The lives of two real women who lived through the famous Pendle Witch Trials of 1612 are fictionalised in this compelling novel, which encapsulates the many challenges faced by women 400 years ago.
There's nothing in the historical record to suggest noblewoman Fleetwood Shuttleworth and illiterate healer Alice Grey, who was accused of witchcraft, ever actually knew each other in real life.
But Stacey Halls has woven a captivating story around these two women. In her account, Fleetwood is married at 13 to the Lord of Gawthorpe Hall and initially she seems to have a bright future – wealth, a good husband and a grand home. But by the age of 17 she has miscarried three times and she knows it won't be long before her husband casts her aside for a mistress who can produce an heir.
She is pregnant for a fourth time when she discovers a hidden doctor's letter, written after losing her last child, which states that if she falls pregnant again it's unlikely she will survive. Distressed, she heads for the moors where she encounters Alice. The two strike up an unlikely friendship and Alice, with her herbs, tinctures and other mysterious remedies, becomes Fleetwood's midwife, promising to save her life and deliver a healthy baby.
Before she can keep her promise Alice, along with a dozen of her friends and neighbours, is accused of witchcraft. Fleetwood needs to find a way to save Alice's life in order to save her own.
The characters, places and some of the major events in this tale are historically accurate and Stacey's invented story uses the daily lives of two women from polar ends of society to illustrate the powerlessness of all women in the time of witch hunting.
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