Alright ya’ll, I am thoroughly conflicted writing this review. On one hand it was one of my most anticipated upcoming releases and I think the story is imaginative and well written. On the other hand it takes us forever to get where we need to go, and I found myself counting pages one too many times.
Travis Wren is a private investigator. Not that he wants to be but his uncanny ability to ‘read’ objects and see what their previous owners were doing in the past, is a pretty convenient skill when searching for people. During the first part of the story, we follow Travis as he searches for author Maggie St. James. She’s been gone for over five years and the trail has gone cold. At the pleads of Maggie’s father, Travis sets out to find Maggie. During his search, Travis disappears as well.
Enter husband and wife Theo and Calla, and Calla’s blind sister Bee, all who live in the community of Pastoral. They have lived in Pastoral their entire lives, never venturing further than the town boarder. The town boarder, which is the line where ‘Rot’ a sickness that spreads through the trees is known to inhabit. Traveling past the boarder moves sickness, but it also means that small town is completely cutoff from the outside world, if there even is an outside world anymore. But Theo and Bee both long to see what lays beyond the boarder, for good or bad. As they start to question what may really be beyond, they start to uncover secrets in the community that have them questioning their entire lives.
Sounds great right? A bit of mystery, a bit of dystopian, completely in my wheelhouse. Combine that with Ernshaw’s knack for writing unsettling and creepy atmospheres and for most people this will be a winner. It probably would have been a five star read for me as well, except this story seems long and at under 400 pages that’s not a good this. We end up in Pastoral with Calla, Theo, and Bee, pretty early in the story, and while their story is interesting it was too much of a slow burn for me.
Maybe I’ve read to many mystery/thrillers but I also guessed the big reveal a bit early on. While that’s not always a turn off for me, in this case the crescendo to that reveal didn’t deliver for me either. I did like one of the twists at the end but it ultimately wasn’t a big enough save for the story.
I was hoping for a bit more mystical/magical eeriness but somewhere along the way Ernshaw took a step back from her usual mysticism. It might have been an effort to make this story more ‘adult’, as this is her debut into adult fiction., but then I would have hoped she leaned harder into the ‘Cult’ premise. Either way, this was enjoyable, I don’t regret reading this, but would have liked a strong finish.
Overall, I liked it but didn’t love it enough to want a physical copy. The central plot is amazing but the execution could have used a bit of work. I’d probably still recommend this one for those that enjoy a slow burn mystery, maybe rent this one from the library.
A History of Wild Places comes out December 7, 2021. Huge thank you to Atria Books for my copy in exchange for my honest review. If you liked this review please let me know either by commenting below or by visiting my Instagram @speakingof_books.