Book Review | Once Upon a River

book review

 Once upon a time, before Goodreads and book blogs, I read Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale and fell in love. Now, it’s been a while, so I don’t remember very much (reading a hundred plus books a year means they all kind of blur together at some point), but I do remember the feeling it gave me. And it is definitely one of the books that made me into the reader I am today. Naturally, when I saw Diane Setterfield’s newest novel, Once Upon a River, I knew I needed to read it immediately. Okay, fine, it was mostly because of the cover. But it was worth it. 

(All reviews are spoiler-free unless otherwise noted.)


(From Goodreads) 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, suspense, and romance, as well as with the urgent scientific curiosity of the Darwinian age, Once Upon a River is as richly atmospheric as Setterfield’s bestseller The Thirteenth Tale.


Once Upon a River is magical and dark and made for a truly enjoyable reading experience. The first chapter drew me into the story instantly and made me want to keep reading. I really enjoyed the mystery. It was woven throughout the entire novel and I think it was done well. It kept the story intriguing. 

One thing I love about Diane Setterfield is her storytelling abilities. If you’ve read The Thirteenth Tale, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Her writing feels like a story that has history, a story that’s been passed down through generations. It just feels like something special. I am a loyal Setterfield reader, and this book definitely cemented that. 

I did like the characters, for the most part. I do think this book had a few too many, and at one point, there were just too many to keep track of. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of books that have an enormous cast of characters, and this book involved pretty much everyone in town. I liked the ones I could remember (basically those in the beginning of the book), I just wish they’d been pared down a bit. Overall, not a deal breaker – they are all great characters – just something to keep in mind if you have trouble keeping track of more than a handful of characters.

Most of the time, when I talk about having high expectations, they’re established before I start reading a book. In this case, the first chapter was just absolutely incredible. It really blew me away. And the rest of the novel, while still great, didn’t quite live up to that first chapter. I did enjoy this book a lot, but I also found myself wishing it was a little bit shorter. This is a very long novel, and I just wanted it to be tighter and more concise. Personally, I think it would have been a bit stronger. 

Overall, though, Once Upon a River is a great novel. Diane Setterfield is a master storyteller, and she came up with a unique and intriguing story. 


★★★★☆ – I did really love Once Upon a River. I haven’t been this immersed in a book in a while, and reading it was just a wonderful experience. If you like Diane Setterfield, or historical fiction with a big of magic mixed in, I would definitely recommend this one! 

Once Upon a River is available in bookstores now . You can order a copy on Amazon now

To get the audiobook for free, use this link to sign up for a free trial of Audible and choose Once Upon a River as one of your two free books.

This book was provided to me by NetGalley and the publisher. All opinions are my own.

*This post contains affiliate links, which means I may get a small commission for purchases made through this post.*

9 thoughts on “Book Review | Once Upon a River

      1. Good idea. I did like this one, I just thought it was too long. I haven’t read Bellman & Black (yet), but this did remind me of The Thirteenth Tale. I’m curious to see what you think.


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