Territory by Emma Bull
Just as legends and fragments of history from ancient Britain became the Arthurian tales we know—the story of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, the Clantons and others, told and retold in innumerable stories and dramatizations, has became a great American myth.
In Emma Bull’s Territory, some of the mystery of that brooding, puzzling tale is accounted to the hitherto unrealized presence of magic. It is a story of power, of compulsion, and of consequences. If Roger Zelazny had written a western, or if Susanna Clarke had reimagined the myths and legends of the American West, the results might have been something like Territory. But only something like. Because nobody writes like Emma Bull. (via Goodreads)
I read Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks back in 2011 and loved it. When I found out that she’d written a fantasy set in 1881 Tombstone with Doc Holliday as a main character, I treated myself to Territory. And then the book sat on my shelf for nearly three years…
“There are people in this world that have a power about them. Most of ’em only have a little, and don’t know they’ve got that… Then there’s those that have a lot of power, but don’t know it, and can’t use it for anything… But there’s a few that have it, and know it, and use it.”
In Territory, Emma Bull proposes that many of the “names” in Tombstone have this power. The power is derived and bolstered by the earth–the claiming of territory–and by the strength of alliances between men. With history as a backdrop, who has power and why they are using it is the primary mystery of the story.
Doc Holliday *is* one of the primary three characters along with Jesse, a drifter who has found himself (not) passing through Tombstone, and Mildred, a sometimes typesetter, sometimes journalist, sometimes fiction-writer. Much of what of occurs in town is seen from the outside of the Earp/Cowboy conflict as Jesse attempts to harness his own use of power.
One of the things I appreciate most about Territory is that it steers clear of the most famous of Tombstone events: the gunfight at the O.K. corral. Instead, Bull shows more of the intricacies of Cochise County politics. There is a lot going on in the background of events that may or may not be due to the influence of magical forces. Territory ends with the gunfight as a looming inevitability. Which means that it also ends in a somewhat unresolved manner. Territory worldbuilds, but we leave the world much too quickly.
Favorite quote: “Eccentricity, once embarked upon, lay always like a pit at one’s feet.”
Publishing info, my copy: trade paperback, Tor, 2011
Acquired: 2013, Amazon
Genre: fantasy, western