"A dark midwinter’s night. The Swan, an ancient inn on the banks of the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger.
In his arms is the corpse of a drowned 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?
And who exactly is the little girl? As news spreads of the child who drowned and lived again, three families come to claim her, and the stories of three lost girls (and a missing pig) come to light. In the background is the river itself: powerful, unknowable, lifegiving and lifetaking.
There is talk of a ferryman who appears to those who get into trouble on the river … But at the Swan Inn, is anything ever just a story?"
Yet again I can't remember where I saw this mentioned but I am so glad I added it to the wish-list. Once upon a river is a beautifully-crafted tale that weaves in and out of the lives of people living along the river and the mysterious tale of the girl who died but didn't that emerges over the course of a year. At turns fabulous and ethereal yet it also feels firmly rooted in the everyday lives of farmers, villagers and innkeepers, villains and gentlefolk. Re-counting both the cruelty and kindnesses that ordinary people visit on each other, it has been a wonderful read. There is blackmail, murder and kidnap here but there is also love, redemption and hope. The river is at the heart of everything and the story twists and turns along it, pulling you very willingly with it. It is most definitely set in the past and has that rooted feel of a story that could have been told around all manner of Winter firesides for a very long time. As you may have guessed, Once upon a river has really resonated with me and will be something I'll want to savour for a while before moving on to another story.
Borrowed as an e-book from the library app so no pretty cover pictures to share I'm afraid but a link to the author's website is here and the ISBNs for those that prefer to hunt that way: Ebook: ISBN 9781473555815; Paperback ISBN 9780857525659.
This is the author's third novel and I will definitely be looking at the other two - The thirteenth tale and Bellman & Black - but maybe not straightaway.