I thoroughly enjoyed this book, one of the best I’ve read for a while. Having read and loved The Thirteenth Tale, I knew I’d be in for a good solid story with Once Upon A River. Several times during the book I was reminded of the writing style of Charles Dickens – a story with proper grounding and characters with personality.
Set in 1887 on the banks of the River Thames, much of the story centres around the The Swan, a local inn where storytelling is the entertainment and where more beer means more embellishment. One evening, an injured man stumbles in carrying a young girl who appears to be dead. A little girl who sometime later is alive. This is a time when superstition and supernatural blurred into real life and a dead girl coming back to life is a fantastical story for all to tell and re-tell.
The girl has three possible identities, she is either Alice, Amelia or Ann, and none is certain of her identity even when she lives with two of the families claiming her. The girl herself has lost the ability to speak and there is frustration from the Vaughan’s who desperately want her to be Amelia, their daughter who disappeared two years ago.
The river plays a large part of the story and to add to the strange goings on with a child coming back to life, there is rain, more rain, and inevitable flooding which seeps into their homes and lives as the river becomes a torrent.
Amidst superstition and folklore there’s also skulduggery, ransoms and beatings. Once Upon A River is a fulfilling story which has a depth of storytelling which is rare these days. I absolutely loved it.