Review – Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

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?

This book was given to me by the publisher via Netgalley for an honest review.

This is one of those books that, when you finish it, you have to put it down and just sit for a bit while you take in the awesomeness of what you have just read. I honestly did not expect to like this book as much as I did, however, it has become one of my top reads not just of 2019 but ever!

The book follows four main and interwoven story-lines: The Armstrong’s, The Vaughan’s, Rita and Mr Daunt and Lily White, with other characters and viewpoints thrown in to add to the mysterious air. And with a plot as twisty and turny as its subject matter, the Thames, you are guaranteed to keep reading until the very last sentence.

With the appearance of the girl at The Swan at Buscot there are an abundance of people determined to claim her as their family;

The Armstrong’s are sure its their grandchild, a child they did not know existed until they find a letter hinting to her existence. Their son rushes to claim his daughter, thought drowned by the wife he abandoned.

Mrs Vaughan is adamant that the child is their daughter Amelia, kidnapped two years earlier. Mr Vaughan is not as sure, however, as they start to take care of the child his certainty wavers in the light that the child brings back to his life and marriage.

Lily White is sure the child is her baby sister, though as Lily is in her 40’s she is told under no circumstances could this be possible.

Finally we have Mr Daunt and Rita. Mr Daunt is the gentleman who staggered into The Swan on Midwinter’s Eve holding the child in his arms, and proceeds to collapse from his injuries. It is only when he awakes that we learn that the child is not his. Rita is the local nurse, who is the witness to the miraculous awakening of the child everyone thought dead. They are both drawn to the child and bond over their strange need to protect her.

It’s not until the last few chapters of this book that you understand the amazing foreshadowing of this book, when all the different plot lines merge together and we find out where the child truly belongs. Setterfield managed to merge the fantastical with the everyday so well that you’re unsure whether you’re reading historical fiction or fantasy.

I cannot describe how much I loved this book. I felt myself drawn to all the characters but especially the mysterious child. Where did she come from, how could she have risen from the dead and most importantly who does she belong with. Probably one of the easiest 5* I will give this year, I haven’t any of Setterfield’s other books, but I will certainly be picking them up and anything else she writes after reading this truly immense book.


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