My rating: 2.75 of 5 stars
Thank you to NetGalley for the opportunity to read Diane Setterfield’s Once Upon a River. This historical mystery tale begins when a wounded stranger enters The Swan pub carrying what appears to be a waxen doll and is told like a fairytale. The mystery begins when the doll turns out to be a little girl who seems dead only to come to life setting tongues wagging in the village and villages up and down the Thames. Who is the little girl? Two families seem to claim her but there is a cruel plot afoot. With elements of the supernatural balanced by the scientific logic of a Rita, the local nurse and Henry Daunt, a skilled photographer and the girl’s rescuer, some mysteries are solved and some endings are happy.
The first third of Once Upon a River moves a bit slowly as the reader is acquainted with the characters and the local lore but after Part One the story moves along while not quickly, more steadily with as many twists and unexpected connections as the river itself. It was these twists that kept me reading, eager to learn exactly where the girl had come from. Personally, as the daughter of a photographer, I was most fascinated by the Victorian era photography methods and Taunt’s character.
If you enjoy the Victorian era feel of the Once Upon a River but wished there was more fantasy in it, I highly recommend the superior Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. It is quite a tome so it is a bit of a commitment to read it but it is so worth it.