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A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw
Magical realism

A History of Wild Places

by Shea Ernshaw

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Quick take

A mesmerizing tale about the search for a missing woman last seen going into an isolated forest town with some secrets.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MultipleNarrators

    Multiple viewpoints

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  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Puzzle


  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Rural_update



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.

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Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of A History of Wild Places.
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.

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Why I love it

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.

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Member ratings (34,131)

  • Angie D.

    Centerville, OH

    I gave this ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5. I enjoyed the actual story of Maggie and Travis. Did not enjoy the excerpts of the children’s book. It gave off “The Village” vibe. Had several twists I didn’t see coming.

  • Kate B.

    Branch, MI

    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) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Drew H.

    Nicholasville, KY

    Secrets and lies untangle in the remote forest of Pastoral, making us question everything we thought we knew about ourselves. And whether lives built based on a lie might be true afterall... ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Sabrina S.

    Arden, NC

    Riveting characters, plot twists and turns, and a cult hidden in the woods, this book had a bit of everything. It was an interesting break from reality that I will now recommend to all! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Ilse A.

    Orange, CA

    I think one of my favorite books of 2022 so far. It was a suspenseful and very hard to put down once you got started. It’s dark, it’s thrilling, it’s mysterious..and creepy… ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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