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Cover image for Once upon a river : a novel
Once upon a river : a novel
Center Point Large Print edition.
Thorndike, Maine : Center Point Large Print, 2019.
Physical Description:
639 pages (large print) ; 23 cm
General Note:
Regular print version previously published by: Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
"On a dark midwinter's night in an ancient inn on the river Thames, the regulars are telling stories when a wounded stranger enters carrying the lifeless body of a small child. Hours later, the girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life. Many secrets must be revealed before the girl's identity can be known"-- Provided by publisher.

On a dark midwinter's night in an ancient inn on the river Thames, a wounded stranger carries in the lifeless body of a small child. Hours later the girl stirs, and returns to life. Is it a miracle? Magic? As the days pass the child remains mute and unable to answer questions. Three families are keen to claim her: the wealthy mother of a kidnapped daughter missing for two years; a farming family sure it is their son's secret daughter; a parson's housekeeper, reminded of her younger sister. Each family has secrets, which must be revealed before the girl's identity can be known. -- adapted from back cover


Call Number
Setterfield, D.

On Order



On a dark midwinter's night in an ancient inn on the river Thames, an extraordinary event takes place. Suddenly, the door bursts open on a grievously wounded stranger. In his arms is the lifeless body of a small child. Hours later, the girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life. Is it a miracle? Is it magic? Or can science provide an explanation? Those who dwell on the riverbank apply all their ingenuity to solving the puzzle of the girl who died and lived again, yet as the days pass the mystery only deepens. The child herself is mute and unable to answer the essential questions: Who is she? Where did she come from? And to whom does she belong?

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Setterfield (The Thirteenth Tale) braids miracle and mystery in this marvelous tale set in the upper reaches of the Thames at the end of the 19th century. The story begins on a winter solstice night, when a gravely injured man stumbles into the Swan inn at Radcot and collapses. While the local nurse, Rita Sunday, is being summoned, the innkeeper's son discovers that the large puppet the man was carrying is a little girl who at first appears to have drowned. After tending to the unconscious man, Rita turns her attentions to the child, who, stunningly, returns to life. The tale of the dead-then-alive girl travels throughout the night, and, in the morning, three parties arrive to claim her: Lily White, housekeeper to the parson, identifies the child as her sister Ann, despite the age difference; Robert Armstrong, a prosperous farmer, believes the girl to be the child of his absent son, Robin; and Helena and Anthony Vaughan hope that she might be their daughter, Amelia, kidnapped two years before. Setterfield's characters attempt to puzzle out the child's identity. By combining flavors of some of Britain's very best writers-a hint of Austen's domestic stories, a tinge of Tolkien's more folkloric elements, and a dash of mystery from Christie-Setterfield has created a tale not to be missed. (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Review

In Setterfield's (Bellman and Black, 2014, etc.) new novel, a town by the River Thames is deeply shaken and inspired by the arrivaland apparent resurrectionof a mysterious young girl.At the Swan, an inn along the river, storytellers gather to spin their magic on cold winter nights. But not even the most creative teller can compete with the horror of reality when a stranger, horribly beaten, arrives at the door, clutching a dead child. As Rita, the local nurse and midwife, gently takes stock of the man's injuries, she also realizes that the child is not dead, though no one seems to know who she is. Soon enough, two possibilities arise: She might be the kidnapped daughter of a local businessman, or she might be the daughter of a local farmer's scoundrel son. She may even be, the denizens of the Swan acknowledge in whispers, and stranger still, the long-lost daughter of the phantom ferryman who patrols the Thames, saving those who fall in before their time and taking those whose time has come to the other side of that vast, mercurial expanse. Setterfield masterfully assembles an ensemble of wounded, vulnerable characters who, nevertheless, live by the slimmest margins of hopehope that springs from family, from the search for meaning, from people's decency to strangers, from the belief that truth heals and sets one free. Despite the harsh vagaries of the river, it also brings the promise of life and the peace of death and, Setterfield reminds us, the never-ending, transformative power of stories. And stories, in turn, expose our humanitythe best and worst of humankind, and somewhere in between, the quiet, unremarkable connections, the small gestures, the perfect heartbreaks that give our lives meaning.Celebrates the timeless secrets of life, death, and imaginationand the enduring power of words. Fans, rejoice! Definitely more The Thirteenth Tale than Bellman and Black. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

It's a dark and stormy night at the Swan Inn, located in a sleepy village on the upper banks of the River Thames, circa 1870. The usual patrons are gathered 'round for their typical night of swapping stories when a man bursts in with a lifeless four-year-old girl in his arms. He immediately collapses, setting off a mesmerizing, moody tale of identity, family, secrets, and storytelling. The stranger has identification, but the girl is a complete mystery and everyone wants to lay claim to her. A farmer from a neighboring town believes she is the daughter of his estranged son, while a wealthy couple are convinced she is their daughter, who was kidnapped two years ago and is now miraculously returned. And some of the Swan's customers, steeped in legends and superstition, think she is the daughter of the ghostly ferryman who haunts the river. The story unfolds at an almost maddeningly slow pace until, at last, all the truths are revealed. Setterfield fills this richly layered plot with a fascinating cast of memorable characters who weave in and out of each other's lives. HIGH-DEMAND BACKLIST: Setterfield's gothic debut, The Thirteenth Tale (2006), remains a much-loved "sure bet" title in library circles. Expect holds for her new novel.--Rebecca Vnuk Copyright 2018 Booklist

Library Journal Review

Both giving and taking life, the river Thames flows through England and provides the setting for this tale. On a cold night in midwinter, a mysterious injured stranger stumbles into a cozy inn. In his arms is a young girl-a girl first dead and then alive. Known for their love of and prowess with storytelling, the inn's inhabitants swiftly tell, retell, and carry the story of these peculiar events to others. Soon three families set out to reclaim those children whom they believed to be lost. Just like the river, this story ebbs and flows in, around, and through the lives of those people connected by their land and folklore. Narrator Juliet Stevenson gives a perfectly paced performance that both captivates the listener and mirrors the fluid current of the tale. Each character is beautifully articulated with rich and varying tones and nuanced inflections. Setterfield's (The Thirteenth Tale) superior work will enchant and enthrall. VERDICT This title is an essential purchase for libraries whose patrons appreciate literary fiction with a touch of the unreal. ["Recommended to readers who enjoy popular or historical fiction with gothic twists as well as fans of the author's other novels": LJ 9/15/18 starred review of the Atria hc.]-Lisa -Youngblood, Harker Heights P.L., TX © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.