Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield | Book Review | (@DianeSetterfie1 @TransworldBooks) #OnceUponARiver #HistoricalFiction #Passthestoryon

• Hardcover: 432 pages
• Publisher: Doubleday (24 January 2019)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 0857525654
• ISBN-13: 978-0857525659

Source: Review copy provided by publisher

My thanks to Alison Barrow of Transworld for the review copy and Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part in the blog tour. I was never going to say no to this one!

|   About the Book   |


A dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child.

Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.

Is it a miracle?

Is it magic?

Or can it be explained by science?

An exquisitely crafted multi-layered mystery brimming with folklore, suspense and romance, as well as with the urgent scientific curiosity of the Darwinian age, Once Upon a River is as richly atmospheric as Setterfield’s bestseller The Thirteenth Tale.

|   My Thoughts   |

I loved The Thirteenth Tale, which I think I must have read about 10 years ago and was stupidly excited to learn of a new book by Diane Setterfield.

The Swan Inn at Radcot, along the banks of the Thames, was renowned for its storytelling. Run for generations by the Ockwell family, it is a place where stories of folklore and magic are told, embellished and retold again. Until one winter solstice night over a hundred years ago, an injured stranger comes through the door carrying what at first appears to be a large sodden puppet and the most unbelievable story of all is about to begin.

The figure is not a puppet at all but a young girl and she is dead. She has no pulse and is not breathing. The man’s wounds are treated and, having decided that there is nothing that can be done for the young girl, she is placed in an icy outer room. However nurse and midwife Rita Sunday decides to keep watch and eventually sees some small signs of life. The girl is alive. Rita’s scientific interest is piqued and she wants to know how it can be possible that someone can be dead and then not.

Thus begins the main mystery of the story. Who is this girl. Where has she come from and who does she belong to. She doesn’t speak and is unable to tell anyone however there is no shortage of people wanting to claim her as their own child.

Once Upon a River is a magical and mesmerising tale set against the backdrop of the the River Thames – a forceful character in its own right which, together with its tributaries, meanders for over 200 miles. Stories are told of Quietly, one of a long line of a family of mute ferrymen, who travels between the worlds of the living and the dead.  He will rescue river travellers in distress and will either deliver them safely to one side of the bank if it is not their time to pass, or if it is, then then they are taken to another destination!

There are a large number of characters intricately woven together throughout the story, all so vividly drawn with their distinct personalities and purpose and we get to know them all very well. There are families suffering heartbreak, such as the Vaughans, whose daughter was kidnapped. The Armstrongs, a good and hardworking family who can only watch whilst their eldest son turns to the dark side. Henry Daunt, a photographer, who together with Rita, turns investigator. Then we have the scoundrels who will take advantage of any situation for their own ends.

From the very first page, I was spellbound. This is not a quick read and you will be doing yourself and the story a great disservice by trying to race through it. You need to savour every page – it is so beautifully written that this is no hardship.  I looked at the pages of my book when I’d finished – I had marked so many pages of quotes that had especially caught my eye.

I had my own favourite characters; Margot (landlady of the The Swan), Rita with her logical scientific mind, Armstrong’s wife Bess (and her ‘seeing eye’), Daunt, Armstrong (the father, not the son!) who rises above the prejudice he faces of having a white father and a black mother  ….I could name others.

Magical, exquisite, captivating. Once Upon a River is all of these and more. I’ll be thinking about my 2018 books of the year very soon. I have no doubt at all that this book will be included. I loved it so much and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

|   About the Author   |

Diane Setterfield’s bestselling novel, The Thirteenth Tale was published in 38 countries, sold more than three million copies, and was made into a television drama scripted by Christopher Hampton, starring Olivia Colman and Vanessa Redgrave. Her second novel was Bellman & Black, and her new novel is Once Upon a River. Born in rural Berkshire, she now lives near Oxford, by the Thames.

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