Once Upon a River is an atmospheric, richly layered novel about storytelling, family and the folklore surrounding the meandering Thames river. On a midwinter’s night, an injured stranger bursts into The Swan inn along the Thames carrying a little girl who appears to have drowned. The man faints, leaving the patrons and inn keepers bewildered. Suddenly and inexplicably, the girl starts to breath again. Questions and stories swirl as everyone in town becomes absorbed in the mystery of the little girl’s identity and how she came to survive. ⠀⠀⠀⠀
Setterfield has an art for weaving together mystery, magic and reality. The Swan was the place to go if you wanted to hear a good story and it brought everyone in the community together. I felt like I was one of the townsfolk, sitting by the fire with a pint in hand. The flawed, multidimensional characters each had their own winding tales to contribute to the mystery and piece by piece, it all came flowing together. I adored The Thirteenth Tale but I think that Once Upon a River was even better. This was a magnificent, spellbinding ode to storytelling.