Territory: The gunfight at the OK Corral becomes a romping fantasy adventure

emma bull territoryEmma Bull TerritoryTerritory by Emma Bull

Emma Bull turns the infamous gunfight at the OK Corral into a romping fantasy adventure in Territory.

Since I don’t know much about this period, most of the historical specifics were lost on me. For example, I can’t critique her characterization of Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday or say if she was accurate with the nitty-gritty details of events. Thus, historical accuracy wasn’t a huge deal to me, which allowed me to sit back and really enjoy the book for its story.

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 they are nicely juxtaposed with an overall feel of innocence as the widow Mildred Benjamin and the traveler Jesse Fox are introduced. 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.

Territory is a book that both fantasy and mainstream fiction fans could enjoy. While there are some fantasy elements, they are surprisingly subtle and, in many parts of the book, nearly nonexistent. This might disappoint some fantasy readers, but it could be the perfect recipe for mainstream readers who don’t mind the occasional dabble into the fantastic.

Most of Territory feels like a setup for the big end-of-the-book hurrah. This was interesting at the start, but it eventually got 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 meets the eye, the book was almost over. The ending, because of this, felt rushed and left me unsatisfied. If Emma Bull had, perhaps, allowed characters to have important revelations a bit sooner, I would have felt that the book was better paced. As it was, I felt as though there was a lot of lollygagging while Bull set things up for the conclusion… and then set them up again… and again … and again and in the end I just got tired 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 a unique and memorable way. For example, liquor is “a pretty whore with brass knuckles.” Descriptions like that really liven up the book and add a layer of subtle humor to Territory.

Territory is a fun read. Individuals who are more familiar with this period of history might find it most rewarding. 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. In spite of these reservations, 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.

FanLit thanks Sarah Chorn from Bookworm Blues for contributing this guest review.

Territory — (2007) With John Jude Palencar. Available for download at Audible.com. Publisher: 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…

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SARAH CHORN, one of our regular guest reviewers, has been a compulsive reader her whole life, and early on found her reading niche in the fantastic genre of Speculative Fiction. She blames her active imagination for the hobbies that threaten to consume her life. She is a published photographer, world traveler and recent college graduate and mother. Sarah keeps a blog at Bookworm Blues.

View all posts by Sarah Chorn (guest)

2 comments

  1. This was a tough one for me. I was actually really enjoying it as alternate fiction…until the fantasy elements intruded. They felt like an intrusion to me and didn’t mesh well in my brain. So while I enjoyed the book, I wasn’t completely enamored or convinced by some aspects. For someone who grew up in the southwest I was appalled at my lack of education on Wyatt and the others so I truly enjoyed that aspect and the tidbits that I looked up (to see if they were true parts or made-up parts.)

  2. RedEyedGhost /

    I don’t know if I could have possibly enjoyed this book more than I did. It just exuded atmosphere, and Jesse Fox was awesomeness incarnate. Between those two things and the book’s slight size (my copy is 318 pages) I didn’t notice any pacing issues.

    Good review, but the first line is completely wrong :P

    The book is detailing the events that lead up to the ‘Gunfight at the OK Corral,’ which occurred in October of 1881, and the book ends in mid-August of 1881. When it was released Bull said it was the first half of a duology (with the second half presumably dealing with the gunfight). Hopefully she’s still working on it, but I couldn’t find any news about it online when I searched after reading Territory earlier this year.

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