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Publisher's Summary

From the instant number one New York Times best-selling author of the “eerie and fascinating” (USA Today) The Thirteenth Tale comes a richly imagined, powerful new novel about how we explain the world to ourselves, ourselves to others, and the meaning of our lives in a universe that remains impenetrably mysterious.

A body always tells a story - but this child’s was a blank page.

Rita reached for the lantern on its hook. She trained its light on the child’s face.

"Who are you?" she murmured, but the face said as little as the rest of her. It was impossible to tell whether, in life, these blunt and unfinished features had borne the imprint of prettiness, timid watchfulness, or sly mischief. If there had once been curiosity or placidity or impatience here, life had not had time to etch it into permanence.

Only a very short time ago - two hours or not much more - the body and soul of this little girl had still been securely attached. At this thought, and despite all her training, all her experience, Rita found herself suddenly in the grip of a storm of feeling. All the old rage at God - for not being kind, for not being fair, and finally for just not being - swept her up all over again and she felt tears of anger on her face. She took the child’s hand in hers - the perfect hand with its five perfect fingers and their perfect fingernails - and the words fell out of her that she had not known were there:

"It should not be so! It should not be so!"

And that is when it happened.

©2019 Diane Setterfield (P)2019 Simon & Schuster Audio

Featured Article: 20 Best Historical Fiction Audiobooks


Often based on real people, events, and scenarios, historical fiction gives us the opportunity to learn about worlds and times we will never experience while introducing fascinating characters and stories set in their midst. Sometimes, the genre can even give us a peek into hidden storylines that routinely go unmentioned in traditional history books, showing us that those of ages past are perhaps not so different from ourselves.

Editor's Pick

Swept in the current of a spellbinding story
"The events of Once Upon a River take place around the Winter Solstice in the late 19th century, and listening to it truly evokes that sense of sitting by the fireside on cold, dark night and listening to a story that’s at times hard to believe, but impossible to walk away from. It could almost be a lost Canterbury Tale, had it not been set a few hundred years later. Juliet Stevenson’s narration enhances the undercurrent of warmth and intrigue that keeps you glued for "just another hour" until the entire night has escaped you in the grip of transportive story. Diane Sitterfield’s previous novels have been on my "to-listen" list for months now; if she’s always been as gifted a storyteller as she is in Once Upon a River, they’ll be moving to the "listened and loved" list in no time."
Lavina K., Audible Editor

What listeners say about Once Upon a River

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  • Overall
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Enjoyed thoroughly... one minor glitch

I enjoyed this even more than Thirteenth Tale. One issue with audio.... my hearing is not perfect and it took awhile to discern the name ”Daunt” from “Vaughn”. Very confusing but once I realized my error all was well. Just a heads up to any other listeners with imperfect hearing.

133 people found this helpful

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Excellent

Hard to find the words to say about this book. It takes you away and you find yourself sitting at the Swan listening to a (the) story. This is one of those special books that you rarely find anymore. Lots of characters but not hard to keep track of as they become people you know.
The narrator could not have been better. Perfection.
Writing like this is so hard to find that I will buy it in hardback to have on my “favorites” bookshelf. Kudos to Diane Setterfield and Juliet Stevenson. Thank you.

102 people found this helpful

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  • 02-06-19

Best book I have read in years!!

This book was so fantastic I cried when it ended. I will replay it at some point, which is rare for me- but I just don't want it to end. The depth of each character, the artistry of word play, the emotional depth, the narration- just superb. I can't wait to visit the river, and investigate the true life characters that inspired some of this tail. I love you Diane Setterfield and Juliet Stevenson- how incredible you both are.

49 people found this helpful

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Not a very engaging story

The character development was very good but that's about all I can say for the book. All the characters seemed to be built for some amazing ending but in the end that just didn't really happen. It was boring beyond the fact that some of hte characters were interesting. I just expected more...

14 people found this helpful

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A Story Made for Reading Out Loud

Twelve long years after The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield has written another wonderful tale that is meant to be read out loud. Juliet Stevenson brings the story to life. When a small child's body is brought from the river to a pub, the story begins, and I was under the spell of writer and narrator. The narrative portions that Stevenson reads are pleasant and soothing to hear, but as she interprets the various characters we truly get to enjoy her skill as an consummate actress. This writer and narrator make a winning combination.

41 people found this helpful

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Wonderful Audiobook!

While searching for my next audiobook, I discovered "Once Upon a River" simply because I wanted to hear a book read by Juliet Stevenson. What an enjoyable experience to hear this clever tale read in so many voices and all done by Miss Stevenson! I don't want it to end. How does she do it? I know she's an acclaimed actress and I shouldn't be surprised how amazing she is in her reading of this book! I must run...I'm almost at the end and I'm prolonging it! Enjoy!!

26 people found this helpful

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A gentle story about stories

I got this one because I loved The Thirteenth Tale by Setterfield. This one was entertaining enough, but I wouldn't listen to it again. It's really a story about stories, and it's a gentle, rather slow-moving tale that revels in the mundane, so it's comfortable, homey sort of. I came to care about the characters, but soon there were so many and I kept getting them mixed up. It didn't really take much from the story, because by that point I was just listening for the soothing effect it had on me. I liked the narrator, but for a few of the voices.

38 people found this helpful

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Once Upon a...

Who can resist "Once Upon a " stories? This one delivers not only a captivating story, but irresistible characters, the good, the bad and the flawed. There is magic here, but it lies more in the mystery, and the lyrical telling of the tale and tales within tales. I was drawn in by phrases in the first few minutes as.."since the light had drained from the sky", or a description of a man for whom "only strong ale and storytelling could reduce the pain in his bones". Juliet Stevenson's narration is beautifully done.
Like other really good books I have read or listened to, this is my favorite...for now.

71 people found this helpful

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A Very Slow Float Upon A River

The plot of this story was very imaginative and intriguing and the audio narration was superb. While I really loved the quirkiness of each of the characters, some were just too close, at times, for discernment. Was it that their names sounded the same (Vaughn, Daunt), or that their personalities were a tad too similar? Not sure. My final comment is that while Once Upon a River was a lovely read, it was twice as long as it needed to be. It should have been tightened up by a good editor and reduced by 1/4, if not by 1/2. I'd recommend listening on 1.5 speed.

6 people found this helpful

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Once upon a long long time and then some

I had to give up three quarters of the way through, the story just when on and on about not much. Of course, if you like a slow story and a meandering of bit parts that add to the ambiance the author is portraying, then this might work for you as this approach does have value for some ... just not for me.

19 people found this helpful