Originally posted on Leah’s Books.
A History of Wild Places
- Author: Shea Ernshaw
- Genre: Mystery
- Publication Date: December 7, 2021
- Publisher: Atria Books
Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book. I am offering my honest opinion voluntarily.
CONTENT WARNING: infidelity, death, drug use, suicide, mention of death of a parent, grief, mention of cancer, confinement, murder, blood, violence
Travis Wren has an unusual talent for locating missing people. Hired by families as a last resort, he requires only a single object to find the person who has vanished. When he takes on the case of Maggie St. James—a well-known author of dark, macabre children’s books—he’s led to a place many believed to be only a legend.
Called Pastoral, this reclusive community was founded in the 1970s by like-minded people searching for a simpler way of life. By all accounts, the commune shouldn’t exist anymore and soon after Travis stumbles upon it… he disappears. Just like Maggie St. James.
Years later, Theo, a lifelong member of Pastoral, discovers Travis’s abandoned truck beyond the border of the community. No one is allowed in or out, not when there’s a risk of bringing a disease—rot—into Pastoral. Unraveling the mystery of what happened reveals secrets that Theo, his wife, Calla, and her sister, Bee, keep from one another. Secrets that prove their perfect, isolated world isn’t as safe as they believed—and that darkness takes many forms.
Hauntingly beautiful, hypnotic, and bewitching, A History of Wild Places is a story about fairy tales, our fear of the dark, and losing yourself within the wilderness of your mind.
I didn’t realize that this was Ernshaw’s debut adult book, but after falling in love with her writing in The Wicked Deep, I knew I wanted to read this. This story retained the dark, eerie, and atmospheric aura that I remembered from reading one of her other books, and the style wasn’t far off from her YA book, either. It kind of reminded me a little of Small Favors by Erin A. Craig.
The story itself was deliciously dark and creepy. In the beginning, we’re introduced to Travis, a man who has an unusual talent for touching objects and being able to read them — being able to pick up an afterimage, as he calls it, of the person who it belonged to. He uses that to track people who have gone missing. And despite his life being a total mess, he’s roped into tracking down a woman who has gone missing five years earlier. She’s a writer of dark books for children that don’t seem to be suitable for children at all, and there’s suspicions that maybe she doesn’t want to be found. But he still tracks her to the border of a place that many don’t believe exists. And then … his story stops.
Next it picks up with three other characters — Theo, Calla, and Bee, a trio that form a family unit within the borders of Pastoral. It’s an insulated community deep in the woods, and almost immediately there’s a sense that something isn’t quite right. Each of the three hold secrets, and the chapters shift between their POVs. I loved getting to see things through their eyes, and discovering not only their world, but also understanding the secrets they keep and why.
The writing is absolutely gorgeous, and it felt like I was completely submerged in their world. I was drawn into this completely different, simpler way of life, but there was also an undercurrent of tension, fear, and almost paranoia that pervaded, and got worse as the story went on. There’s something clearly wrong within Pastoral, forcing the residents to close their borders. No one can get in or out, and the safety of the community takes precedence above all.
It was a tense read, although I did figure out the big twist before it was revealed. Even so, the writing kept me hooked and enjoying the story. The characters were so well-created that I couldn’t stop reading, and found myself putting off other things that I had to do in order to finish the book. There were plenty of surprises throughout the read, and I loved seeing how the characters related to each other. By the end of the story, I could understand the lure of a community set apart from the world, like Pastoral. I’m definitely looking forward to more of Ernshaw’s work.