Once Upon a River

By Diane Setterfield

The Short Take:

This absolutely charming book reads like a fairy tale, contains more than one mystery, and is populated by an entertaining cast of unique characters, not least of which is the Thames River. As in Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, what seems magical might not be. That uncertainty is a big part of the attraction. The richly lush prose is another. Read it and enjoy.


Setterfield’s newest novel flows like the grand river that inspires it: it starts as a trickle of storytelling, creating the atmosphere of a fairy tale. It then floods you with incredible events that impact the lives and emotions of many characters in different and permanent ways. And Setterfield’s powerful writing keeps the story from tumbling into pure fantasy, bringing in the scientific mind of Rita, the local nurse, and the objective eye of the photographer Henry Daunt to counter the wild speculations, blind acceptances, and mercenary schemes of others.

It’s a delicate balance, but Setterfield has proven herself in this arena before and she treads this path with masterful assurance. While you would not necessarily call this a mystery, puzzling situations, people and actions are found at every turn. Along with every reveal comes another uncertainty. The result is a novel that pulls you through with all the irresistibility of a strong river current.

A Little Plot:

At the Swan Inn, where storytelling is a frequent diversion, a dreadfully injured man carrying an apparently dead child bursts in. The child seems to come back to life and three families claim she is someone different: Amelia, Ann, and Alice. Cutting through illusions to get to answers is not easy. And, the more you learn, the more complicated it becomes.

For more about the wonderful book and Dianne Setterfield, click here.

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