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.