Once Upon a River - Diane Setterfield

Once Upon a River

By Diane Setterfield

  • Release Date: 2018-12-04
  • Genre: Literary
Score: 4.5
From 133 Ratings


“One of the most pleasurable and satisfying new books I've read in a long time. Setterfield is a master storyteller...swift and entrancing, profound and beautiful.” —Madeline Miller, internationally bestselling author of Circe and The Song of Achilles

“A beguiling tale, full of twists and turns like the river at its heart, and just as rich and intriguing.” —M.L. Stedman, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Light Between Oceans

“This is magical, bewitching storytelling...High prose expressed with rare clarity, story for the unashamed sake of story, a kind of moral dreaminess…well, the list continues to grow.”—Jim Crace, National Book Critics Circle winner and author of Being Dead and Harvest

From the instant #1 New York Times bestselling author of the “eerie and fascinating” (USA TODAY) The Thirteenth Tale comes a richly imagined, powerful new novel about the wrenching disappearance of three little girls and the wide-reaching effect it has on their small town.

On a dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the river Thames, an extraordinary event takes place. The regulars are telling stories to while away the dark hours, when the door bursts open on a grievously wounded stranger. In his arms is the lifeless body of a small child. Hours later, the girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life. Is it a miracle? Is it magic? Or can science provide an explanation? These questions have many answers, some of them quite dark indeed.

Those who dwell on the river bank apply all their ingenuity to solving the puzzle of the girl who died and lived again, yet as the days pass the mystery only deepens. The child herself is mute and unable to answer the essential questions: Who is she? Where did she come from? And to whom does she belong? But answers proliferate nonetheless.

Three families are keen to claim her. A wealthy young mother knows the girl is her kidnapped daughter, missing for two years. A farming family reeling from the discovery of their son’s secret liaison, stand ready to welcome their granddaughter. The parson’s housekeeper, humble and isolated, sees in the child the image of her younger sister. But the return of a lost child is not without complications and no matter how heartbreaking the past losses, no matter how precious the child herself, this girl cannot be everyone’s. Each family has mysteries of its own, and many secrets must be revealed before the girl’s identity can be known.

Once Upon a River is a glorious tapestry of a book that combines folklore and science, magic and myth. Suspenseful, romantic, and richly atmospheric, the beginning of this novel will sweep you away on a powerful current of storytelling, transporting you through worlds both real and imagined, to the triumphant conclusion whose depths will continue to give up their treasures long after the last page is turned.


  • I loved this book...

    By emily millard
    I admire the author’s writing style and how neatly drawn together the various plots turned out to be. Good ending.
  • Once Upon a River

    By 😁🤣😝
    A story that is rich in magic, mystery and love. A great read keeping you entertained and eager for the next page. I couldn’t put it down!
  • Overly Long

    By juliusa
    While it does have beautifully written descriptions, this book is yet another example of literary novels that go nowhere, have characters one doesn’t care about, and serves no purpose. Too much hype for nothing. Save your time and money.
  • Stories within a story!

    By kimbnaz
    I didn’t know what to expect when starting this book. Opening up with a brief description of the inns along the Thames, Setterfield creates a mystical world of dragons and stories. The Swan is the home of storytelling. The inn’s proprietor Joe has a gift for spinning a yarn. The other inn attendees take stories and make them their own. None of them has any idea about the story that is about to walk through the door. While the Swan takes center stage in this story, throughout the book you meet the leading players. Margot Ockwell and Joe Bliss run the inn. Margot is a stout, hearty soul who mothered 13 children, the little Margots and Jonathan. Joe was born with an ailment that kept him pale and feeble, but with a gift of storytelling he won Margot’s heart. The pair turn that Swan into the place along the Thames where you can hear and tell the most amazing tales. On the night of the winter solstice at the Swan, in walks a very large man with a doll like creature in his arms. He falls to the floor and the doll is swept away by Jonathan. In the ruckus that ensues around the man, no one realizes that the doll is really a young girl. And this is where the story begins. The characters you meet are each unique. Henry Daunt, the photographer and Rita Sunday, the nurse, who doubles as the town doctor are bound by her care for him that night. The mystery is the young girl without a voice. Where did she come from and to whom does she belong? What a story this is! Along the way you meet other local townspeople and folks from along the river. The Armstrong family, the Vaughans, and others all play a part in bringing the river to life. It is a mystical, magical tale with so many small stories within the larger story. It is a book to be savored by a winter’s fire with a cup of tea. Very reminiscent of fairy tales but on a much grander scale, I enjoyed this book immensely. Setterfield creates a fascinating world with dragons and river phantoms. Her gift for storytelling is amazing. Highly recommend!
  • A wonderful tale!

    By JP Fan
    Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield is a wonderful, meandering tale of love, loss, family and magic! Many characters play a part in the story of a mysterious little girl, thought dead, and the man who saved her from drowning in the river Thames. Who is this mute girl and who does she belong to? Through captivating storytelling and beautiful character development, Setterfield weaves a narration as fine as those told by Joe Bliss—landlord of the Swan. The writing is smooth, the dialogue is genuine and as a whole, the book is a definite winner. Anyone who is a fan of fairy tales and fables will wholeheartedly enjoy this book. I especially delighted in the dialog of the narrator of the story. I felt as if was sitting at the Swan enjoying an ale and listening to the stories of the pub goers. Bravo!