September 21, 2018

Once Upon a River

The Leach and the Churn and the Coln all have their separate journeys before they join the Thames to swell its waters, and in similar fashion the Vaughans and the Armstrongs and Lily White had their own stories in the years and days before they became part of this one. But join it they did, and we now come to the meeting of the waterways.

A little girl is found on the shores of the Thames and brought to Swan Inn where she is thought to be dead and suddenly comes back to life. Surrounding the mystery girl is an endless array of characters all of whom come complete with solid backstories to intensify their connection to the mystery girl and to each other.

One thing books often lack are adequate backstories for their characters which can cause them to seem flat. Once Upon a River excels in making characters come alive by twisting a tale of previous successes or misfortunes while successfully tying them into the present day and the main narrative. This also serves for the rich storytelling culture featured in this book as the backstories aren’t simply provided by the author but usually are shared orally from one character to another.

Once Upon a River held me in suspense as I awaited the true identity of the mystery girl. Is she Amelia, Alice, Ann, or someone else altogether? But, thanks to the complex backstory of each character, I also hung on to see what would happen next and what part they played in the mystery. At the end of all this suspense, everything is resolved and there is complete finality. Every character receives a just and plausible ending that fits well into the story.