Fleetwood Shuttleworth is 17 years old, married, and pregnant for the fourth time. But as the mistress at Gawthorpe Hall, she still has no living child, and her husband Richard is anxious for an heir. When Fleetwood finds a letter she isn’t supposed to read from the doctor who delivered her third stillbirth, she is dealt the crushing blow that she will not survive another pregnancy.
Then she crosses paths by chance with Alice Gray, a young midwife. Alice promises to help her give birth to a healthy baby, and to prove the physician wrong.
As Alice is drawn into the witchcraft accusations that are sweeping the north-west, Fleetwood risks everything by trying to help her. But is there more to Alice than meets the eye?
Soon the two women’s lives will become inextricably bound together as the legendary trial at Lancaster approaches, and Fleetwood’s stomach continues to grow. Time is running out, and both their lives are at stake.
What it is: a female-focused historical novel set in 17th century England. It is a fictionalised account of the famous Pendle witch trials in Lancashire in 1612 (although don’t look it up on Wikipedia if you don’t want spoilers for how the book will go).
What it’s about: a pregnant young gentlewoman in Lancashire finds a letter suggesting that she will die in childbirth, and that her husband has known about it and kept it secret from her. She hires a strange local girl as a midwife, hoping she will save both her and her baby’s lives, but as their friendship grows, they both become wrapped up in the witch trial fever that is sweeping the county.
Who it’s by: Lancashire-born debut author Stacey Halls
Best bits: it’s both beautifully written and addictively readable, balancing historical accuracy with a modern incisive view of witch trial hysteria.
Protagonist in a sentence: horse riding, huge dog owning, somewhat rebellious 17 year old gentlewoman who got married to escape her old, terrible life, and now fears that she will lose it all again.
“Love interest” in a sentence: a once loving but now distant husband who switches between controlling and genuinely concerned
Villain in a sentence: the local magistrate and protagonist’s father figure, hunting for witches in order to secure his legacy in court.
Read it if: you love historical fiction with a feminist bent.
Skip it if: history isn’t really your thing.
For more info, check out the book’s official website.