Thursday, January 12, 2012

Territory - Emma Bull

About the book

Wyatt Earp. Doc Holliday. Ike Clanton.
You think you know the story. You don't.
Tombstone, Arizona in 1881 is the site of one of the richest mineral strikes in American history, where veins of silver run like ley lines under the earth, a network of power that belongs to anyone who knows how to claim and defend it.

Above the ground, power is also about allegiances. A magician can drain his friends' strength to strengthen himself, and can place them between him and danger. The one with the most friends stands to win the territory.

Jesse Fox left his Eastern college education to travel West, where he's made some decidedly odd friends, like the physician Chow Lung, who insists that Jesse has a talent for magic. In Tombstone, Jesse meets the tubercular Doc Holliday, whose inner magic is as suppressed as his own, but whose power is enough to attract the sorcerous attention of Wyatt Earp.
Mildred Benjamin is a young widow making her living as a newspaper typesetter, and--unbeknownst to the other ladies of Tombstone--selling tales of Western derring-do to the magazines back East. Like Jesse, Mildred has episodes of seeing things that can't possibly be there.
When a failed stage holdup results in two dead, Tombstone explodes with speculation about who attempted the robbery. The truth could destroy Earp's plans for wealth and glory, and he'll do anything to bury it. Meanwhile, outlaw leader John Ringo wants the same turf as Earp. Each courts Jesse as an ally, and tries to isolate him by endangering his friends, as they struggle for magical dominance of the territory.

Events are building toward the shootout of which you may have heard. But you haven't heard the whole, secret story until you've read Emma Bull's unique take on an American legend, in which absolutely nothing is as it seems...

320 pages (paperback)
Published by: Tor

Thanks to Tor for sending me a copy of this book to review.


Territory was my first Emma Bull book. I have read some of the author’s short stories before, and was familiar (and knew I enjoyed) her writing style, I was really excited to read Territory. Furthermore, I am really not incredibly familiar with the Wild West, but of course I know the names like Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. I was really was anxious to see how Bull could turn the infamous Gunfight at the OK Corral into a romping fantasy adventure.

Due to the fact that I know next to nothing about the days of the Wild West, I was a good choice to read this book. Most of the historical specifics were lost on me, as were the historical characterization elements. For example, I couldn’t compare Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday in the book to what I knew about these characters from history. If Emma Bull was correct with her characterization, or with the nitty-gritty details of what took place during the span of time she covered, I never knew it. Thus, historical accuracy wasn’t a huge deal to me, which allowed me to sit back and really enjoy the story for what it was.

Territory opens on a rather grim note at the scene of a robbery where two people are killed. While this scene is important for the plot, it doesn’t set the tone for the whole book. There are incredibly dark and suspenseful moments, but it’s nicely juxtaposed with an overall feel of innocence as the widow Mildred Benjamin is introduced, as well as the traveler Jesse Fox. In fact, it seems as though each character adds a unique atmosphere to the book. The physician Chow Lung is perhaps the most atmospheric as he fills his pages with an incredibly mystical air without overdoing it. Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, as you’d expect, add a level of danger and suspense to Territory that is almost palpable.

With some minor reservations, I could almost recommend Territory as a book both fantasy fans, and mainstream fiction fans could both enjoy. While there are some fantasy elements, they are rather surprisingly subtle and, in many parts of the book, nearly nonexistent. This could easily disappoint fantasy readers who might spend most of the book waiting for the fantastic elements and end up being disappointed with not enough to satisfy their appetite. However, for readers who are looking for a more mainstream book but don’t mind the occasional dabble into the fantastic, this might be the perfect recipe for them.

Most of Territory feels like a setup for the big end-of-the-book hurrah. This was interesting at the start, but eventually it got rather old as many of the characters seemed willfully ignorant in the way that they refused to admit that there was more going on than a simple robbery. By the time the characters did admit that Wyatt Earp was up to a bit more than met the eye, the book was almost over. The ending, because of this, felt incredibly rushed and left me rather unsatisfied. If the author had, perhaps, allowed characters to have important revelations a bit sooner, I would have felt that the book was properly paced. As it was, I felt as though there was a lot of lollygagging while the author set things up for the conclusion… and then set them up again…. And again….and again and in the end, I just got sick of all the background and wished Territory would just “get on with it” already.

One of Emma Bull’s talents lies in her ability to describe things in an incredibly unique and memorable way. For example, she describes liquor by saying it is like, “a pretty whore with brass knuckles.” Descriptions like that really liven up the book and add a layer of subtle humor to Territory and really, at times, livened it up quite a bit.

Territory is a fun read. Individuals who are more familiar with the ins and outs of this period of history might find it more rewarding than people who are vaguely aware of what happened at this period. Furthermore, Territory focuses more on the events leading up to the infamous gunfight, rather than the gunfight itself, so if you are reading this book to read about the events at the OK Corral, you’ll be let down. Barring those facts to be aware of, Territory is enjoyable. There are some issues with pacing, but Emma Bull’s unique spin on a well-known event coupled with her fantastic writing makes the issues in Territory easy to overlook.

3.5/5 stars

1 comment:

  1. I'd be curious to read as having more familiarity with the old west. Particularly Doc Holliday. The man has always fascinated me and I like to see any new additions to his mythos, as that is in a way actually more interesting than the historical truth--what people have done with it from the time he was alive. Also, Bull's description of liquor is absolutely fabulous. I've never been drawn to bull before but you definitely have me hooked.

    Another showdown for a laugh. My Little Ponies Massacred: