|| Book Review || Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield ||

A magical, character-driven story set by the River Thames. A little girl is brought to an inn, drowned and assumed dead but then suddenly alive again. An intricate mystery surrounds the little girl and a few different families who are missing a child and who are all hoping that she belongs to them.

once upon a river diane setterfield

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Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy

Age category: Adult

Release Date: December 4th 2018

Version Read: Audiobook

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. 


For those of you who were following me week by week as I was reading this, you were probably expecting this review.

It has almost taken me as long to write the review as it took to read the book and that is saying something.

I really don’t like to post negative reviews but sometimes you pick up a book that you think you will love, you want to love and you just don’t get along with it and that is what happened with me and Once Upon a River.

I hope that by reading this review it might help you as a reader decide whether or not you want to pick this up as the things that I disliked about it you might actually enjoy so please do not write off a book just because it wasn’t for me.

So where to begin? I think the main two issues that I had with this story are the number of characters and the pacing. In terms of characters there were just way too many and I found it very difficult to follow in general as the families, scenes and everything changed from chapter to chapter with nothing to really set them apart from each other.

Please bear in mind though that I did listen to the audiobook and have not read it physically so perhaps it would have been easier to follow if I had read it but that is difficult to judge.

As well as the number of characters the other issue that I had with them was my inability to connect with any of them. I didn’t find any of the characters interesting in the slightest and didn’t really care about the stories they were telling. I found my mind constantly drifting off the other places and struggled to stay engaged with the book.

I mentioned pacing before as well and that was a big problem for me. I kept thinking that the story was building up to something but it just never did. The whole story is basically a mystery about this little girl that was pulled from the river, apparently dead but then suddenly alive and how she fits into the lives of various families who are all missing a child and all think that she might be the one they lost.

So now for the positives because of course there are some things I really did like about the book.

I was absolutely in love with the writing style, it was so descriptive and magical and quite gothic which I really do like. Sometimes I felt like the descriptions went on and on a bit too much but in general I found it easy to picture the scenes in my mind and it was really atmospheric.

I also really liked the narrator, I think that she did a good job with all the different characters and accents and she made it as interesting to listen to as she could.

Overall I just found this one tedious though, it was one of those stories that I ended up dreading picking up because it just never really went anywhere and only ever left me feeling confused or like I had missed something important when I hadn’t.

The book is character driven more than anything and although I do enjoy a well fleshed out character for me I tend to prefer books that are more plot driven and that was just missing for me in Once Upon a River and therefore it just didn’t do it for me.




Have you read this book? Do you want to? Share your thoughts in the comments below and let’s discuss! ♥

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6 thoughts on “|| Book Review || Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield ||

    1. Thanks for reading! I saw lots of good reviews before reading it and then felt bad that it wasn’t working for me. I have since seen a few people felt the same way as me so it is nice not to be alone! I hope it works for you if you decide to read it 🙂

  1. Hmmm, I fee like I keep reading books that are just okay, or not really interesting. Perhaps I’ll stay away from this one. Too many REALLY good books out there. Am I right?!

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