Territory – Emma Bull

About the book
Wyatt Earp. DocHolliday. Ike Clanton.


You think you know the story. You don’t.


Tombstone, Arizona in 1881 is the site of one ofthe richest mineral strikes in American history, where veins of silver run likeley lines under the earth, a network of power that belongs to anyone who knowshow to claim and defend it.

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

Jesse Fox left his Eastern college education totravel West, where he’s made some decidedly odd friends, like the physicianChow Lung, who insists that Jesse has a talent for magic. In Tombstone, Jessemeets the tubercular Doc Holliday, whose inner magic is as suppressed ashis own, but whose power is enough to attract the sorcerous attention ofWyatt Earp.


Mildred Benjamin is a young widow making herliving as a newspaper typesetter, and–unbeknownst to the other ladies ofTombstone–selling tales of Western derring-do to the magazines back East. LikeJesse, 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 truthcould destroy Earp’s plans for wealth and glory, and he’ll do anything to buryit. Meanwhile, outlaw leader John Ringo wants the same turf as Earp. Eachcourts 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 whichyou may have heard. But you haven’t heard the whole, secret story until you’veread Emma Bull’s unique take on an American legend, in which absolutely nothingis as it seems…

320pages (paperback)
Publishedby: Tor
Thanks to Tor for sending me a copy of this book to review.
Territory was my first Emma Bull book. Ihave read some of the author’s short stories before, and was familiar (and knewI enjoyed) her writing style, I was really excited to read Territory. Furthermore, I am really not incredibly familiar withthe 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 atthe OK Corral into a romping fantasy adventure.
Dueto the fact that I know next to nothing about the days of the Wild West, I wasa good choice to read this book. Most of the historical specifics were lost onme, as were the historical characterization elements. For example, I couldn’tcompare Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday in the book to what I knew about these charactersfrom history. If Emma Bull was correct with her characterization, or with thenitty-gritty details of what took place during the span of time she covered, Inever knew it. Thus, historical accuracy wasn’t a huge deal to me, whichallowed me to sit back and really enjoy the story for what it was.
Territory opens on a rather grim note atthe scene of a robbery where two people are killed. While this scene isimportant for the plot, it doesn’t set the tone for the whole book. There areincredibly dark and suspenseful moments, but it’s nicely juxtaposed with anoverall feel of innocence as the widow Mildred Benjamin is introduced, as wellas the traveler Jesse Fox. In fact, it seems as though each character adds aunique atmosphere to the book. The physician Chow Lung is perhaps the mostatmospheric as he fills his pages with an incredibly mystical air withoutoverdoing it. Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, as you’d expect, add a level ofdanger and suspense to Territory thatis almost palpable.
Withsome minor reservations, I could almost recommend Territory as a book both fantasy fans, and mainstream fiction fanscould both enjoy. While there are some fantasy elements, they are rathersurprisingly subtle and, in many parts of the book, nearly nonexistent. Thiscould easily disappoint fantasy readers who might spend most of the bookwaiting for the fantastic elements and end up being disappointed with notenough to satisfy their appetite. However, for readers who are looking for amore mainstream book but don’t mind the occasional dabble into the fantastic,this might be the perfect recipe for them.
Mostof Territory feels like a setup forthe big end-of-the-book hurrah. This was interesting at the start, buteventually it got rather old as many of the characters seemed willfullyignorant in the way that they refused to admit that there was more going onthan a simple robbery. By the time the characters did admit that Wyatt Earp wasup to a bit more than met the eye, the book was almost over. The ending, becauseof this, felt incredibly rushed and left me rather unsatisfied. If the authorhad, perhaps, allowed characters to have important revelations a bit sooner, Iwould have felt that the book was properly paced. As it was, I felt as thoughthere was a lot of lollygagging while the author set things up for theconclusion… and then set them up again…. And again….and again and in the end, Ijust got sick of all the background and wished Territory would just “get onwith it” already.
Oneof Emma Bull’s talents lies in her ability to describe things in an incrediblyunique and memorable way. For example, she describes liquor by saying it islike, “a pretty whore with brass knuckles.” Descriptions like that really livenup 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 whoare more familiar with the ins and outs of this period of history might find itmore rewarding than people who are vaguely aware of what happened at thisperiod. Furthermore, Territory focuses more on the events leading up to theinfamous gunfight, rather than the gunfight itself, so if you are reading thisbook to read about the events at the OK Corral, you’ll be let down. Barringthose facts to be aware of, Territoryis enjoyable. There are some issues with pacing, but Emma Bull’s unique spin ona well-known event coupled with her fantastic writing makes the issues in Territory easy to overlook.

One Responses

  • Bets Davies

    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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-QiODJ0aS8

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