A mesmerizing tale about the search for a missing woman last seen going into an isolated forest town with some secrets.
Good to know
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
Death has a way of leaving breadcrumbs, little particles of the past that catch and settle and stain. A single strand of copper-brown hair, the follicle ripped from a skull, snagged by a door hinge or cold, clenched fingers. Drops of blood and broken skin, carelessly left at the bottom of a bathroom sink when they should have been scrubbed away.
Objects leave hints too: a bracelet broken at the clasp, dropped in the red-clay dirt; a shoe kicked off during a struggle, wedged behind a rear truck tire; a contact lens, popped free when the person screamed for help in some deep, dark part of a backwoods lot where no one could hear.
These things, these artifacts, tell me where a person has been. The last steps they took.
But not in the way you might think.
The past sputters through me, images reflected against my corneas, revealing the strained, awful looks carved into the faces of those who’ve gone missing. Who’ve vanished and never returned home.
I see them in a sort of slideshow staccato, like the old black-and-white nickel films. It’s a terrible talent to hold an object and see the likeness of the person it once belonged to, their final moments shivering and jerking through me as if I were right there. Witnessing the grim, monstrous ends of a person’s life.
But such things—such abilities—can’t be given back.
Why I love it
Ruth Emmie Lang
Author, The Wilderwomen
As an author, I inevitably get asked the question, “What do you like to read?” My answer is usually way more specific than the typical “I like romance” or “I like a good mystery.” I do like a good mystery, but I need something more. My favorite stories are the ones that make you question reality; stories that ask you to trust them, then betray you in the most satisfying way possible. A History of Wild Places is one of those stories.
It begins with a search for a beloved author who has gone missing but was last seen heading into a remote village known as Pastoral . . . The residents of Pastoral know not to go into the woods, but that doesn’t stop Theo from wondering what lies outside their seemingly idyllic community. When he finally decides to venture beyond the border, he happens upon an abandoned truck which sets off a chain of events that will irreparably change the course of his life and the ones he loves.
Written in sharp, fine-toothed prose, A History of Wild Places is both insightful and propulsive. You will navigate the book’s multitude of twists and turns with characters you genuinely care about, and will have many opportunities to exclaim “Don’t go in there!” The characters won’t listen and you won’t want them to, because if you’re being honest with yourself, you want to know what’s lurking in those woods, too.
Member ratings (32,611)
Ernshaw writes with such beautifully complete detail that you can picture the woods, the pond, the garden and the farmhouse. The twists were unique (other than a definite TWD Governor vibe) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Los Angeles, CA
Wow what a total mind game! I never would’ve guessed any of it! Such a beautiful story. Sometimes people don’t want to be found and it’s best to respect that. There’s more I want to know, but I’m ok.
I wasn’t sure at first… the story is intriguing. Some parts felt repetitive AND THEN, I couldn’t put the book down. There’s a twist that I didn’t catch onto immediately and the outcome was just WOW.
South Jordan , UT
This book was so weird… but I loved every moment of it. I love that it didn’t remind me of any other story. I read it in 1 day because I HAD to know the ending. I honestly can’t stop thinking about it
5 BOTM choices in 2021 (why did I wait so long?) and I’ve found the one I love. I don’t give this rating out Willy-nilly. Ernshaw writes delicately & beautifully. Her words pull you in like a whisper.