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Once Upon a Time...

Once Upon a River - Diane Setterfield

Yes! My soul needed a good magical realism book. It was crying out for it you guys. "Once Upon a River" delves into many characters but manages to thread the needle with keeping an eye on the main plot from beginning to end of this book. I absolutely loved "The 13th Tale" so I was looking forward to see what Setterfield did with this. She weaves stories, fairy-tales, and myths together to tie around the Thames River and the people who live alongside it.


"Once Upon a River" starts with an inn called the Swan. Everyone tends to gather there to hear the innkeeper's husband tell stories. And can you imagine it in your head. A cold wintry night. A crowded inn with men and women together in order to beat back the cold. Listening to stories and laughing. And then a half dead men is brought in with what many take to be a puppet. And then everyone starts to realize that the puppet is a dead girl. After calling upon the village nurse/wise woman, the dead girl is somehow alive. And though the girl won't speak, many characters end up being drawn to her and want to lay claim to her. 


The young girl is proposed to be the missing girl of the Vaughans family who disappeared two years earlier. The wife is insisted that the girl is their daughter Amelia. And then a man named Robert Armstrong appears wondering if this girl could be his potential grandchild Alice. And then we have some side characters who wonder about the girl's identity and propose that it could be (whispered) and you wonder on that for the whole story too. 


Your heart bleeds for the Vaughans and for Robert Armstrong who is hell-bent on making sure all of his family are together and well taken care of no matter what. And you feel sad for the village nurse who has taken a shine to the girl though she is adamant she will not marry or birth any children. 

Setterfield's writing is fantastic in this. She manages to make sure every character have their own unique voice, but also everyone is developed so well. I don't know who I liked the best, but have to go with Robert Armstrong and his love for his wife, and their family. I could picture him in my head. Robert could have had his own book when you read about how he came to be, how he became a farmer, and why does he keep loving a song that rejects him every step of the way. Also can I say this, Robert needed to beat Robin's tail, like a lot. That said, I was so sad in the end when you have Robin finally realizing what mistakes he made. 


I will say that the flow of this book is slow and that you have to keep reading to see how things are revealed. Setterfield doesn't rush this book or it's characters at all. I think that readers will be happy with the resolutions of all the story-lines. 


The setting of the area felt full or magic and promise. I loved the idea of stories being carried down long after people pass away and how those stories can turn into myths which hold some truth to them. 

The ending was wonderful. I honestly wouldn't change a thing.