I have it on good authority that this will be a December Book of the Month main selection. I do recommend going in relatively blind, so ready the quick synopsis and maybe skip the publisher’s.
Travis Wren has a talent for finding missing people. His is hired to find children’s author Maggie St. James who vanished into thin air five years prior. But soon, Travis vanishes too after finding Pastoral – a 1970s reclusive community the outside world has forgotten about.
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.
A History of Wild Places is Shea Ernshaw’s foray into adult fiction, and it is definitely an adult debut worth reading. This book is an atmospheric, slow-burn mystery that primary takes place at a forgotten commune deep in the Oregon woods. I have read a few reviews that describe this book as fantasy, but it is not. (I think because Ernshaw has previously written fantasy people make this assumption.) It does require some suspension of reality and plausibility, which may be what is driving this label.
A History of Wild Places delves into the lies and truths we tell ourselves – the ones we keep within ourselves and can not utter out loud. It is a novel is unlike any book I have read, in the best way. It does remind me of two lackluster books I read earlier this year but combined and better. I do not want to describe the novel too much and give anything away.
Ernshaw writes beautiful prose that immerses you in the setting without being overly descriptive. It was easy to imagine myself in the story experiencing the characters’ lives. I found the story compelling and gripping. Once I started, I did not want to stop reading, which is uncommon for me when reading a slow-burn mystery.
The plot of A History of Wild Places will keep you guessing and then surprise you. It really is a unique story that you will think about long after you read the last page.
Overall, I really enjoyed A History of Wild Places and recommend giving it a read. I am now curious about Ernshaw’s backlist, even though I am not a big fan of the young adult genre.
Note: I received a gifted copy of this book from Book Sparks as part of their 2021 Fall Reading Challenge book tour. Regardless, I always provide a fair and honest review.