Title: A History of Wild Places
Author: Shea Ernshaw
Genre: Mystery / Magical Realism
Length: 368 pages
Publisher: Atria Books
Release Date: December 7, 2021
Source: publisher via Netgalley
Content Warnings: suicide, hanging, pregnancy, death, infidelity
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.
This book is beautifully written, atmospheric, and eerie. It is mainly a mystery, but it includes touches of magical realism, dystopian, and even mild horror. However, I found the pacing to be so incredibly slow.
The premise of the book is a bit confusing: a man tries to track down a missing woman, but goes missing himself. A couple years later, residents of the isolated community of Pastoral find traces of those missing people, but no one in the community ever saw the people themselves. And they can’t leave because of “rot,” a disease in the surrounding trees that can spread to people. And everyone has secrets. Something was definitely wrong with Pastoral, but it was very unclear what the point of the story was or how all these pieces fit together until well over halfway through the book, making the mystery more frustrating than intriguing.
The short, suspenseful chapters kept me immersed in the story, and the pace finally picked up with some great twists toward the end, but I couldn’t get over my earlier frustrations at the slow beginning and middle of the story. This book was simultaneously trying to do too many things at once and not doing enough.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the free eARC.