Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield
Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Release Date: December 4, 2018
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪
When I was little, I had a favorite set of short stories, The Princess Tales by Gail Carson Levine. Set in a mystical land, these lighthearted fantasies kept me captivated as I devoured them time and time again. Once Upon a River brought me to a similar place. Although I didn’t find it to be overtly a fantasy novel, it had similar elements, and reminded me that this is a genre I enjoy. The story starts at The Swan, an inn on the river Thames, that is known for the group of storytellers who gather there in the evening. On the night where our story begins, a large, disfigured man suddenly bursts through the door with a young child, presumed drowned, clutched in his arms. The disruption puts an end to the tale telling for the night, and the townspeople call upon Rita, a local nurse, to comes tend to the injured. Although she initially believes the child to be dead based on all her vital signs, the girl suddenly opens her eyes that night, setting off a series of interwoven mysteries as they try to determine who’s long lost child made extra challenging given her apparent inability to speak.
There are a myriad of characters in this book, too many to go into detail about, but many of them come to want the child for themselves, whether for better, or for worse. The Vaughn’s take her in initially, believing (or more aptly, hoping beyond hope) that she is their lost Amelia, who went missing one night. The Armstrong family come to be sure that the girl is their grandchild, come from their wayward son, and Lily White, who lives alone in a cottage in constant fear of a man unknown to the reader, believes the little girl to be her sister. The characters are the heart of this story. As they work to unravel the mystery of the girl who seemed to come back to life, we learn about the struggles each of them have faced, and the hopes that they hold for their futures. Each individual is carefully crafted with characteristics that set them apart from anyone else, whether it be a Seeing eye, or a short, broad stature. Even though there were a lot of people to keep track of, they were distinct enough that I was never confused.
I really enjoyed the element of mystery that ran through these pages, and intertwined with both the historical and fantastical themes. It’s hard for me to try to categorize this story into a genre, but I don’t think that is necessary. It’s a piece of fiction that flows seamlessly and easily together with Setterfield’s detailed and beautifully crafted prose. She takes her time with her writing, letting details of setting and time work their way out fully and never rushing the narrative. Reading this book felt much like floating down a lazy river to me, it wasn’t a wild ride, but it was steady and always moving and changing. With that being said, I am used to reading books that are a little more fast paced, which is why this one is a four star read for me instead of five. I never considered putting this book down, but it was definitely slow, and a little bit of an adjustment for me to read (which in hindsight, was probably good for me).
Alongside this novel, I enjoyed these similarly whimsical Snowball Surprise Cookies. With only four ingredients, the dough comes together in no time, and the extra surprise of hidden chocolate makes them extra fun. The dough does need time to chill, and the hershey’s kisses need to be unwrapped and rolled individually into the cookies, so there is a little time involved with these, but they are an easy go-to recipe for me nonetheless.