> Skip to content

A long-awaited, spellbinding new novel from the author of No.1 New York Times bestseller The Thirteenth Tale - 'a mistress of the craft of storytelling' (Guardian).

A dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little 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?

Replete with folklore, suspense and romance, as well as with the urgent scientific curiosity of the Darwinian age, Once Upon a River is as richly atmospheric as Setterfield’s bestseller The Thirteenth Tale.


Once Upon a River is one of the most pleasurable and satisfying new books I've read in a long time. Setterfield is a master storyteller, her language flowing with a dark magic very like the river at the heart of her tale: swift and entrancing, profound and beautiful. Give yourself a treat and read it!

Madeline Miller,Orange Prize-winning author of The Song of Achilles and Circe

A story, no matter how cleverly it is structured, lives or dies on the vividness of its characters. Setterfield, a true storyteller, makes us care about all her players in this beguiling novel.

The Times

This is magical, bewitching story telling – and so cleverly structured…it possesses all those narrative values I have always cherished…: high prose expressed with rare clarity, story for the unashamed sake of story, a kind of moral dreaminess.

Jim Crace,author of Man Booker shortlisted Harvest

I was completely spellbound by this book. Numerous strands of the same story are skilfully woven into a magical web from which I, as a reader, had no desire to escape. Setterfield’s prose is beautiful, dark and eerily atmospheric, and her rich cast of characters convincingly illustrate the best and worst of humanity. Utterly brilliant!

Ruth Hogan,bestselling author of The Keeper of Lost Things

Diane Setterfield's debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale, came out in 2006 to wide acclaim. She made her mark by delivering her own take on the classic romantic mystery novel, infused with the spirit of Jane Eyre, Rebecca and The Woman in White. Once Upon a River continues to demonstrate her mastery of the Gothic genre in a way that will appeal to modern readers...Setterfield knows how to make the words sing. It is worth taking a journey down the Thames with her.


Diane's masterful storytelling draws you in to a beguiling tale, full of twists and turns like the river at its heart, and just as rich and intriguing. It lures you into its depths and carries you along in its vividly evoked world.

M L Stedman, author of The Light Between Oceans

Once Upon a River is magical, in every which way...it's the power of her storytelling that allows readers to suspend disbelief, and draws them through each tangled, dazzling chapter...This riverine novel has the mood and feel of a ghost story told late into the night, and will win over readers who enjoy a touch of age-old enchantment.

Financial Times

Once Upon a River is a delight, just marvellous. I devoured it.

Jo Baker, author of Longbourn

Exploring themes of storytelling, parenthood, science and society on the cusp of change, this is a richly evocative novel.


An absolute feast of a book, which will keep you engrossed as the cold north wind whistles outside.


A satisfying, thickly characterised tale that plunges you into an evocatively realised historical setting. You care for its characters.

Sunday Times

I so didn't want to leave the world of Once Upon a River but now I have and I'm bereft of the company of country folk and river spirits. This charming story about stories and the mystery of life & death captured my heart. A truly extraordinary book.

Dinah Jefferies

Once Upon A River succeeds in doing what you hope every book will do - pull you in from the first page, hold you captive in the middle, then leave you satisfied and thoughtful at the end. I loved it.

Renee Knight, author of Disclaimer

A finely drawn cast and bravura storytellling.

Mail on Sunday

Her characters are so vivid, one feels as though one has met them, spent an evening in their company, telling stories around the hearth...Setterfield is a master storyteller herself, giving us all the depth and plot and richness of the great narrative novelists. This is dazzling, alive, all-consumer writing: one reads each page greedily, the beautiful sentences shining like jewels under the pulling current of the tale itself.

Daily Telegraph

Brimming with folklore, intrigue and romance, this is a story to savour.

Woman & Home

An enchanting mix of mystery and folklore.

Good Housekeeping

This pungently atmospheric, quietly smoldering thriller sensitively mixes superstition, oral storytelling and the emerging psychology movement of the 19th century.


This enchanting historical story is full of folklore and intrigue.


Though Setterfield writes emotions with marvellous truth and subtlety, her most stunning prose is reserved for evocative descriptions of the natural world, creating an immersive experience made of light, texture, scent and sensation.

Washington Post

A bold, gripping narrative which fuses science, mystery and myth.

Daily Mail

Like Setterfield’s earlier novel The Thirteenth Tale, Once Upon a River is very much a story about the spellbinding power of storytelling...a deeply satisfying read.

New York Journal of Books

As the story progresses - by turns slow and melancholy, fast and furious, like its river setting - Diane Setterfield dips beguilingly into the intertwined lives of her vibrant characters.

Sunday Express

This dense, absorbing, beautifully atmospheric novel weaves a truly hypnotic spell.


Setterfield is a master of the medium. Like the river at its core, her plot twists and turns with ease and confidence, and her writing is beautiful.


Setterfield brilliantly captures a time and place on the cusp of modernity, plays bleakness and warmth off against each other to create a life-affirming tale of what it means to be human.

Press Association

An exquisitely crafted multi layered mystery.

The Week

Read More

Formats & editions

  • Trade Paperback


    December 3, 2018


    432 pages

    RRP $37.00

    Online retailers

    • Mighty Ape
    • Paper Plus
    • The Warehouse
    • Whitcoulls
    • Fishpond
    • The Nile

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.co.nz

  • Paperback


    October 1, 2019

    Black Swan

    544 pages

    RRP $26.00

    Online retailers

    • Mighty Ape
    • Paper Plus
    • The Warehouse
    • Whitcoulls
    • Fishpond
    • The Nile

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.co.nz

  • Hardback


    February 15, 2019


    432 pages

    RRP $40.00

    Online retailers

    • Mighty Ape
    • Paper Plus
    • The Warehouse
    • Whitcoulls
    • Fishpond
    • The Nile

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.co.nz

  • EBook


    January 24, 2019

    Transworld Digital

    432 pages

    Online retailers

    • Amazon Kindle NZ
    • iBooks NZ
    • Google Play EBook NZ
    • Kobo Ebook
    • Booktopia NZ
  • Audio Download


    January 17, 2019

    Transworld Digital

    RRP $37.00

    Online retailers

    • Audible NZ
    • Google Play Audio NZ
    • Kobo Audiobook


The Story Begins…

There was once an inn that sat peacefully on the bank of the Thames at Radcot, a long day’s walk from the source. There were a great many inns along the upper reaches of the Thames at the time of this story and you could get drunk in all of them, but beyond the usual ale and cider, each one had some particular pleasure to offer. The Red Lion at Kelmscott was musical: bargemen played their fiddles in the evening and cheesemakers sang plaintively of lost love. Inglesham had the Green Dragon, a tobacco-scented haven of contemplation. If you were a gambling man, the Stag at Eaton Hastings was the place for you, and if you preferred brawling, there was nowhere better than the Plough just outside Buscot. The Swan at Radcot had its own specialism. It was where you went for storytelling.

Continue Reading