Thanks to NetGalley and Atria Books for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: December 7th, 2020
The New York Times bestselling author of The Wicked Deep weaves a richly atmospheric adult debut following three residents of a secluded, seemingly peaceful commune as they investigate the disappearances of two outsiders.
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. (Goodreads)
Oh my goodness, what a creepy, mesmerizing read A History of Wild Places turned out to be! As the story begins, Travis Wren has been hired by the parents of controversial children’s author Maggie St. James, who has mysteriously gone missing. Travis has a unique talent that assists him in locating people, but it’s one that’s taken a toll on him personally. Because of this and a personal tragedy, he’s taking taking on this last case as a favor for a friend before quitting this difficult business. As he arrives in the small Northern California mountain town where Maggie was last seen and discovers her abandoned car near a forest that doesn’t seem to have had any recent human visitors, Travis also disappears. The story then switches to the isolated commune of Pastoral nestled deep in the woods. The chapters alternate between three of its inhabitants, Theo and his wife Calla, and Calla’s sister Bee.
I have to be honest and say it wasn’t terribly difficult to foresee what the central twist was going to be, but that really didn’t matter because of the hypnotic writing style of Ernshaw. Theo, Calla, and Bee are all unreliable narrators because they each only possess bits and pieces of the larger puzzle. They’re all relatable though, and I had no trouble connecting with them whatsoever.
The story itself is a slow burner in the beginning, but thanks to Ernshaw’s evocative and richly detailed prose I never once found my attention wandering. While I figured out the main reveal fairly early, I remained mystified in regards to the hows and whys, and along the winding way to getting those answers, there were quite a few twists that managed to surprise me right up until the ingenious ending.
A History of Wild Places is a stellar read that I recommend to not only fans of Shea Ernshaw’s previous books, but anyone who’s a fan of unique, imaginative and unforgettable storytelling. If I were to compare it to something, I’d say in some respects it’s reminiscent of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, but trust me, it ultimately diverges quite a ways from that and completely stands on its own merits.