Territory by Emma Bull falls into the category of a fiction story portraying a real historical event with a twist. In this case the event is the gunfight at the O.K. Corral and all the happenings that lead up to it and the twist is a couple of fictional characters and the fact that Wyatt Earp was a sorcerer. This makes it sounds kind of silly but it isn’t –the fantastical elements of the story are subtly dealt with and I would even wager that folks not normally inclined to fantasy literature wouldn’t be put off.
The events take place in Tombstone Arizona in the 1880’s and the story is told from the perspective of three characters: Jesse Fox a wanderer, horse tamer; Mildred Benjamin a widower and typesetter at one of the newspapers in town and on the sly a writer of trashy western short stories; and finally Doc Holliday, dentist turned gambler and Wyatt Earp’s best friend. Most of this book deals with events in the year or so leading up to the gunfight in October 1886 and of course Emma Bull suggests some other motives and conspiracies behind the fight (which is good because from what I’ve read of the real event, the motives behind it just seemed to be that the participants were violent, drunken asshats who didn’t like each other – not very interesting). Be warned that this book doesn’t actually get to the gunfight – there is a second volume on the way sometime in the future.
This book was great fun and while it didn’t change my life it was a highly enjoyable read. Most of the reviews I’d read of the book before reading it didn’t mention how funny it is and Emma Bull’s talent in my opinion lies in her approach to descriptions with a unique and witty eye that created images that really stuck with me. She has a bartender describe a locally made peach liqueur as “like a pretty whore with brass knuckles”. I found myself re-reading and then writing out several passages from the book that I really loved.
The characters were great - I have a pretty big crush on Jesse Fox and she manages to make Mildred a heroine while being a normal person and not an annoying supergirl.
I really enjoyed it and now anxiously await the second volume.