Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield #BookReview #BlogTour

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.

It is my very great pleasure to be closing the blog tour for Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield today. Many thanks to the author, publishers, Doubleday and Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me and for my advance copy of the novel.

It was that gorgeous front cover which first drew me to Once Upon a River then the blurb pulled me in still further and the story itself carried me away. The book opens in The Swan, an ancient inn in Radcot, Oxfordshire, that sits on the bank of the Thames. We learn that The Swan was the pub to go to for storytelling and the tale that unfolds in Once Upon a River is exactly the sort of story you can imagine being shared time and again in front of a fire on a dark winter's night.
The locals at The Swan are presented with new material for their stories when a badly injured stranger enters the pub one evening. His facial injuries are extensive and the locals are horrified by what appears to be a large puppet in his arms. He collapses before he can explain what has happened and it is only then that they realise he was actually carrying the body of a little girl. A local nurse, Rita is called to examine the man and then checks on the dead child. She and the regulars are stunned when she starts to breathe. There is an otherworldly sense to this mysterious little girl; she seems to be unable to speak and with the man who found her still unconscious, the storytellers naturally begin to imagine who she is and where she is from.
The book revolves around the mystery as to the identity of the child with various characters potentially related to her. Could she be Amelia, the kidnapped daughter of Anthony and Helena Vaughan who had been taken from her bed two years ago? Or is she Alice, believed to have been recently drowned and why is Lily convinced she is her long-lost sister, Anne? Whether she's a daughter, granddaughter, sister or if there's a supernatural explanation, her existence inexorably draws these people together as their various mysteries and tragedies all slowly come to light. Even those who cannot lay claim to her, find they are drawn to this strange, silent child.
There is a large cast of characters in Once Upon a River but not one of them is wasted as they are brought to life within the pages of this beautifully crafted novel. The book switches between the characters with each of their stories equally engrossing. It's hard to pick out favourites in a novel with so replete a cast but Rita really stood out for me. The book is set around the time when Darwin was first presenting his evolutionary theories and so of course not a point in history where women were expected to be educated but she is an intelligent, knowledgeable woman of science who has gained the respect of the local community. A word too, for the warm and perceptive, Robert Armstrong who as an educated black man is another who confounds the societal expectations of the time. The river itself becomes almost a character within its own right as the story meanders along its banks as it exerts its atmospheric pull over those who dwell nearby.
Once Upon a River may be in novel form but it honours the rich tradition of oral storytelling. The lyrical, folkloric beauty of the writing unfolds to reveal a bittersweet, intriguing and captivating tale which is utterly entrancing and deserves to be savoured. Highly recommended!

Once Upon a River is published by Doubleday and can be purchased here.

Don't forget to check out the previous stops on the blog tour, details are below.

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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