A History of Wild Places: review

Shea Ernshaw is the New York Times Bestselling author of the YA books: THE WICKED DEEP, WINTERWOOD, and A WILDERNESS OF STARS. As well as her debut adult fiction novel: A HISTORY OF WILD PLACES (2021). She is the winner of the 2019 Oregon Book Award, and both of her YA novels were Indie Next Picks.

She often writes late, late, late into the night, enjoys dark woods, scary stories and moonlight on lakes.

You can connect with her here:




Hardcover, 368 pages

Expected publication:December 7th 2021 by Atria Books

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.

Huge thank you to the publisher for the arc!

Shea Ernshaw wowed me with The Wicked Deep (which was my favorite book that year) so when I heard she was debuting a brand new adult novel, I knew my grabby hands were going to work overtime to acquire the book, so when the publisher emailed me about reviewing it, I couldn't contain my excitement.

Honestly, I went into this book almost completely blind. I knew the general synopsis but did not read any reviews before reading it. We begin the story with the point of view of Travis, a loner who has the ability to see the past through touch. Touching an object can spur memories of whoever had it in possession at one time or another.

Travis as a whole is troubled. He lives with exceptional guilt of not saving his suicidal sister and carries that around wherever he goes, helping law enforcement track down cold cases and saving those who wouldn't otherwise be saved, attempting to lift his heartache. He's hired to track down a missing author named Maggie St James who'd abandoned her life spontaneously, leaving little clues to her whereabouts. The irony of Travis's character is that he's tasked with tracking down lost people when, all the while, he's not able to find himself.

But surprise! The moment Travis steps into a place called Pastoral, a hidden community, the POC changes and we're jarred into the life of Calla, her sister, and husband. Three POVs all from people living in a cultlike community in the middle of a desolate forest cut off from society. The village is cut off bu the forest, fearing it's "rot" and scared of the deadly illness they could catch if they cross the border. But Theo, Calla's husband confesses that he's crossed the border multiple times without getting sick. In the meantime, Calla's blind sister Bee carries on a secret romance with the leader of Pastoral, Levi. Now, Levi is the most manipulative creep ever and I hated him from page one. Secrets abound in Pastoral, so when Calla finds a photo of someone named Maggie St James, she and the village are thrust into a series of events that threaten to crumble their peaceful society.

Shea Ernshaw flips this book on its head when we switch from Travis's POV to Calla, Bee, and Theo. It felt jarring at first but I was quickly immersed in the new story. Like a lot of other reviews I read after I finished, I did get major The Village vibes.

I know this all sounds confusing and bizarre, but I don't want to give you ANY spoilers because this book was fantastic in every way. I did have a bit of an issue with the ending, but I'm a complete goblin with endings and if they don't 100% satisfy my high expectations, I grumble and crawl back under the cellar stairs, promptly dropping stars here and there.

Overall, this is a delicious mystery with creepy atmospheric Shamalan vibes that will be sure to love.

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