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Book review: Territory - Phil's Rambling Rants — LiveJournal
July 10th, 2010
01:21 am


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Book review: Territory
Today's book review is Territory by Emma Bull.

This is a standalone novel.

I read this book strictly because of the author, but in this case I should maybe have been a little pickier about the subject.  This is a mashup of a classic Western and fantasy, and I'm not at all in touch with the Western side of it.  The setting is pretty well realized, but I believe that the reader is still supposed to bring some cultural understanding that I don't have.  I think this book is meant for people who know the Western tropes better than I do.  People who easily recognize where Bull is honoring the tradition and where she's tweaking it will probably enjoy this a lot, but I had a mild but persistent feeling that I wasn't quite getting the joke.  Or it could be that I'm misreading my own feelings, and the problem I was having is that she does too good a job of depicting a place that, for all the romance our culture ties to it, is just not a place I'd want to visit.  Still, despite the fact that I wasn't comfortable with the setting, I found the characters reasonably engaging, and the story was pretty good, up until an ending that snuck up behind me, yelled BOO, and vanished while I was still startled.  I think if I knew more about the real history, I'd be better prepared to appreciate the novel -- but unfortunately, I just don't feel tempted to go read up on the real history.

I think this is a well-written book; I just didn't like it very much.  If a serious story about magic sneaking into a Western frontier town actually appeals, your mileage will probably be better than mine.  6 out of 10.

****  PLOT SUMMARY  --  SPOILERS  ****

Jesse Fox has magic powers but he's in denial about them.  He's trying to run away from the truth when he comes to Tombstone, but he gets caught up in an arcane power struggle.  The trouble starts when he finds out that a guy who's in jail knows too much about the recent failed attempt to rob the stage.  With the help of the daring lady reporter, he breaks the guy out of jail, but a short time later, the guy's severed arm is dropped on the street in front of him, with a nasty magic talisman attached.  He starts to accept his magical nature, and he and his Chinese mentor Chow Lung start poking into things they shouldn't oughta.  Chow contracts severe acute lead poisoning, and Jesse starts tracking down what happened.  He tracks down Jim Crane, and learns that Crane did kill Chow, but that he was pushed into it out of fear.  And he also learns that he was used as a pawn; Wyatt Earp got him to carry a magical tracking thingy that brought death down on the camp in the form of a Mexican patrol who were tired of the cattle rustlers.  Jesse is wounded but the others who were in the camp die.  Jesse returns to Tombstone and uses the power of these deaths to put a binding on Wyatt Earp so that he can no longer use magic to kill people.

The principals were apparently being assembled, but the gunfight at the OK corral never happened.  I think some of the people who were on the losing side were killed at the camp, and Jesse's binding on Wyatt meant that he couldn't press the issue.

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(4 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:July 10th, 2010 02:13 pm (UTC)
I don't often read or watch westerns but I adored this book! I was completely captivated by the story, and I've recommended it to a number of people.

Might have helped to have a horse so prominent in the story - and she "gets" horses. And she's a great writer.
[User Picture]
Date:July 10th, 2010 04:29 pm (UTC)
My understanding is that it is not actually a stand-alone - the last I heard, she's writing the sequel.

She was asked at a reading what was the most surprising bit of real history that was in the book - the answer was that arm showing up in front of the newspaper.
[User Picture]
Date:July 10th, 2010 09:19 pm (UTC)
I took it that the OK Corral happened because of Jesse's binding on Wyatt - he could no longer kill from a distance, using magic, so he had to use mundane methods, face to face.

The people on the losing side of the historical shoot-out weren't killed at the camp; they were the surviving family members of those who were killed. She didn't make the shoot-out irrelevant or impossible; she made it inevitable.

I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it more.
[User Picture]
Date:July 10th, 2010 10:50 pm (UTC)
I think you shed light on part of why the story didn't work for me. I know just a tiny bit about the history, enough to give me some expectations but not enough for them to be correct. I would probably have fared better if I'd never heard of Wyatt Earp at all *or* if I'd actually studied it.
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