Book Review – The Familiars by Stacey Halls

The Familiars by Stacey Halls (Zaffre Books, 2019)

I’ll put my hands up and be really honest and say I only picked up this book because the gorgeous cover caught my eye as I was wandering around a supermarket (yes, I’m one of those people – mea culpa :)). I read the blurb, it sounded good so I bought it.

I wasn’t disappointed.

The Familiars is the debut novel by author Stacey Halls.

Set in 1612, The Familiars is set against the backdrop of the very real events of the Pendle witch trials, and centres around Fleetwood Shuttleworth, the mistress of Gawthorpe Hall.

The young Fleetwood Shuttleworth is pregnant again after suffering several miscarriages. She’s anxious and desperate to provide her husband Richard with an heir. She discovers a hidden letter from a doctor with the awful prediction that she will not survive another birth.

In a desperate bid to keep herself and her baby alive she employs a local woman, Alice Gray, to be her midwife. However, as the witch hunts begin to gain traction it isn’t long before Alice is implicated in the use of witchcraft. How far will Fleetwood go to protect herself, her baby and her midwife?

The Familiars is an impressive debut novel by Stacey Halls. I felt it was a little shaky and slow in the beginning but not enough to stop me reading it. When the pace picked up there was enough intrigue and suspense to keep the story moving forward. However, I felt the conclusion of the story was a little bit underwhelming but this is probably because the story had to be set within the confines of what was acceptable for a Gentlewoman in 1612, so not necessarily the author’s fault.

Unlike the Goddess and the Thief by Essie Fox (see my review here) the heroine of The Familiars manages to be pro-active despite the restrictions of the time. This was a big plus for me. Personally, I find nothing duller than a heroine that does nothing!

Whilst The Familiars isn’t perfect, and despite the shaky start, I would recommend The Familiars. I think for her debut novel, Stacey Halls did a fantastic job.

4 out of 5 stars.

Great for those who like Historical Fiction that is set against real, researchable events. Not so good for those interested in the witch hunts and assizes as the drama takes place away from the actual trials. In other words, it might not be “witchy” enough for you.

 

 

 

Book Review – The Goddess and the Thief by Essie Fox

The Goddess and the Thief by Essie Fox (Orion Books, 2013)

The Goddess and the Thief was a book I’d put on my Christmas list last year because, as a book worm, a book is the perfect present.

I can’t remember how this book had come to my attention; whether it was a recommendation from friends on Goodreads, or whether it was from one of the many Facebook pages I have liked.

The blurb sounded promising. A girl, called Alice, is uprooted from her life in India and is made to live with her spiritual medium aunt in Windsor, in Victorian England. “Alice,” says the blurb, “is drawn into a plot to steal a sacred Indian diamond.”

After reading the novel The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge (which I absolutely loved) I thought The Goddess and the Thief would be right up my street.

Except, it really wasn’t.

Unlike The Lie Tree, the heroine of The Goddess and the Thief doesn’t really do much. She spends most of the novel in her bedroom, or locked in bedrooms, or completely in the dark. She is always reacting to things and not being proactive at all.

I get it. That’s her story arc – from someone who reacts to events to someone taking control – but it’s so boring! And annoying. And, SPOILER (so if you don’t want to know, please don’t read on) at one point she is sexually assaulted and she swoons after the man who raped her. Not cool, not cool at all. Very, very damaging stuff that. Very troubling to read and I’m not easily troubled by stuff.

The blurb on Goodreads tells says that The Goddess and the Thief is “A beguiling and sensual Victorian novel of theft and obsession.”

No.

It may be a novel of theft and obsession but it really isn’t sensual. Creepy? Yes. Sensual…? Hell no!

And for that person at the back who is saying, “blimey, everyone is so easily offended these days!” F*#k off.

Only joking 🙂

I’m not easily offended, and, I’m not offended by this work. I just find things like this are so unhelpful.

Anyway, I give this book one out of five stars.

Many people on Amazon and Goodreads loved it. You might love it. It just didn’t float my boat.

Great for those who like beautiful prose (the first few chapters are beautifully written). Not great for those who like a pro-active heroine.

 

 

My Faves – Book Review – The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

So, I thought it would be good to go over some of the fiction that has inspired me whilst I’ve been on my writing journey (oh, that sounded a bit cliche, didn’t it?). I don’t have a list in order, as such, of my favourite books because that would be like asking me to pick a favourite child; it just wouldn’t happen. Besides, I’d end up with about one-hundred books in my top ten, lol!!!

I’m going to start with The Lie Tree, by Sarah Hardinge, just because…

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge (Macmillan Children’s Books, 2015)

This book won the Costa book of the year in 2015 but I only read it last year so, not for the first time in my life, I was behind everyone else.

The Lie Tree is a wonderfully atmospheric historical novel – with a smidge of magical realism – focusing upon Faith, a fourteen-year-old girl, whose family is uprooted from Victorian England to live on the small island of Vane because “one of the most widely read and respected newspapers in the nation has decried” Faith’s father “as a fraud and a cheat.” Faith has no idea why this would be so as “his bleak and terrible honesty were the plague and pride” of her family.

When Faith’s father is then found dead under mysterious circumstances, she decides to investigate. She goes through his papers and belongings and finds a strange tree which only grows and bears fruit if you whisper a lie to it. Not only that, eating the fruit of the tree allows one to uncover truths. “The bigger the lie, the more people who believe it, the bigger the truth that is uncovered” (from the Amazon Blurb).

Faith decides to use the tree to root out her father’s killer by spreading lies across the island of Vane but soon she realises that lies and truths can hurt as well as heal.

This book is so well written, I devoured it in record time!

A thoughtful and provoking read which delves into a vast number of issues including class, good and evil, lies and truths, the treatment of women in Victorian society, the limits of science, the power of religion and family loyalty.

Faith, for me, was a great protagonist and her story arc was satisfying. She progressed from a timid girl to one who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. Her arc was refreshing given the male-oriented times the novel is set in.

I loved the fact that the only ally Faith really has isn’t human at all. And, is the tree really her “friend”?

I found The Lie Tree to be a beautifully written and dark tale. And how I wish I’d written it!!

Great for those who love intricate, escapist tales filled to the brim with the supernatural and mysterious. Not great for those who want something easy and light to read.