Thanks to Partners NetGalley and Atria Books for the digital ARC of Shea Ernshaw’s A History of Wild Places in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on December 7, 2021.
I’m a fan of Shea Ernshaw’s YA books The Wicked Deep and Winterwood, so I’m not surprised that I loved A History of Wild Places, her first book for adults, as much as I did. It demonstrates the same talents for establishing and sustaining a unique, unsettling atmosphere and for building a compelling, complex world as those first two books. Ernshaw also has an ability to create complex, intriguing characters to populate her novels.
In A History of Wild Places, we start with a book within the book: Foxes and Museums, book one in the Eloise and the Foxtail series, a super-dark fairytale for children. The book’s author, Maggie St. James, has been missing for five years, and Travis Wren—the protagonist of the second layer of the novel—has been hired by her parents to find her. He has an ability to touch objects and then see their memories which has made him valuable to those searching for lost loved ones, but personal tragedy has made him back away from humanity. It’s only as a favor for a distant friend and a desperation for work that has brought him to this search.
As he follows her last-known path, he enters an isolated town in search of a mysterious community called Pastoral.
Then, the narrative shifts again and relocates into Pastoral itself, where we follow three characters: Theo, a man who is increasingly curious about what lies outside of Pastoral; Calla, who fears the potential consequences of her husband’s questions; and Calla’s sister Bee, a blind woman with abilities that make her valuable to Pastoral’s leader.
The shifting nature of truth, of what we think we understand and what lies beneath, mirrors the characters’ own search for identity and truth. It’s a gorgeous novel full of narratives made unreliable because of every character’s limited knowledge. As those disparate pieces come together, I found myself shifting them around, trying to make sense of the way the layers of the story connected.
A History of Wild Places is a brilliantly immersive novel, one that I couldn’t stop reading. Ernshaw is definitely an auto-read author for me.
I'm Jen Moyers, co-host of the Unabridged Podcast and an English teacher.