Book Review: Once Upon A River

“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.”

I picked this book up on a whim. It had a good premise and a promise of some light fairy-tale magic, that’s more than enough to get me on board- and I’m really glad it is. I ended up loving this book. I think it might be one of my favorites of 2019 (which is saying something because I’ve read over 40 last year).

Setterfield weaves the plot beautifully, connecting dots and characters in beautiful ways. It’s complex enough to be interesting but it doesn’t lose you completely in its twists and turns. It was not only well written, but I think it did a wonderful job of using the wonder and magic of a fairy-tale without making it the main premise of the story. It’s not something you see done very often, which I think is one of the reasons I loved this book so much. It sprinkles in just enough magic to make it shimmer without taking over. It reminded me a bit of a Sarah Addison Allen book that way, even though the time periods and premises are very different.

All in all I give this book five out of five stars.


I read a lot more books than I review on here, to see my full reading list and ratings visit my Goodreads account here– and don’t be shy! Add me as a friend!

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