A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw

A History of Wild Places

A History of Wild Places
by Shea Ernshaw

Fiction/Mystery/Magical Realism

354 Pages

Published by Atria Books (7th December 2021)

Purchase from | Booktopia | Book Depository | Fishpond AU* | Dymocks | Amazon AU | Amazon US | Amazon UK |

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My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Travis Wren has an unusual ability to find people. Able to touch an object and see visions of the owner, he uses this to help find the missing. When he’s called upon to help find a missing woman by a close friend of his, he reluctantly accepts. The missing woman is Maggie St James, a children’s author who wrote a dark collection of stories which were blamed for the death of a child. On his search, he comes across a place thought to be long gone – Pastoral; a commune deep in the forest that was started in the 70s as a way for those inhabiting it to live a simpler life. Upon finding Pastoral, Travis also disappears.

Years later, Theo, a long time inhabitant of the Pastoral community, stumbles across Travis Wren’s truck. This raises questions for him and he is soon embroiled in his own search for answers. It’s been years since any one was allowed in or out of Pastoral due to the risk of brining in a disease called rot that is infesting the forest. As Theo unravels the mystery surrounding Travis Wren, secrets are revealed, those that Theo himself, his wife – Calla, and her sister – Bee have kept from each other. Soon they realise that maybe their safe community isn’t as safe as they once thought.

This was another ‘Bookstagram made me buy it’ buy. I kept seeing it everywhere and the cover really caught my eye. I had ordered it earlier in the year and it was on backorder from a supplier for months, so long that I actually forgot about it until I got the shipping notification. To say I was excited was an understatement. I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this book, and I feel like that made it all the more enjoyable. From the blurb I knew that there was a slight touch of the paranormal, or ‘other’ here, in Travis Wren’s abilities. The length that Travis is in the story though, is actually quite short. I had it in my mind that he’d be present through most of the story, so I was a little bit disappointed, initially, when Theo, Calla and Bee’s storyline took over. This disappointment soon disappeared though because the story is that enthralling.

The characters are so well written. There’s so much depth and dimension to them, and I honestly loved all of them, even those that I hated, I loved. I was hooked from the first page and I really sympathised with the characters and their plight. The guilt that Maggie felt over what her stories had caused – namely the death of a child who was in search of her made up world. The heartache and emptiness that Travis felt, that he finds people as a way to try and fill that void and give people what he lost. The fear of those living in Pastoral, the fear of the rot, was palpable and I felt their terror. The frustration that Theo felt towards his wife Calla, and the magic that was Bee. I’m finding it difficult to pick a favourite character from this one as they were all that good, but I think my favourite was Bee. There was so many layers to her character and her abilities and I loved every single one. I loved her story so much and I was so invested. All of these characters were so wonderfully flawed and real and I just can’t say enough about them.

The story itself is one that I find hard to pigeon hole, and I think that that’s fantastic. I honestly couldn’t tell you what this story was. Speculative Fiction? Maybe? It’s so unique and I feel like that makes it stand out even more. I couldn’t even tell you who I would recommend this book to, I guess if you like something that’s a bit different and that really stands out from everything else and feels so original, you’d like this. The story was riveting. An absolute page turner. For a good portion of the book, I had no idea where I was heading, what was happening or how things were going to turn out. It was a slow reveal of everything and it just kept me glued to the page. I had to know where things were going and what was going to happen next, because I just could not guess it. I did have a slight, fleeting thought somewhere in the first half of the book about a certain aspect of the story, but I didn’t pay it much thought because I didn’t know how that was going to work. But I was right, and the how behind it all was masterful. Absolute stroke of genius. As the story unfolded I was left excited and hungry for more. The story of Pastoral and disappearance of Travis Wren and Maggie St James was just amazing, and I don’t know how to explain how enthralling it really was for me.

I generally find that a story is either plot driven or character driven, well this one, for me at least, was both. Not only did we have these characters who threw me for a loop as I tried to work out how they were connected to things and each other, but we also had this unique and unusual story that just kept me guessing. Both aspects of the story kept me reading, so even though initially I wasn’t a fan of Theo, Calla and Bee, I soon became absolutely enamored with them and so invested in their story and outcomes that I just couldn’t put the book down. I even said to a bookish friend while reading this “I have absolutely no idea what’s going on or where it’s headed, and I love it. It’s amazing” When you read as much as some of us do (and for some moreso than that) it can be so hard to find a book that really surprises you and is fresh, this book was both of those things.

All in all, I don’t want to go on too much because I feel that it’s better to go into this book as blind as you can be. This was such a gorgeously unique and hauntingly written story with characters that felt so real as to be standing right next to me. If you’re looking for something that is fresh and new and just downright different to anything else, pick this one up, and if you’ve read other books that are like this one, please recommend them to me because this is probably one of my top reads for the year.

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