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Once Upon a River

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  7,426 ratings  ·  2,038 reviews
A dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child.

Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.

Is it a miracle?

Is it magic?

Or can it be explained by science?

Replete with folklore, su
Kindle Edition, 419 pages
Published January 24th 2019 by Transworld Digital (first published December 4th 2018)
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Leah Rachel von Essen Reviewing sources such as Netgalley have it. Please do not buy advance reading copies on EBay. It is illegal for people to be selling them, and hurts…moreReviewing sources such as Netgalley have it. Please do not buy advance reading copies on EBay. It is illegal for people to be selling them, and hurts the authors' sales numbers. (less)
Eric Hamilton It is very appropriate, if they take to the story. A captivating fairy tale with no four letter words, and no sexual innuendo, yet not a sugar coated…moreIt is very appropriate, if they take to the story. A captivating fairy tale with no four letter words, and no sexual innuendo, yet not a sugar coated story in the least.(less)

Community Reviews

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4.08  · 
Rating details
 ·  7,426 ratings  ·  2,038 reviews

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Emily May
Along the borders of this world lie others.
There are places you can cross.
This is one such place.

This is a beautiful story. It's a genre-crosser: something of a historical mystery told like a fairy tale with magical realism. Everything straddles the line between reality and the supernatural, and sometimes it steps over into the fantastical, which might be surprising for fans of Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale.

I think it works really well, though. I should point out that the story is very s
Chelsea Humphrey
Nov 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Chelsea by: Leigh Kramer
Shelves: from-publisher
"It was solstice night, the longest night of the year... And as the borders between night and day stretch to their thinnest, so too do the borders between worlds... 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."

As a newcomer to Diane Setterfield's work and hearing what a legend she is in the book community, I was excited and a little bit anxious to see how I would receive her brand of storytelling. I w
Sep 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
On a deep, dark night at an inn located on the Thames river, the regulars have gathered to swap stories, drink and unwind from their days. The evening is like any other night at the inn, until an injured stranger walked in carrying what they believe to be a doll in his arms and collapses. After calling upon the local midwife/nurse, they learn that the "doll" is a young girl. A young girl who appears to be dead after drowning in the river -yet lives!

No one recognizes the man or the child. Word g
Angela M
Dec 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was attracted to something that I read about this book which describes an inn where people came to tell their stories. The thought of that reminded me of Canterbury Tales, read many, many years ago in college - about travelers telling their stories. There are many stories here to be told and I was drawn in from the beginning by the descriptive writing of the River Thames, the characters. I was on the river, at the inn and in the lives of this cast of characters. I always hesitate to use the wo ...more
Mary Beth *Traveling Sister*
The Swann is an ancient Inn, along the Thames where lots of storytelling is done there. On a dark night someone was telling a story the door opened and a newcomer came in. They were trying to make sense of what they were seeing. They thought it might of been a monster from a folk tale. Once there senses came togethor, they noticed in his arms was a puppet with a face and limbs and painted hair.

The man was unconscious and they put him on a table. They thought he was dead. Margot, the owner of the
Amalia Gavea
‘’Around Radcot they grow the watercress, harvest it, crate it up and send it to the towns in 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?’’

Diane Setterfield has already written one of the most intriguing, haunting novels of our times. The Thirteenth Tale is the beautifully strange love-child of ...Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, its Gothic atmosphere and the dialogue faithful to the vision of
Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader
Storytelling perfection! ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

I have read nothing like Once Upon a River. A more modern fairy tale? Quite a bit of suspense and mystery…and wonder…and charm…

Once Upon a River takes place in a historic ancient inn on the River Thames in England. This inn is famous for its storytelling and its storytellers, and in fact, when a mysterious stranger with obvious physical injuries incoherently bursts into the inn with a commotion, stories are in the midst of being told. The stranger eventually pa
Susanne Strong
Dec 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: buddy-read, netgalley
4 Fantastical Stars!

A Tale of Folklore, Legend, Magic and Mystery.

Late one night at a pub called the Swan at Radcot on the River Thames, villagers unwind with a pint, as they often do. A man comes to the door with the body of a cold, lifeless girl in his arms and promptly passes out. He sleeps for days.

Rita Sunday, the town medic, checks them both over. To her astonishment, she soon discovers that the young girl is, in fact, alive.

People come from near and far to see her, including three f
Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield is an ode to rivers and a celebration of the imagination and art of storytelling set in the Victorian era around the local communities living in Oxford next to the Thames. Once upon a time in an ancient inn, The Swan, where storytellers are revered beyond measure, an injured stranger bursts through its doors, falling down unconscious clutching the corpse of a drowned young girl. The dead girl comes to life, afflicted by a muteness, sparking a desire in othe ...more
Diane S ☔
Nov 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4+ A wonderful homage to the art of storytelling. I come from a long line of storytellers, summers when my cousins were led on ghost walks by our fathers and uncles as they told ghoststories. We all loved those times. Stories I made up to tell my children when they were young, and then stories I told my grandchildren. Such fun, pre internet days when stories were magic, or scary, but such a great way to connect.

All along the Thames are a group of inns, each in has a specialty, music in one, art
Dec 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I just loved this book and it’s cast of characters!
There is an Inn along the river called the Swan, where storytellers gather to drink and spin their magic tales on cold winter nights.
One night, in walks a terribly injured man carrying a dead little girl. There are a few possibilities of who she could be.
Some magical occurrence seems to take place regarding the girl, she’s actually alive, when previously thought dead by the local midwife/nurse.
This story took me on a journey filled with mag
Larry H
Dec 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was a dark and stormy night...

Well, not exactly. But it is a dark night in 1887, the solstice night, the longest night of the year.

"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 wi
Nov 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4.5 Stars rounded up to 5.

Thank you to the publisher Atria Books for providing an advance reader copy via NetGalley.

This is a very special and unique book that is one part folk tale, one part mystery and brewed with a touch of the supernatural. It takes place in England long ago astride the Thames River, which looms large in this story.

The Swan is a family run pub where the preoccupation is telling a really good story. The best stories take on a life of their own and are repeated and spread amon
Oct 03, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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 cr
Norma * Traveling Sister
3.5 stars! Charming, atmospheric & lyrically written!

This was an extremely hard review for me to write because my thoughts are so conflicted with how I actually feel upon finishing this book. I thought the storytelling and the writing was absolutely fantastic but I was never able to fully immerse myself in this tale though. At times I was finding myself a little bit bored with my mind wandering often and at other times I was excited and in awe of what I was reading.

Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽
I've finally gotten around to writing my full review! :) First posted on Fantasy Literature:

A lost girl, about four years old, turns up at the ancient Swan inn and tavern by the Thames River in 1887, on the night of the winter solstice. An injured man staggers into the inn, holding the apparently drowned girl in his arms, and promptly collapses. When the local midwife and nurse, Rita, arrives, she privately confirms that the girl is not breathing and has no pulse, though she mysteriously has no
Kaceey - Traveling Sister
A captivating story that will take you on a journey.
A stranger walked into the local inn late one night, soaked, still dripping from the cold river. In his arms he’s cradling a child, motionless. Everyone rushes in to assist. The stranger is close to death and the child, already gone.

The owner of the inn sends for the village nurse. She tends to the unconscious man and only then confirms the girl’s death. But something doesn’t feel right to her. Suddenly her trained intuition is correct…as
Dec 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018, netgalley
Everyone has a story, and the regulars at the ancient The Swan inn on the Thames are no exception. They drink, swap tales, jest, and repeat. But, one night, a haggard man collapses on the threshold, the corpse of a small girl in his arms.

Only, she wakes up.

The questions and, with them, the stories swirl. Who is she? How did she get there? Why do three sets of people separately feel they know her? And do the answers come down to science or magic or something else entirely?

Much of the success of t
Feb 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So many reviews by my GR Friends have praised this wonderful novel that it seems needles to write how beautiful Once Upon a River is ........ I aboslutely loved the way the stories are told and all the magic around them. The characters were all around me as I listened to Juliet Stevenson, who is one of my favourite Audible readers. The storytelling is art and Ms Setterfield took me on a delightful tour for which Iam grateful and which I will remember for a long, long time. If you are going to re ...more
A young girl is found, brought to an old local tavern by a man who is both distraught and in need of help. The child appears dead and the man is in such bad shape he can't tell the people what has occurred, where he found this child, or how he managed to pull her from the ice cold water of the Thames. But then the child breathes after life was thought to have left her, and the story is set in motion for a tale with includes the magical, the mystical, folktales of yore, and a journey that takes t ...more
Dec 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This couldn’t be less than a 5 star read. If you ever wondered what superlative historical fiction, superlative storytelling looked like, then you need not look any further. This book follows the ebb and flow and rhythms of the river and the people who live by its sides. A wonderful story of the supernatural, of treachery, of wrongs set right, of bereavement, love and loss.
I read The Thirteenth Tale a long while ago and wasn’t bowled over by it. This seems much better, but I am now wondering whe
Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin
It’s so beautiful

Mel 🖤🐶🐺🐾
Dec 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5000-books
This was such a pleasure to read. I loved the atmosphere the author created with rivers, rain and floods, old waterside inns, folk tales and unexplained mysteries. All just wonderful!

It is a book to read slowly and carefully because there are a lot of characters to keep track of and the author constantly drifts off into side stories which are all equally interesting and deserve constant attention. The story winds as much as the river it describes. The central tale is the mystery of the drowned c
DNF. Too much magical realism and a fable-like quality to the writing. I do enjoy the genre on occasion but this is not the right time in my life to have the patience for it. I have too much going on.

Perhaps I will try it again at some point in the future.
Mar 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
We've all heard the expression, when discussing old Hollywood films, that "they don't make them like they used to". Well, Diane Setterfield is here to tell you that they don't write them like they used to either.

It's been a while since her last novel (the somewhat underwhelming Bellman & Black), so you'd be forgiven if Setterfield wasn't at the forefront of your mind. But when Once Upon a River hits the shelves in January 2019, that is very much going to change.

This is an old fashioned, be
A marvelous tale from a masterful storyteller! Wonderfully atmospheric, with the mighty Thames the central character, calm and peaceful on a Summer's day but capable of death and destruction when in full flood.

The tale begins sometime around the 1850s in an ancient Inn on the banks of the river, where people go to tell and listen to stories. One night they are abruptly interrupted when a man staggers in and collapses. In his arms, a waxen child, a little girl, who appears to be quite dead but mi
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 lim
Navidad Thélamour
DNF @ 15%

I had really high hopes for this book going in, because who doesn't love a good adult fairy tale, right? But, ultimately, I found that the writing just didn't interest me. (view spoiler) There's nothing specific that I would critique about Diane Setterfield's writing; it just wasn't for me. I think it was a littl
Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews

Storytelling at the Swan is the favorite past time of the crowd and the reason so many men stop by for their drinks.

One night the storytelling became real when a man who had been hurt and a small girl who appeared as if she had drowned fell through the inn’s front door.

Then a miracle happened....the girl came alive again. The townspeople and their storytelling ways had many questions, and some thought the girl was one of their own who had passed.

We follow the characters as they try to interpret

'Once Upon a River' is a wonderfully languid piece of storytelling from Diane Setterfield, the acclaimed author of 'The Thirteenth Tale'. Setterfield again proves that she is a master crafter of storytelling and completely envelops her reader in her otherworldly version of a group of disparate characters living by the Thames river sometime during the 1800s.
The story revolves around The Swan at Radcot and the events of one winter solstice night when a young girl pulled
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“…a mistress of the craft of storytelling.”
The Guardian

Diane Setterfield is a British author. Her bestselling novel, The Thirteenth Tale (2006) was published in 38 countries worldwide and has sold more than three million copies. It was number one in the New York Times hardback fiction list for three weeks and is enjoyed as much for being ‘a love letter to reading’ as for its mystery and style. Her
“And now, dear reader, the story is over. It is time for you to cross the bridge once more and return to the world you came from. This river, which is and is not the Thames, must continue flowing without you. You have haunted here long enough, and besides, you surely have rivers of your own to attend to?” 6 likes
“It was better to tell such stories close to the river than in a drawing room. Words accumulate indoors, trapped by walls and ceilings. The weight of what has been said can lie heavily on what might yet be said and suffocate it. By the river the air carries the story on a journey: one sentence drifts away and makes way for the next.” 4 likes
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