Once Upon a River

By Diane Setterfield

** Publication Date 4 December 2018 **

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!

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