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  • Alisa Williams

Book Review: Once Upon a River

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

A Review of Once Upon a River

Written by Diane Setterfield

Atria/Emily Bestler Books, 2018

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Diane Setterfield is one of my favorite authors — I loved The Thirteenth Tale and Bellman & Black. So, it was with great anticipation that I read her latest, Once Upon a River, and it did not disappoint! Setterfield is one of those rare authors who possesses the ability to craft complete worlds, robust characters, fascinating plots, all tied up in beautiful writing. Her books have a magic all their own, and I love that each one is so different and yet her unique voice is so clear throughout.

Once Upon a River is about a young girl, a small village, and a mystery that encompasses them all. Two years ago, a little girl went missing — kidnapped — in the dead of night. Now a girl has been found in the river Thames, carried to shore by a bloody, barely conscious man, and taken to the Swan, an inn on the banks of the river full of stories older than the patrons it serves. And now, here, on this midwinter’s night, is a new story: a girl found dead in the river, who suddenly, miraculously, lives.

The mystery of the girl who was dead and now alive, who may be the kidnapped child, or another child entirely, sends ripples through the village, and the Swan takes central stage as the story swirls and surges. From the man covered in rags who takes shelter in the shadows to the hard-working farmhands, from the village nurse to the rich businessman, all wonder at who and how and why this girl has come to be in their midst.

Within a matter of hours, there are three claims on the girl: the wealthy and devastated parents whose daughter was kidnapped from her bed, a prosperous farmer from a neighboring village who believes the girl to be his granddaughter, and a middle-aged woman who claims the girl to be her long-lost sister, though the child is but four years old.

Setterfield expertly steers us on a journey of ancient lore, dawning science, and a magic that binds the two together. I was captivated by this novel, and loved every twist and turn. Like the patrons of the Swan, this will be a story I return to with pleasure time and again.

This review originally appeared on NetGalley. I received a free Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) in exchange for my honest review of this title.

Alisa Williams is the managing editor of She blogs at, tweets at @AWWritesStories, and bookstagrams at @AllyWritesStories.


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