Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield #NetGalley #BookReview @DianeSetterfie1 @DoubledayUK


Author: Diane Setterfield 

Genre: General Fiction

Format: Hardcover 432 pages

Release Date:  17 January 2019

Publisher: Doubleday

I would like to thank the publisher and the author for the opportunity to read this book via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.


On 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 and in steps an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a child. 

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

Is it a miracle?

Is it magic?

And who does the little girl belong to? 

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

The book centres around an inn named ‘The Swan’ and there, village folk meet, drink a pint of ale, and enjoy either telling or listening to various stories as they are passed around. One night, a mysterious stranger turns up at the inn, badly beaten, carrying a little girl. But who is this mysterious child? At first she appears dead , showing no vital signs, and then some hours later, she miraculously comes back to life. 

As the village try to piece together who this little girl is whilst marvelling in the mystery of her coming back to life, various people step forward claiming the girl is theirs. The child however is mute and does not speak, adding to the mysteriousness that surrounds her. 

I loved the references throughout the book back to the river and the river plays such a huge part in this story it’s effectively a character in it’s own right. Much as a river meanders, sometimes I felt as if the story was meandering slightly and there were times when I found myself off plot. However, I guess this is true in the ‘story-telling sense’ to draw the listener in and attempt to keep them captivated for as long as possible before the big reveal. 

There are quite a few characters introduced throughout the book but my favourite by far was Rita. Rita is the local medicine woman and assists the people of the village with all their ailments and in all childbirths. She is respected in the community and the village people listen to her. In some ways she is a woman far ahead of her time. In the period of history when this book was set women very much played the role of housewife, and would rarely have jobs outside of those in the home and the expectation that they would have children and raise the family. Rita however, does not fit this mould, and has no desire for children and has never married. I feel like Rita’s character transformed the most throughout the book and it was a really enjoyable read going on the journey with her. 

I really enjoyed the author’s fairy-tale like way of telling this story and despite finding myself off course with the story at points I was still intrigued and captivated wanting to know ultimately who this little girl was that first was dead and then came back to life. 

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes their literary fiction with some historical and mythical aspects.  

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 Colmanand 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.

For more reviews and updates you can follow me on Twitter @BooksBucks

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