Book review: The Girl by the River by Sheila Jeffries

The Girl by the River bySheila Jeffries
The Girl by the River bySheila Jeffries

Prepare to have your heart well and truly melted in the second book of an enchanting trilogy set amidst the rolling countryside of the Somerset Levels.

In her captivating follow-up to last year’s widely read The Boy With No Boots, Sheila Jeffries returns to the small rural village of Hilbegut where the hardworking Barcussy family is coming to terms with a human gift that for some is a blessing… and for others, a curse.

The timeless beauty of Somerset’s riverside landscape, where Jeffries grew up, forms the stunning backdrop to these moving, magical stories which are imbued with the warmth of spirituality and celebrate the eternal bond between man and nature.

Only minutes after she is born in 1945, little Tessa Barcussy is branded ‘a bad baby’ by her older sister Lucy. Their mother Kate nearly died giving birth to Tessa and her father Freddie, who has the gift of prophecy, has seen worrying omens.

His fears seem to be confirmed when Tessa is born with gold-flecked blue eyes, the same colour eyes that have haunted him for years since he saw Kate’s embittered sister Ethie drown in the swirling waters of the River Severn.

And only hours after Tessa’s birth, Freddie encounters Romany gypsy Madame Eltura who makes a chilling prediction about Tessa’s destiny. Freddie finds it so disturbing that he writes it down and hides it in a sealed envelope at home, hoping that he will never have to open it.

The gypsy’s words haunt him as he bonds with his new baby daughter, the child who he instantly recognises shares his own spiritual energies. Hyper-sensitive and rebellious, Tessa becomes difficult to handle and disruptive as she starts to mature.

Freddie and Kate struggle to raise this challenging daughter and nurture her creative gifts while Tessa, growing up in the shadow of her golden sister Lucy, feels that her path to happiness is elusive.

Tessa is also hiding a dark secret from her parents. Will the words of Madame Eltura come true, or will they empower Tessa to finally become the person she was born to be?

A born storyteller, Jeffries brings a unique tenderness and passion to her wonderfully nostalgic books, allowing both nature and spirituality to play powerful roles in the bittersweet fates and fortunes of her characters.

Gently seductive, full of fascinating imagery and with an irresistible hint of magic, this is the perfect book to curl up with on dark winter nights.

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £7.99)