, Stacey Halls now works as Deputy Chief Sub Editor at Fabulous magazine.
In one of the interviews, Stacey Halls accepts the fact, she has always been fascinated by the Pendle witches and knew she has to right something about them.
After completing her research, she just took 7 weeks to write the book The Familiars. TV rights of the book has been taken.
She has already started her research for her next book.