Book Review: A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw

Hardcover, 368 pages

Expected publication: December 7th 2021 by Atria Books

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.

My thoughts:

Pastoral, once a peaceful and reclusive community, with calm order and purpose, becomes sinister and takes “reclusive” to a whole other level. Yes, please! When I came across this book on NetGalley, I had a feeling about it and my thoughts were right on the money.

These days, it is hard to disconnect in more ways than one. Everything is fast-paced and mental illness is on the rise. It is no wonder many people dream about a simpler life. In History of Wild Places, the people seeking this life get more than they are asking for.

One of the main important elements of a story is connecting with the characters. You don’t get that in this story, perhaps because you aren’t given a lot of backstory. That said, there is a reason why and readers will begin to understand that based on the theme of the story.

Ernshaw employs artistic composition in a unique and refreshing way that has you hanging on to every word. Her ability to articulate any situation or surrounding in the story is outstanding. Ernshaw had me hooked with the first line!

As the story unfolded, I began to see clearly how prolonged isolation can be used to manipulate people of the tightknit community and the mind-distorting effects it creates.

I found myself fully immersed in unraveling, along with Theo, Calla and Bee, the dark secrets that keep them locked within the commune.

One aspect I would have liked to have been more developed was the characters’ daily lives and their relationships with each other. It would have made the plot more profound. In regards to the relationships, Bee’s and Levi’s were the only relationship fleshed out. I cannot say much more than that without giving any spoilers.  

A great mystery about the disappearance of people, manipulation, a reclusive community brilliantly weaved with atmospheric woods, survival and spooky elements.

Stephanie Hopkins

I obtained a galley copy from the publishers through NetGalley for an honest review.

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