Title: Once Upon a River
Genre: Historical Fiction/Gothic/Fantasy
Author: Diane Setterfield
Publisher: Atria,Simon and Schuster Digital, Dec. 4, 2018
Source: Free for review from the publisher
Sexy Rating: 5
Violence Rating: 5
Description from Amazon.com:
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.
Infused with the lyrical prose of Diane Setterfield, this mysterious, magical book kept me turning page after page, after page, after page (yes, 480 pages to be exact). I did think the book could have been shorter without losing any of the pacing or characterization, but that is my only complaint. It is a true rendering of the late Victorian era along the Thames River. Much research went into this book which gives the reader the feeling of living alongside the river and the many characters. The river is the main character which runs through the lives of each secondary character; kind and determined Robert Armstrong, the hopeful Vaughans, psychologically and physically damaged Lily White, the well adjusted Inn keepers Joe and Margot and son Jonathan and Rita the nurse who stands in as the village doctor, plus a villain steeped in evil. All play intricate rolls in the mystery that is the lost and found four year old girl.
I have looked forward to reading another book by this author since I read her wonderful novel THE THIRTEENTH TALE; ONCE UPON A RIVER did not disappoint. It is moody, frightening, uplifting, engrossing, perfectly nuanced and superbly constructed. I highly recommend this book.