Review and Giveaway: Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

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☆☆➹⁀☆ 5 stars ☆➹⁀☆☆


What It’s About:

A body always tells a story—but this child’s was a blank page.

Rita reached for the lantern on its hook. She trained its light on the child’s face.

‘Who are you?’ she murmured, but the face said as little as the rest of her. It was impossible to tell whether, in life, these blunt and unfinished features had borne the imprint of prettiness, timid watchfulness, or sly mischief. If there had once been curiosity or placidity or impatience here, life had not had time to etch it into permanence.Only a very short time ago—two hours or not much more—the body and soul of this little girl had still been securely attached. At this thought, and despite all her training, all her experience, Rita found herself suddenly in the grip of a storm of feeling. All the old rage at God—for not being kind, for not being fair, and finally for just not being—swept her up all over again and she felt tears of anger on her face. She took the child’s hand in hers—the perfect hand with its five perfect fingers and their perfect fingernails—and the words fell out of her that she had not known were there:

‘It should not be so! It should not be so!’

And that is when it happened.

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My Thoughts:

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.



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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.


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