Once upon a River is brilliant. It is probably one of the most skillful novels I have ever read and it had me captivated from beginning to end. Brimming with intrigue, folklore and magical realism, it is storytelling at its best. I absolutely loved it.
The novel begins in 1887 at the Swan, an inn that sat peacefully on the bank of the Thames at Radcot. The inn had its own specialism. It was where you went for storytelling.
On the night of the winter Solstice a monstrous stranger bursts through the doors of the Swan and the regular drinkers boggled at the sight of him. In his arms the stranger carries a large puppet, with waxen face and limbs and sickly painted hair. The puppet is actually the body of a lifeless child. When the corpse magically comes to life, this sets in motion a spellbinding plot involving villainy, kidnap, science and love.
Once Upon a River is full of an array of rich characters which skilfully contribute to moving the plot along. Each character comes with their own unique back story. Some are heart warming, some are heart breaking, all the back stories are brilliant. The characters of Anthony and Helena Vaughan particularly tore at my heart. I also absolutely loved Jonathan, a boy who was always smiling. Jonathan is one of the most perceptive characters in the novel, but other children laughed at his peculiar face and strange ways. On the brink of scientific discoveries, what is viewed as oddness in Victorian times is actually what we now know as Down’s syndrome.
Diane Setterfield expertly captures the true feel of the Victorian novel; I swear I could easily have been mistaken for believing Once Upon a River was written in Victorian times. It is so atmospheric of the literature of the time but in many ways, so much better. With the dark themes of villainy and kidnap it really reminded me of the Victorian Sensation genre (think of The Woman in White and Lady Audley’s Secret). Yet Once Upon a River is also beautiful and enchanting.
Please note that Once Upon a River is not a small book that you can easily skim read. It has true depth and deserves to be savoured. It is truly magical.
Once Upon a River will be published in January 2019 and I am privileged to be part of the blog tour to help publicise it. I want to really thank Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part on the blog tour. However I especially want to thank Diane Setterfield for writing this beautiful novel; it is definitely one of my top reads of 2018.
Once Upon a River will be published on 17 January 2019, so I urge you to pre-order your copy now. I swear, you won’t be disappointed.