In 1612, 17 year old Fleetwood Shuttleworth is the mistress of Gawthorpe Hall in Lancashire. She is pregnant for the fourth time, the previous three ending in miscarriages and stillbirths. She has discovered a letter to her husband from a doctor saying if his wife becomes pregnant again she will not survive. Desperate, she seeks the help of Alice Gray, a midwife whose tinctures and herbs offer Fleetwood some relief. But Alice becomes caught up in the local witch trials, and Fleetwood risks everything to save her. Without Alice, she feels she will die too.
The author has taken the history of the Pendle witch trials and reworked it into a novel. Many of the characters portrayed here existed, although this version of them is purely fictional. It’s well written and should be intriguing plot-wise (are there really witches? Who can Fleetwood trust? What is her husband up to? etc) but it didn’t really hold my attention. I wasn’t taken with Fleetwood. Although I appreciate that she’s not a totally weak-willed character who lets things happen to her, she’s also not very interesting. And she’s the one telling the story. It felt like she spent most of the book galavanting about on horseback (sometimes riding a hard to believe distance in one day while heavily pregnant) and not really getting anywhere. It’s a pretty long book but most of it feels like it’s treading water. There was little excitement, even the Pendle witches aren’t particularly interesting, mostly pushed off to the side in favour of Fleetwood’s dramas. I did end up skim reading a lot of it. It’s one of those I wish I’d liked more.