Territory by Emma Bull
Kind of like Kim Stanley Robinson, I can’t believe I never heard of Emma Bull until I learned about her from Natania Barron at Illogicon. The rock I’ve been under was bigger than I thought. I’m still not sure I’ve completely crawled out from underneath it, yet. Anyway, I owe Natania Barron a debt of gratitude for leading me to Emma Bull.
The mention of Territory came up on a panel about steampunk novels. I don’t know if I’d call this steampunk, but it is a historical tale, a western to be specific, with a big dash of “What if…” and that’s the same principle on which steampunk fantasies are based. So, maybe Territory isn’t the same species as steampunk, but maybe they both fall under the genus of “Turn-of-the-Century, Historically Based Fantasy”. Or should I say they are in the same family? I was never very good at biology.
Many times I steal my summaries of books from the jacket blurb. I can’t do that with Territory because the blurb is completely misleading. But in a good way. The book itself is way better than the blurb tries to make it out to be.
Territory is, at its heart, a Western. And Westerns are one of my first literary loves. I still count Louis L’amour as one of my favorite authors and his novel, Lonesome Gods, is one of my all time favorite books. And if you think fantasy, and more specifically magic, has no place in Westerns, then don’t tell L’Amour, because Lonesome Gods was certainly chock full of it. And similar to Lonesome Gods, Territory has a subtle kind of magic without a dedicated structure or complicit rules that must be studied and perfected before it can be successfully employed. There are no sorcerers apprentices in this book. Well, not quite.
Territory is the story of Tombstone and Wyatt Earp, told from the points of views of the characters Mildred Benjamin, Jesse Fox, and Doc Holliday. Wyatt Earp is a manipulator of fortune and fate, using the energy of others and of the land beneath his feet and the minerals (such as silver ore) that run through Earth’s crust like electrical currents to empower him. Jesse Fox has this ability as well, although he has long denied the existence of such forces and has tried to ignore his relationship to these unusual powers. He is Wyatt Earp’s foil, but won’t realize it until near the end of the book.
This is the story of Tombstone and Wyatt Earp, just as any good Western might tell it, but the “What if…” factor is: What if Wyatt Earp was not just merely charismatic and lucky. What if the events of Tombstone occurred because Earp had manipulated them to unfold that way, using very subtle Geomancy and a few other paranormal skills besides.
There’s a growing contention between Jesse Fox and Wyatt Earp. When it comes to a head, Tombstone’s going to go up with a bang! And, also, like any good western, there’s a quiet romance brewing between Jesse and Mildred that had me itching for resolution. Hopefully I’ll get it in the sequel, tentatively titled, “Claim.” In my opinion, Emma Bull can’t finish it fast enough.