Once Upon a River

Once Upon a River

by Diane Setterfield


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743298070
Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Publication date: 12/04/2018
Pages: 480
Sales rank: 408
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

Diane Setterfield is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Thirteenth Tale, and a former academic, specializing in twentieth-century French literature, particularly the works of Andre Gide. She lives in Oxford, England.


Yorkshire, England

Date of Birth:

August 22, 1964

Place of Birth:

Berkshire, England


Theale Green School, Berkshire (1975-1982); B.A., University of Bristol, 1986); Ph.D. in French, 1993

Read an Excerpt

Once Upon a River

The Story Begins . . .

There was once an inn that sat peacefully on the bank of the Thames at Radcot, a day’s walk from the source. There were a great many inns along the upper reaches of the Thames at the time of this story and you could get drunk in all of them, but beyond the usual ale and cider each one had some particular pleasure to offer. The Red Lion at Kelmscott was musical: bargemen played their fiddles in the evening and cheesemakers sang plaintively of lost love. Inglesham had the Green Dragon, a tobacco-scented haven of contemplation. If you were a gambling man, the Stag at Eaton Hastings was the place for you, and if you preferred brawling, there was nowhere better than the Plough just outside Buscot. The Swan at Radcot had its own specialty. It was where you went for storytelling.

The Swan was a very ancient inn, perhaps the most ancient of them all. It had been constructed in three parts: one was old, one was very old, and one was older still. These different elements had been harmonized by the thatch that roofed them, the lichen that grew on the old stones, and the ivy that scrambled up the walls. In summertime day-trippers came out from the towns on the new railway, to hire a punt or a skiff at the Swan and spend an afternoon on the river with a bottle of ale and a picnic, but in winter the drinkers were all locals, and they congregated in the winter room. It was a plain room in the oldest part of the inn, with a single window pierced through the thick stone wall. In daylight this window showed you Radcot Bridge and the river flowing through its three serene arches. By night (and this story begins at night) the bridge was drowned black and it was only when your ears noticed the low and borderless sound of great quantities of moving water that you could make out the stretch of liquid blackness that flowed outside the window, shifting and undulating, darkly illuminated by some energy of its own making.

Nobody really knows how the tradition of storytelling started at the Swan, but it might have had something to do with the Battle of Radcot Bridge. In 1387, five hundred years before the night this story began, two great armies met at Radcot Bridge. The who and the why of it are too long to tell, but the outcome was that three men died in battle, a knight, a varlet, and a boy, and eight hundred souls were lost, drowned in the marshes, attempting to flee. Yes, that’s right. Eight hundred souls. That’s a lot of story. Their bones lie under what are now watercress fields. Around Radcot they grow the watercress, harvest it, crate it up, and send it to the towns on barges, but they don’t eat it. It’s bitter, they complain, so bitter it bites you back, and besides, who wants to eat leaves nourished by ghosts? When a battle like that happens on your doorstep and the dead poison your drinking water, it’s only natural that you would tell of it, over and over again. By force of repetition you would become adept at the telling. And then, when the crisis was over and you turned your attention to other things, what is more natural than that this newly acquired expertise would come to be applied to other tales? Five hundred years later they still tell the story of the Battle of Radcot Bridge, five or six times a year on special occasions.

The landlady of the Swan was Margot Ockwell. There had been Ockwells at the Swan for as long as anyone could remember, and quite likely for as long as the Swan had existed. In law her name was Margot Bliss, for she was married, but law was a thing for the towns and cities; here at the Swan she remained an Ockwell. Margot was a handsome woman in her late fifties. She could lift barrels without help and had legs so sturdy, she never felt the need to sit down. It was rumored she even slept on her feet, but she had given birth to thirteen children, so clearly she must have lain down sometimes. She was the daughter of the last landlady, and her grandmother and great-grandmother had run the inn before that, and nobody thought anything of it being women in charge at the Swan at Radcot. It was just the way it was.

Margot’s husband was Joe Bliss. He had been born at Kemble, twenty-five miles upstream, a hop and a skip from where the Thames emerges from the earth in a trickle so fine that it is scarcely more than a patch of dampness in the soil. The Blisses were chesty types. They were born small and ailing and most of them were goners before they were grown. Bliss babies grew thinner and paler as they lengthened, until they expired completely, usually before they were ten and often before they were two. The survivors, including Joe, got to adulthood shorter and slighter than average. Their chests rattled in winter, their noses ran, their eyes watered. They were kind, with mild eyes and frequent playful smiles.

At eighteen, an orphan and unfit for physical labor, Joe had left Kemble to seek his fortune doing he knew not what. From Kemble there are as many directions a man can go in as elsewhere in the world, but the river has its pull; you’d have to be mightily perverse not to follow it. He came to Radcot and, being thirsty, stopped for a drink. The frail-looking young man, with floppy black hair that contrasted with his pallor, sat unnoticed, eking out his glass of ale, admiring the innkeeper’s daughter, and listening to a story or two. He found it captivating to be among people who spoke out loud the kind of tales that had been alive inside his head since boyhood. In a quiet interval he opened his mouth and Once upon a time . . . came out.

Joe Bliss discovered his destiny that day. The Thames had brought him to Radcot and at Radcot he stayed. With a bit of practice he found he could turn his tongue to any kind of tale, whether it be gossip, historic, traditional, folk, or fairy. His mobile face could convey surprise, trepidation, relief, doubt, and any other feeling as well as any actor. Then there were his eyebrows. Luxuriantly black, they told as much of the story as his words did. They drew together when something momentous was coming, twitched when a detail merited close attention, and arched when a character might not be what he seemed. Watching his eyebrows, paying attention to their complex dance, you noticed all sorts of things that might otherwise have passed you by. Within a few weeks of his starting to drink at the Swan, he knew how to hold the listeners spellbound. He held Margot spellbound too, and she him.

At the end of a month, Joe walked sixty miles to a place quite distant from the river, where he told a story in a competition. He won first prize, naturally, and spent the winnings on a ring. He came home grey with fatigue, collapsed into bed for a week, and, at the end of it, got to his knees and proposed marriage to Margot.

“I don’t know . . .” her mother said. “Can he work? Can he earn a living? How will he look after a family?”

“Look at the takings,” Margot pointed out. “See how much busier we are since Joe started telling his stories. Suppose I don’t marry him, Ma. He might go away from here. Then what?”

It was true. People came more often to the inn these days, and from further away, and they stayed longer to hear the stories Joe told. They all bought drinks. The Swan was thriving.

“But with all these strong, handsome young men that come in here and admire you so . . . wouldn’t one of those do better?”

“It is Joe that I want,” Margot said firmly. “I like the stories.”

She got her way.

That was all nearly forty years before the events of this story, and in the meantime Margot and Joe had raised a large family. In twenty years they had produced twelve robust daughters. All had Margot’s thick brown hair and sturdy legs. They grew up to be buxom young women with blithe smiles and endless cheer. All were married now. One was a little fatter and one a little thinner, one a little taller and one a little shorter, one a little darker and one a little fairer, but in every other respect they were so like their mother that the drinkers could not tell them apart, and when they returned to help out at busy times, they were universally known as Little Margot. After bearing all these girls there had been a lull in the family life of Margot and Joe, and both of them thought her years of child-bearing were at an end, but then came the last pregnancy and Jonathan, their only son.

With his short neck and his moon face, his almond eyes with their exaggerated upward tilt, his dainty ears and nose, the tongue that seemed too big for his constantly smiling mouth, Jonathan did not look like other children. As he grew it became clear that he was different from them in other ways too. He was fifteen now, but where other boys of his age were looking forward impatiently to manhood, Jonathan was content to believe that he would live at the inn forever with his mother and father, and wished for nothing else.

Margot was still a strong and handsome woman, and Joe’s hair had whitened, though his eyebrows were as dark as ever. He was now sixty, which was ancient for a Bliss. People put his survival down to the endlessness of Margot’s care for him. These last few years he was sometimes so weak that he lay in bed for two or three days at a time, eyes closed. He was not sleeping—no, it was a place beyond sleep that he visited in these periods. Margot took his sinking spells calmly. She kept the fire in to dry the air, tilted cooled broth between his lips, brushed his hair, and smoothed his eyebrows. Other people fretted to see him suspended so precariously between one liquid breath and the next, but Margot took it in her stride. “Don’t you worry, he’ll be all right,” she would tell you. And he was. He was a Bliss, that’s all. The river had seeped into him and made his lungs marshy.

It was solstice night, the longest night of the year. For weeks the days had been shrinking, first gradually, then precipitously, so that it was now dark by mid-afternoon. As is well-known, when the moon hours lengthen, human beings come adrift from the regularity of their mechanical clocks. They nod at noon, dream in waking hours, open their eyes wide to the pitch-black night. It is a time of magic. And as the borders between night and day stretch to their thinnest, so too do the borders between worlds. Dreams and stories merge with lived experience, the dead and the living brush against each other in their comings and goings, and the past and the present touch and overlap. Unexpected things can happen. Did the solstice have anything to do with the strange events at the Swan? You will have to judge for yourself.

Now you know everything you need to know, the story can begin.

The drinkers gathered in the Swan that night were the regulars. Gravel diggers, cressmen, and bargemen for the most part, but Beszant the boat mender was there too, and so was Owen Albright, who had followed the river to the sea half a century ago and returned two decades later a wealthy man. Albright was arthritic now, and only strong ale and storytelling could reduce the pain in his bones. They had been there since the light had drained out of the sky, emptying and refilling their glasses, tapping out their pipes and restuffing them with pungent tobacco and telling stories.

Albright was recounting the Battle of Radcot Bridge. After five hundred years any story is liable to get a bit stale, and the storytellers had found a way to enliven the telling of it. Certain parts of the tale were fixed by tradition—the armies, their meeting, the death of the knight and his varlet, the eight hundred drowned men—but the boy’s demise was not. Not a thing was known about him except that he was a boy, at Radcot Bridge, and he died there. Out of this void came invention. At each retelling the drinkers at the Swan raised the unknown boy from the dead in order to inflict upon him a new death. He had died countless times over the years, in ways ever more outlandish and entertaining. When a story is yours to tell, you are allowed to take liberties with it—though woe betide any visitor to the Swan who attempted the same thing. What the boy himself made of his regular resurrection is impossible to say, but the point is raising the dead was a not infrequent thing at the Swan, and that’s a detail worth remembering.

Tonight Owen Albright conjured him in the garb of a young entertainer, come to distract the troops while they awaited their orders. Juggling with knives, he slipped in the mud and the knives rained down around him, landing blade down in wet earth, all but the last one, which fell plumb into his eye and killed him instantly before the battle had even begun. The innovation elicited murmurs of appreciation, quickly dampened so the tale could continue, and from then on the tale ran pretty much as it always did.

Afterwards there was a pause. It wasn’t done to jump in too quickly with a new story before the last one was properly digested.

Jonathan had been listening closely.

“I wish I could tell a story,” he said.

He was smiling—Jonathan was a boy who was always smiling—but he sounded wistful. He was not stupid, but school had been baffling to him, the other children had laughed at his peculiar face and strange ways, and he had given it up after a few months. He had not mastered reading or writing. The winter regulars were used to the Ockwell lad, with all his oddness.

“Have a go,” Albright suggested. “Tell one now.”

Jonathan considered it. He opened his mouth and waited, agog, to hear what emerged from it. Nothing did. His face screwed tight with laughter and his shoulders squirmed in hilarity at himself.

“I can’t!” he exclaimed when he recovered himself. “I can’t do it!”

“Some other night, then. You have a bit of a practice and we’ll listen to you when you’re ready.”

“You tell a story, Dad,” Jonathan said. “Go on!”

It was Joe’s first night back in the winter room after one of his sinking spells. He was pale and had been silent all evening. Nobody expected a story from him in his frail state, but at the prompting of his son he smiled mildly and looked up to a high corner of the room where the ceiling was darkened from years of woodsmoke and tobacco. This was the place, Jonathan supposed, where his father’s stories came from. When Joe’s eyes returned to the room, he was ready and opened his mouth to speak.

“Once upon a—”

The door opened.

It was late for a newcomer. Whoever it was did not rush to come in. The cold draft set the candles flickering and carried the tang of the winter river into the smoky room. The drinkers looked up.

Every eye saw, yet for a long moment none reacted. They were trying to make sense of what they were seeing.

The man—if man it was—was tall and strong, but his head was monstrous and they boggled at the sight of it. Was it a monster from a folktale? Were they sleeping and this a nightmare? The nose was askew and flattened, and beneath it was a gaping hollow dark with blood. As sights went, it was horrifying enough, but in its arms the awful creature carried a large puppet, with waxen face and limbs and slickly painted hair.

What roused them to action was the man himself. He first roared, a great bellow as misshapen as the mouth it emerged from, then he staggered and swayed. A pair of farmhands jumped from their seats just in time to grab him under the arms and arrest his fall so that he did not smash his head on the flagstones. At the same time Jonathan Ockwell leapt forward from the fireside, arms outstretched, and into them dropped the puppet with a solid weightiness that took his joints and muscles by surprise.

Returning to their senses, they hoisted the unconscious man onto a table. A second table was dragged so that the man’s legs could be rested upon it. Then when he was laid down and straightened out, they all stood around and raised their candles and lamps over him. The man’s eyes did not flicker.

“Is he dead?” Albright wondered.

There was a round of indistinct murmurs and much frowning.

“Slap his face,” someone suggested. “See if that brings him round.”

“A tot of liquor’ll do it,” another suggested.

Margot elbowed her way to the top of the table and studied the man. “Don’t you go slapping him. Not with his face in that state. Nor pouring anything down his throat. Just you wait a minute.”

Margot turned away to the seat by the hearth. On it was a cushion, and she picked it up and carried it back to the light. With the aid of the candles she spotted a pinprick of white on the cotton. Picking at it with her fingernail, she drew out a feather. The men’s faces watched her, eyes wide with bewilderment.

“I don’t think you’ll wake a dead man by tickling him,” said a gravel digger. “Nor a live one either, not in this state.”

“I’m not going to tickle him,” she replied.

Margot laid the feather on the man’s lips. All peered. For a moment there was nothing, then the soft and plumy parts of the feather shivered.

“He breathes!”

The relief soon gave way to renewed perplexity.

“Who is it, though?” a bargeman asked. “Do anyone know him?”

There followed a few moments of general hubbub, during which they considered the question. One reckoned he knew everybody on the river from Castle Eaton to Duxford, which was some ten miles, and he was sure he didn’t know the fellow. Another had a sister in Lechlade and was certain he had never seen the man there. A third felt that he might have seen the man somewhere, but the longer he looked, the less willing he was to put money on it. A fourth wondered whether he was a river gypsy, for it was the time of year when their boats came down this stretch of the river, to be stared at with suspicion, and everybody made sure to lock their doors at night and bring inside anything that could be lifted. But with that good woolen jacket and his expensive leather boots—no. This was not a ragged gypsy man. A fifth stared and then, with triumph, remarked that the man was the very height and build of Liddiard from Whitey’s Farm, and was his hair not the same color too? A sixth pointed out that Liddiard was here at the other end of the table, and when the fifth looked across, he could not deny it. At the end of these and further discussions, it was agreed by one, two, three, four, five, six, and all the others present that they didn’t know him—at least they didn’t think so—but, looking as he did, who could be certain?

Into the silence that followed this conclusion, a seventh man spoke. “Whatever has befallen him?”

The man’s clothes were soaking wet, and the smell of the river, green and brown, was on him. Some accident on the water, that much was obvious. They talked of dangers on the river, of the water that played tricks on even the wisest of rivermen.

“Is there a boat? Shall I go and see if I can spy one?” Beszant the boat mender offered.

Margot was washing the blood from the man’s face with firm and gentle motions. She winced as she revealed the great gash that split his upper lip and divided his skin into two flaps that gaped to show his broken teeth and bloodied gum.

“Leave the boat,” she instructed. “It is the man that matters. There is more here than I can help with. Who will run for Rita?” She looked round and spotted one of the farmhands who was too poor to drink much. “Neath, you are quick on your feet. Can you run along to Rush Cottage and fetch the nurse without stumbling? One accident is quite enough for one night.”

The young man left.

Jonathan meanwhile had kept apart from the others. The weight of the drenched puppet was cumbersome, so he sat down and arranged it on his lap. He thought of the papier-mâché dragon that the troupe of guisers had brought for a play last Christmastime. It was light and hard and had rapped with a light tat-tat-tat if you beat your fingernails against it. This puppet was not made of that. He thought of the dolls he had seen, stuffed with rice. They were weighty and soft. He had never seen one this size. He sniffed its head. There was no smell of rice—only the river. The hair was made of real hair, and he couldn’t work out how they had joined it to the head. The ear was so real, they might have molded it from a real one. He marveled at the perfect precision of the lashes. Putting his fingertip gently to the soft, damp, tickling ends of them caused the lid to move a little. He touched the lid with the gentlest of touches, and there was something behind. Slippery and globular, it was soft and firm at the same time.

Something darkly unfathomable gripped him. Behind the backs of his parents and the drinkers, he gave the figure a gentle shake. An arm slid and swung from the shoulder joint, in a way a puppet’s arm ought not to swing, and he felt a rising water level, powerful and rapid, inside him.

“It is a little girl.”

In all the discussion around the injured man, nobody heard.

Again, louder: “It is a little girl!”

They turned.

“She won’t wake up.” He held out the sodden little body so that they might see for themselves.

They turned. They moved to stand around Jonathan. A dozen pairs of stricken eyes rested on the little body.

Her skin shimmered like water. The folds of her cotton frock were plastered to the smooth lines of the limbs, and her head tilted on her neck at an angle no puppeteer could achieve. She was a little girl, and they had not seen it, not one of them, though it was obvious. What maker would go to such lengths, making a doll of such perfection only to dress it in the cotton smock any pauper’s daughter might wear? Who would paint a face in that macabre and lifeless manner? What maker other than the good Lord had it in him to make the curve of that cheekbone, the planes of that shin, that delicate foot with five toes individually shaped and sized and detailed? Of course it was a little girl! How could they ever have thought otherwise?

In the room usually so thick with words, there was silence. The men who were fathers thought of their own children and resolved to show them nothing but love till the end of their days. Those who were old and had never known a child of their own suffered a great pang of absence, and those who were childless and still young were pierced with the longing to hold their own offspring in their arms.

At last the silence was broken.

“Good Lord!”

“Dead, poor mite.”


“Put the feather on her lips, Ma!”

“Oh, Jonathan. It is too late for her.”

“But it worked with the man!”

“No, son, he was breathing already. The feather only showed us the life that was still in him.”

“It might still be in her!”

“It is plain she is gone, poor lass. She is not breathing, and besides, you have only to look at her color. Who will carry the poor child to the long room? You take her, Higgs.”

“But it’s cold there,” Jonathan protested.

His mother patted his shoulder. “She won’t mind that. She is not really here anymore and it is never cold in the place she has gone to.”

“Let me carry her.”

“You carry the lantern, and unlock the door for Mr. Higgs. She’s heavy for you, my love.”

The gravel digger took the body from Jonathan’s failing grip and lifted her as though she weighed no more than a goose. Jonathan lit the way out and round the side to a small stone outbuilding. A thick wooden door gave onto a narrow windowless storeroom. The floor was of plain earth, and the walls had never been plastered or paneled or painted. In summer it was a good place to leave a plucked duck or a trout that you are not yet hungry for; on a winter night like this one it was bitter. Projecting from one wall was a stone slab, and it was here that Higgs laid her down. Jonathan, remembering the fragility of the papier-mâché, cradled her skull—“So as not to hurt her”—as it came into contact with the stone.

Higgs’s lantern cast a circle of light onto the girl’s face.

“Ma said she’s dead,” Jonathan said.

“That’s right, lad.”

“Ma says she’s in another place.”

“She is.”

“She looks as though she’s here, to me.”

“Her thoughts have emptied out of her. Her soul has passed.”

“Couldn’t she be asleep?”

“Nay, lad. She’d’ve woke up by now.”

The lantern cast flickering shadows onto the unmoving face, the warmth of its light tried to mask the dead white of the skin, but it was no substitute for the inner illumination of life.

“There was a girl who slept for a hundred years, once. She was woke up with a kiss.”

Higgs blinked fiercely. “I think that was just a story.”

The circle of light shifted from the girl’s face and illuminated Higgs’s feet as they made their way out again, but at the door he discovered that Jonathan was not beside him. Turning, he raised the lantern again in time to see him stoop and place a kiss on the child’s forehead in the darkness.

Jonathan watched the girl intently. Then his shoulders slumped.

They locked the door behind them and came away.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Once Upon a River includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


On a dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames, the regulars are entertaining one another by telling stories. The night is interrupted when the door bursts open on an injured stranger carrying the drowned corpse of a little child.

Hours later the dead girl opens her eyes and lives again. In the face of this event, the witnesses attempt to explain the impossible in a great outburst of storytelling. Was it a miracle? Is it magic? Or could there be a scientific explanation for the girl who died and lived again?

The mystery deepens. Where did the child come from, and where does she belong? Who is she? Those who dwell on the riverbank grow increasingly fascinated by the mystery child, and the fates of three families in particular are connected by the mystery that began at the Swan on that winter’s night.

Topics and Questions for Discussion

1. The Swan Inn, Buscot Lodge, and the towns and villages along the river Thames create a very specific atmosphere for the story that unfolds. What role does the Swan itself play? Could this story have taken place anywhere else?

2. To judge by such details as photography and transport as described in the novel, the events appear to be set in the 1870s or thereabouts. Could the novel have been set at another time in history? What would have had to be different if the author had chosen another period?

3. What is the significance of the river?

4. By the time Vaughan had written a concise two-page account of Amelia’s kidnapping to his father in New Zealand, “the horror of it was quite excised.” What effect does the act of storytelling have on Vaughan? What about the other characters?

5. A wedge is driven between the Vaughans as they struggle to come to terms with the loss of Amelia. In the end, what brings them together? How?

6. How does Robert Armstrong, raised outside family life in circumstances of financially cushioned neglect, turn out to be such a good man?

7. “Sometimes I think there is nothing more a man can do. A child is not an empty vessel, Fleet, to be formed in whatever way the parent thinks fit. They are born with their own hearts and they cannot be made otherwise, no matter what love a man lavishes on them.” Do you agree with Armstrong’s lament at the end of the book? Is it possible if he had been a different kind of father things might have turned out differently for Robin?

8. Is Lily White responsible for her actions?

9. Consider the importance of family in the novel. What does it mean to Robert Armstrong? What does family mean to Daunt and Rita? And Victor? What about Lily?

10. It’s easy to get carried away talking about the key families in the plot, the Vaughans, the Armstrongs, and Lily and her brother, but what about the family at the inn? What important functions do they perform? And what do the drinkers—largely unnamed—add?

11. Storytelling is central to Once Upon a River. The story of Quietly the ferryman is an invention of the author, but it contains many elements from traditional or mythological tales. Does it remind you of any other stories in particular?

12. How many types or styles of story are told in Once Upon a River? Be as wide in your interpretation of “story” as you like!

13. Folk beliefs are still alive on the riverbank—changelings, witches, and dragons are all still real to some, and the Armstrongs believe Bess has a Seeing eye. What are the real-life consequences of these stories? Which characters have faith in these stories, and which do not? How does it affect their actions?

14. In the context of women’s lives in the nineteenth century, what do you make of Rita’s reluctance to marry? What brings her to reconsider?

15. Is the fortune-telling pig mere light relief or something more?

16. The identity of the girl is one of the driving mysteries of Once Upon a River. What were your early thoughts about who she really was, and did they alter as the story developed? What did you think of the way this question was resolved at the end?

17. The ending elaborates on the “return to life” of children apparently drowned. Did this come as a surprise to you?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. The art of oral storytelling is at the heart of Once Upon a River. It used to be central in every human society, but with the advent of literacy, and then TV and cinema, it has become rare to gather to listen to someone tell a story from memory. How about resurrecting the art by devoting part of a book club meeting to telling stories aloud?

2. Man is said to be the storytelling ape. Stories are the way people make sense of the world and their place in it. Are there stories (family stories or personal ones) that have shaped you and your sense of the world?

3. Diane Setterfield’s book The Thirteenth Tale was made into a BBC film starring Vanessa Redgrave, and Once Upon a River is to be a television series. Whom would you cast to bring the mysterious events of the Swan in Once Upon a River to life? Share your casting picks for Margot, Joe, Jonathan, Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong, Mr. and Mrs. Vaughan, Rita, Daunt, Lily White, Victor, and the others with your book club.

4. Many of the settings in the book are based on real places that stand today in England: Ye Olde Swan, still a working pub; Buscot House (the model for Buscot Lodge), now owned by the National Trust and open for visits; and Kelmscott Manor, a grand house also open to visitors, are all situated along the Thames in Oxfordshire. Should you be so lucky to go, start planning your trip at www.experienceoxfordshire.org. And if you can’t go in person, how about a virtual trip down the Thames at www.thames.me.uk?

5. Learn more about author Diane Setterfield by visiting her website at www.dianesetterfield.com, or following her on Facebook.

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Once Upon a River: A Novel 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
Anonymous 7 days ago
This is the most long winded book I think I've ever read. It's been a long time since a book has given me feelings of dread every time I picked it up. Although I've never read a book by this author, I was nonetheless excited to dive into this one based on the rave reviews for not only this book but for Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale. Not every author and/or book is for everybody and this one was certainly not my glass of chocolate milk. While the prose is without a doubt prolific, the story crawled at an excruciating pace with pages and pages of descriptive text. Some have commented that the prolonged details are necessary in the telling of the story, I humbly disagree. There are a ton of characters in this story and while they are all fleshed out to the nth degree, I didn't care about or relate to any of them. There is a lot of magic, as well religious undertones in this story, both of which turned me off immediately as I tend to steer clear of those subjects. I realize that I am in the tiniest of minority of people that feel this book fell way short of expectations while most every other reviewer fell in love with this book. I do not discourage readers from picking this one up for that reason alone. 2 Stars for the writing ?? I was provided an ARC of this book by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
escape_inabook 7 days ago
I received a free advance copy of this title via netgalley and the publisher. My review is unsolicited and opinions are my own. This book is phenomenal and I don’t toss high praise around lightly. Every page is another layer to an expertly executed lush tapestry. The first two chapters were a little slow to grasp my interest but once I passed them I could not stop reading.
Noire 19 hours ago
I received an ARC of this book to read through NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield brings to mind Matryoshka Dolls with its stories within stories. At the heart of all the stories is the river and the little girl who was dead and is now alive. There are stories that will break your heart, stories of love and family, stories of great evil and sorrow all winding around each other and coming back to the river. I very much enjoyed enjoyed reading this book and highly recommend it. Publishing Date December 4, 2018 #NetGalley #onceuponariver #DianeSetterfield #AtriaBooks
bookluvr35SL 21 hours ago
The Swan is an inn located along the Thames that all of the local people gather in and tell stories. One winter night a stranger carrying a child stumbles into the inn. Once both the man and the girl are healed, they find out that the two are not related, and the girl is mute and unable to tell the villagers who she belongs to. Multiple families come forward claiming her, and each seem to be a realistic fit. This story combines folklore, science, magic and myth into one delightful tale. It took me a little while to get into the rhythm of the story, but once I did I was enchanted.
Persephonereads 2 days ago
I would like to thank Netgalley and Atria/Emily Bestler Books for allowing me to read an advanced copy of this lovely historical fantasy to read and review! 4.5 stars The Swan is a quaint, family run pub near the river Thames where everyone goes to weave their tales to eager listeners. There is nothing better than sitting down, having a drink,smoking a pipe and getting lost in a lovely or perhaps even a spooky story.. Lets be honest everyone enjoys a story but often once a story is told it is almost immediately. That is not the case when a tale is told at the Swan, it begins to take on a life of it's own. One dark night during the Winter Solstice a broken and beaten man walks into the Swan holding the body of a young girl. Everyone is certain she is dead and they most certainly are right until all of the sudden she begins to breathe once again. From there the stories gets even more interesting. This is a lovely, well written story that will hold your interest. I must say that this is a very slow burn of a novel so if that is not your thing but if you are the type of person that likes to take a slow, magical journey then this book is definitely for you.
Ratgirl24 2 days ago
I have been waiting for this book since I closed the cover on “The Thirteenth Tale”! (If you haven’t read it, download it now!) Diane Setterfield spins a tale like no other. “Once Upon A River” begins with the discovery of a lifeless child at the river. A child whose “corpse was a blank page” and gave up no story about what had happened. The child, a girl, was discovered by a man who stumbles, half dead himself, into the The Swan; an ancient inn that was known for its storytelling. Rita, the local nurse, is sent to attend to the man and to hopefully discover what exactly happened to the child. Before Rita can finish her examination of the dead girl, for she was indeed dead, the girl comes back to life. Who is this girl? To whom does she belong? Is she the daughter of a local couple whose child was kidnapped two years ago? Is she the child of a local prostitute who jumped from the bridge a few weeks ago? Is she the ghost of another’s sister? As the story unfolds, we learn about the characters and the girl. We learn their stories-their hopes, dreams, character. We learn how virtuous people can be and we learn how despicable they can be. We learn about the river. How it gives life and how it takes it away. The characters are so very well developed that I did not want to say goodbye to them. I wanted to continue, but remember, we all have rivers of our own to attend to! #OnceUponARiver #DianeSetterfield #NetGalley Publication Date: December 4, 2018 Genre: Suspense, Mystery, Kidnapping, Supernatural, Gothic, British Cover: Perfect Rating: 5 stars Source: I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review. Thank you for the opportunity to read this great book!
Kimberley Burkovich 2 days ago
I didn’t know what to expect when starting this book. Opening up with a brief description of the inns along the Thames, Setterfield creates a mystical world of dragons and stories. The Swan is the home of storytelling. The inn’s proprietor Joe has a gift for spinning a yarn. The other inn attendees take stories and make them their own. None of them has any idea about the story that is about to walk through the door. While the Swan takes center stage in this story, throughout the book you meet the leading players. Margot Ockwell and Joe Bliss run the inn. Margot is a stout, hearty soul who mothered 13 children, the little Margots and Jonathan. Joe was born with an ailment that kept him pale and feeble, but with a gift of storytelling he won Margot’s heart. The pair turn that Swan into the place along the Thames where you can hear and tell the most amazing tales. On the night of the winter solstice at the Swan, in walks a very large man with a doll like creature in his arms. He falls to the floor and the doll is swept away by Jonathan. In the ruckus that ensues around the man, no one realizes that the doll is really a young girl. And this is where the story begins. The characters you meet are each unique. Henry Daunt, the photographer and Rita Sunday, the nurse, who doubles as the town doctor are bound by her care for him that night. The mystery is the young girl without a voice. Where did she come from and to whom does she belong? What a story this is! Along the way you meet other local townspeople and folks from along the river. The Armstrong family, the Vaughans, and others all play a part in bringing the river to life. It is a mystical, magical tale with so many small stories within the larger story. It is a book to be savored by a winter’s fire with a cup of tea. Very reminiscent of fairy tales but on a much grander scale, I enjoyed this book immensely. Setterfield creates a fascinating world with dragons and river phantoms. Her gift for storytelling is amazing. Highly recommend!
Thebooktrail-com 2 days ago
A magical novel set along the banks of the Thames…. What a glorious ode to storytelling! From the opening page, this was lyrical and like music to my ears. Set in the countryside and along the banks of the Thames. this is a novel I am going to rmember for a long time. The Thames hides, transports and supports life. The magic of the river is the main character of the novel and it has some stories to tell. And what a series of stories it tells! A man and a child wash up on the banks of the river and are soon rescued. The man is on the edges of life, but the child appears dead. Not only that, noone knows who the child is. The man remains in a coma but the people of the village are keen to find out who the child is. Stories spread of the sad tale and so to do rumours and lies. Soon, a few people are claiming the child is theirs. But outside the inn where the child lies dead, the river swirls, envelopes the neighbouring villages, takes life and controls the ebb and flow of life. It’s a very musical novel with the river echoing and representing the twists and turns of the novel’s plot. It’s all very clever and very atmospheric. Gothic and historical in equal measure. I found it a tale built on magical realism with its ribbons, like the river itself, running through the narrative. It takes characters away, introduces new ones and leads the story onto another place. And as for the ferryman of lost souls…. This is a story of so many currents. A novel about stories and their power. An ode to storytelling and the nature of legends, myths and a whole lot more. I really can’t give this novel justice. I just loved and savoured each and every word. Every scene was painted in muted colours with splashes of magical realism. It was the literary equivalent of taking a long bath and letting it flow all over you. The storytelling soaks in to your skin. The novel is also an ode to how stories morph over time. How a story upstream can flow and adapt becoming another down stream. What makes a story? The river here picks up magic, tragedy, secrets,lies, families and more and blends them into its waters. It really is a magical story and the words, aah those words. I loved it.
Anonymous 2 days ago
Writing: 4 Plot: 5+ Characters: 4 An old-fashioned Story (with a capital S!) full of richly drawn archetypal characters, a convoluted but cohesive plot, and just the hint of inexplicable mysteries. In (roughly) England in the mid-1800s, near a powerful river that may or may not be the Thames, there stands The Swan — a country inn known for the storytelling skills of its patrons. One night during a rough storm the regulars swear to a Miracle — the corpse of a drowned child, pale and angelic, comes to life hours after the local healer pronounced her dead. The child has a strange effect on those who see her — she raises an inexplicable feeling of connection and need in them all. Lily White swears the child is her long-dead sister Ann; the Vaughans are convinced she is the child abducted from them two years ago; Robert Armstrong thinks it is the abandoned child of his neer-do-well son Robin. Launched by this perceived Miracle, there are stories upon stories, many intertwined, all of them rich, some bursting forth while others are slowly extracted. The overall pacing at which the confusion unravels is just right. With beautiful descriptions of the countryside and the different moods of the river, it is a lyrical tale about the power of storytelling that utterly embodies the point! Great for fans of Alice Hoffman or Charles De Lint.
3900980 2 days ago
Diane Setterfield's first novel, The Thirteenth Tale has to be one of my favorite books, so when I heard she had written another novel I was overjoyed! Although Once Upon a River is very different from Setterfield's first novel, it was still very good and quite enjoyable...only in a different way. The main character in the story is the Thames River which is a very windy river with villages on either side. The other characters are the residence of some of the villages and how a river can somehow bring out the best (and worst) in people. The story begins with an injured man and a dead young girl collapsing at the doorstep of a local watering hole in one of the small villages adjacent to a riverbank late one night. Hours later the child who had been pronounced dead by the local nurse/doctor suddenly awakens to everyone's surprise. She is mute and no one knows who she is or where she has come from. Locals from towns along the river believe her to be, well, who they want her to be. A child who has gone missing. A married couple who's daughter was kidnapped years prior believe her to be their missing daughter. An older woman believes her to be her young sister who she believes had died. But this young girl cannot be everyone's missing person. So who could she possibly be? And how do they decide just whose she really belongs to? This novel has romance, sadness, many mysteries and is quite suspenseful with a conclusion worth waiting for. Once Upon a River is a fairytale carpet ride down a magical river and along its special water. I enjoyed the ride very much!
lee2staes 2 days ago
Once Upon a River is an awesome book that includes legend and knowledge, the occult and mysticism. This was a hard to put down type of book. It's a rollercoaster of emotions and I was so excited to read it. It is very suspenseful, moving you through realms both real and imaginary. This novel has a great premise with very good character development. It grabbed me and held my interest from beginning to end. I love it! I would like to thank Netgalley, the publisher and the author for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion of this book.
bamcooks 2 days ago
I thought this book was so well written with elements of folklore and even a touch of Dickens. Setterfield is quite the storyteller! On the evening of the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, several regulars are gathered in the Swan on the Thames in Radcot where stories reign supreme. Suddenly the door opens, letting in a cold draft, and every eye turns to see who'd be coming in so late. A tall, strong man with a monstrous, bloody face stands there and in his arms appears to be a limp waxen puppet. As the man begins to bellow and sway, the patrons spring to life and grab hold of his burden before he slumps to the floor in a dead faint. To their shock, they discover his burden is not a doll at all but the lifeless body of a 4-year-old girl! Rita, the local nurse, is summoned and her tests also prove the girl is dead so the poor little thing is laid out in an outer building while Rita sees to the man's horrifying wounds. But later, when Rita checks the girls again she detects a slight pulse! She lives! Is it possible she had not been dead at all? Or has she somehow miraculously come back to life? There are three local people/families who want to claim the child as their own. How can her identity be proven for sure? When the wounded man recovers enough to speak, he can only say he found her lifeless body in the river. As one would surmise, the river Thames plays a major role in the story with all the folktales the people tell, such as about the ferryman named Quietly who is said to rescue the unwary who fall in or carries them to the other side if it's their time. The characters spring off these pages--a mixture of good, evil and possibly insane. I enjoyed how the various stories spin around each other and tie together nicely in a satisfying way at the end. The story is both mystifying and entertaining. I received an arc of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for my honest review. I wish to express my gratitude for the opportunity.
GeeMarie08 2 days ago
I was looking forward to reading this advanced reader copy of a new novel by the author of The Thirteenth Tale which obviously set the bar pretty high. I found myself having a hard time getting through this book. The mystery of a the little girl found and the story telling is intriguing, however, I found it to be sometimes over the top and long-winded. The characters in this story really had no substance and I felt like it was a bit scattered at times. I wanted to like this novel but it just didn't do it for me.
Piney10 2 days ago
4.25. Engrossing Read. I really loved Diane Settlefield’s, The Thirteenth Tale and, therefore, was looking forward to her new book, Once Upon a River. This did not disappoint. I am not a fan of gothic literature, but Ms. Settlefield’s work is beyond that and more. I was totally engrossed from the beginning and had trouble putting it down. Similar to her other novel, it is dark, but so well done and spellbinding! It takes place in England in 1887 and involves a young girl who is brought into a tavern who appears to be dead but then through some unknown power, comes back to life. Who is this girl? The reader needs to figure that out but many claim her. Ms Settlefield’s writing is superb. You can feel the movement of the river, the Thames, the central geographic point of this novel, smell it’s earthly scent and walk in its ghostly shadow. The plot is mesmerizing and for me, kept me going until the end. All characters were so nicely defined, whether good or bad. I received an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review. I totally recommend this book and look forward to more of her novels in the future.
Xkoqueen 3 days ago
Diane Setterfield’s Once Upon A River is her best novel to date. I found the author’s prior books entertaining, but this one hooked me from the start and I loved every word. It is filled with a myriad of fantastic characters along with some folklore and otherworld Fae. The layout and writing style give it a classic ghost story feel. The story even starts on the quintessential “dark and stormy night”. At the beginning, the number of characters felt daunting. However, as the story progresses it becomes easy to keep their individual stories straight. The major characters each have a storyline, and many of the secondary characters are given enough attention for a thorough backstory. As the story flows around bends and twists, Ms. Setterfield pulls the various story lines together like tributaries flowing into a bigger river. Plot point by plot point the tension builds and the apparent antagonist shifts. Having read many folktales, I guessed the identity of the mysterious young girl early on, but that did not detract from my enjoyment of this book. Ms. Setterfield’s writing is swirly and curly; it is evocative and lyrical. You truly do feel there is a rhythmic flow to the entire story like a river flowing or a classic orchestrated piece of music. While some might think the story is long, I have to say that there is not one word that could be edited out. Once Upon A River is a book for people who love to read and who love to dive deep into a story. It is not a story that can be rushed or skimmed. Every detail is crucial. Once Upon A River is ethereal and yet earthy in its mystery and suspense. Ms. Setterfield draws her readers in like a master storyteller sitting in the corner of a pub off the Thames or one spinning a yarn at a campfire; she magically captures her audience and spins a tale meant to entertain and enrapture you for the duration.
Angie0184 5 days ago
This is one of the strangest and most beautiful books I’ve read in quite some time. It’s also one of the longest and most frustrating. The answer was right there in front of me the entire time and I didn’t figure it out for myself. I think I was so caught up in the story, and the depth of the characters, perhaps the sheer beauty and tragedy of the story being laid out in front of me, that like so many other fools I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I won’t ruin it for the other fools, like me, you’ll see it when it’s right in front of you. These interwoven families and their tragedies come together in a dénouement unlike any other I’ve ever read before. It’s almost fairy-taleish. There are villains and good guys, not quite magic and trickery, fools and winners, and they all come together to tell a tale of murder and kidnap, love and loss, and it’s stunning in the weaving. It took me some time to absorb this book. I was going on vacation right after I started this book so I read a bit here and there and finished it right before I got home and I’m actually glad I only got to read it at a bit at a time because it forced me to really reflect on what I’d just read. I don’t think I’d have fully appreciated it if I’d sat and consumed it over the course of a couple of days. It’s truly a work of art and I’m so glad I got the opportunity to read it. Thank you Diane Setterfield and Simon & Schuster for this gift to the world!
iamree 6 days ago
This book has elements of magical realism that weave in and out of a very touching tale: a young girl dies and comes back to life. It seems that her presence awakens hope in different families, yet the girl's muteness makes it impossible for her to help the other humans unravel her tale. And since the beginning of recorded stories about babies and children as old as Wise Kong Solomon who threatens to divide a baby in half, everyone knows that a single child can not be the end of every family's loss. I enjoyed this story and in some ways found myself thinking of Canterbury Tales, folklore stories that also convey lessons about life. I really appreciated receiving an ARC of this book which just published yesterday (December 4) and thought that the lovely cover helps to convey that this book is unique and special. Many modern readers are used to having and many modern writers are told to provide a fast hook and continuous action to keep the attention of the audience. Once Upon a River goes against this traditional approach, but stick with it because, in the end, the mysteries all come together.
SheTreadsSoftly 6 days ago
Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield is a very highly recommended, thoroughly enjoyable novel that combines, in part, elements of historical fiction, mysteries, Gothic romances, and folk tales. At the end of the 19th century, on a midwinter's night at the Swan, an ancient inn, on the river Thames the regulars are gathered listening to story-telling. They are all startled when a wounded man bursts through the doors carrying a lifeless child in his arms. The stranger collapses and the child is caught by the inn keepers son. Someone is immediately sent to get Rita, the local nurse and midwife, to attend to the man. In the meantime, it becomes clear that the child is dead to those there, and she is moved to an unused room. After Rita attends to the man's many wounds, she asks to look at the child. Rita is also sure the child is dead when, unexpectedly, she takes a breath and returns to life. The miraculous return to life of the child defies explanation. The girl appears to be four years old, but she is mute and unable to answer any questions. The stranger is identified and recovering, but he knows nothing as the child is not his. Soon the tale spreads and in the morning three distinct people lay claim to the child. Helena and Anthony Vaughan, a young affluent married couple, are sure she is their daughter, Amelia, who was kidnapped two years ago. Robert Armstrong, a successful farmer, believes the girl to be the result of a secret assignation child of his ne'er-do-well son, Robin. Lily White the parson’s housekeeper, impossibly believes the child may be her younger sister. Each family has a story, unrevealed secrets, and may have a claim to the girl, but she can't belong to all of them. And what about the murmurings that she may have a tie to the mythical ferryman, Quietly. Once Upon a River is an excellent story and features exceptional storytelling and character development. The narrative is atmospheric, suspenseful, and complex. The plot features elements of myth, folklore, science, magic, secrets and rumors. This is a wonderfully-written historical novel with a Gothic feeling but it also has several mysteries that need to be resolved and swirling around the plot are mythical details. Each word is meant to be savored. I was immersed in the story right at the beginning and held enchanted and full of anticipation and anxiety right to the absolutely perfect conclusion. The character development is phenomenal. Each character is truly a unique individual and Setterfield does an outstanding job developing and expounding on their individual traits. Their stories are intertwined and separate as the plot evolves and the story develops. We learn more about each family and each person just when we need to do so. The novel is largely character driven, so the rich diverse characters make this novel a pleasure to read. Once Upon a Riverwill likely be in my top ten books of the year and it is certainly worthy of my highest recommendation. (I should admit that I generally don't enjoy historical fiction, but this is a perfect reason why exceptions sometimes need to be made when choosing a novel.) Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Atria/Emily Bestler Books.
Wizardrylibrary 6 days ago
This was such an amazing read brimming with mystery, suspense, romance, and folklore. Once I started reading it I didn't want to put it down, I kept turning the pages wanting more and more. The author is such a terrific story teller, her writing was what really drew me in. I love how she described the setting; It made the book a wonderful atmospheric read that had me entranced.  Everything unfolded beautifully in this book, and as I kept reading I got a better understanding of what was going on. It was a long read, but I felt that everything was necessary for the overall outcome of the story. I especially loved how there is several stories blended into one, it was a added bonus that made it even better.  The characters had a lot of depth, the author did a great job of giving them good back stories. This was definitely a character driven read, and I enjoyed every part of it. My favorite character was Armstrong, he was everything I always look for in a male character. The setting itself was also a character in my eyes which is something I really appreciated.  This book is a great addition to the historical fiction and fantasy genres. I will definitely be reading more Diane Setterfield novels ASAP. I rate this book 4.75 stars. 
Belle Aurora 6 days ago
I LOVED this story! The way the author used her words to describe the environment, the characters' emotions, the atmosphere, the background of the characters, it just really helped me imagine and see the story in my head as I read. The story of a drowned girl who has regained consciousness and with two families trying to claim her as their own makes this story hauntingly beautiful and suspenseful with a touch of fairytale. While there are different things going on with each character, the author pulls it all together int he end that leaves me feeling satisfied. I also LOVE the cover! It's what got my attention in the first place and then the excerpt. I thank the author and Bookish for giving me an ARC of this great story.
ReadingCornerforAll 7 days ago
Diane Setterfield is an author who knows how to make readers time travel. I thoroughly enjoyed being transported to Stterfields London set in the real of magical realism. Like Hans Christian Andersen, Setterfield's Once Upon a River is sure to be renown as a classic contemporary fairytale. After her success with The Thirteenth Tale, Setterfield has continued her craft as a writer that allows her undertones of mesmerizing whimsy to transcend from the pages. Overall, the aura of mystery and intrigue just absolutely spellbinding and readers will find themselves reading through the pages at a rapid pace to reach the end of the story. I absolutely loved this book and I look froward to seeing Setterfield's craft as a writer develop.
LisaB95 7 days ago
I’ve had such mixed feelings about this book. At times it was five stars for me. I know people will love it. But I found myself having trouble staying engaged with the tale. I’ll get the negative part out of the way. I felt it was too long and there were so many characters. It would start off with a tale then carry into another where at times I forgot what I was reading about. I didn’t finish it but I am going to because I really want to know, not only about the girl, but all the characters and what takes place in their lives. So now for the positive. This author is AMAZING with story telling. Her writing is so poetic with pretty flowing of words. So much description done with flowery words and phrases, enough that it makes you want to know more. The story is so unique, unlike any I have read. It made me feel nostalgic for the fairy tales I heard and read as a child, except, this one is a fairytale for adults. It’s so magical with magical things taking place on the river. That was my favorite part. I would so love to see this author write a paranormal romance or fantasy novel. I know it would be the best ever!
BiaJohnson1 7 days ago
Fairy-tale, magical realism, historical mystery - what more can you ask for. As its name implies, Once Upon a River reads like a fairy tales in some places and mystery throughout. A little girl is recused from the river, thought dead she somehow comes back to life. Claimed by three separate groups we are taken on a journey to find out who she is and past secrets of those who wish to lay a claim on her. The novel is broken in 4 parts. It starts off good and steady in the first part, the scene is set and the players are placed. While engaging it felt daunting at times, but stick with it your patience will be greatly rewarded. Diane Setterfield weaves a magical tale that truly transports you, making you feel as if you’re pulling up the seat in the Summer Room at the Swan. *Received book on BookishFirst.
StephanieL494 7 days ago
I had been meaning to read The Thirteenth Tale for a while now, but it wasn't until I saw this book first mentioned that I finally decided to try this author's work. Why ever did I wait?! Diane Setterfield is a master of this style, and while I normally read fast-paced YA stories, this one satisfied a craving I didn't realize I even had! The blurb drew me in, and though it's not a genre I read often, I can easily see myself coming back to this author! I loved the enchanting setting and the storytelling is superb! This is one of those that shouldn't be rushed, and one that should be read on those days where you have nothing better to do than to curl up with a good book and a steaming mug to enjoy.
Bookapotamus 7 days ago
So, I received an advanced copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review. And that is exactly what I'll give you here. This book is gorgeous, the writing is fantastic, the story is fun and like the fairy tales I loved as a kid, but the journey from start to finish is realllly slow. I hate to think of all the work that goes into writing something so fantastic, and I imagine I am getting a little less patient with wordy, descriptive books, AND the genre of this one might be a bit out of my comfort zone... but I just really felt like it was dragging a lot, like the slow moving river that is basically the main character in this story. The story is about this little girl who is pulled from the river one night and is dead. But then, she is alive and holy moly, it's a miracle! But who is she? And why won't she speak? Cue all the people claiming her as theirs, and she gives no indication as to who is her true family. So, we have a HUGE cast of characters, a ton of back stories, and a lot to follow, a pretty bland mystery, and still, all the while, being, very, very slow. I DO think the book is beautiful. Just not for me. I'd love to try The Thirteenth Tale and see if I like that one.