Like all good westerns Territory, Emma Bull’s latest offering to the world of fantasy, starts with a lone man riding into a small town. Or rather a man who has been shot being carried into town by a stolen horse, which is even better. That this town just happens to be Tombstone and the characters that pop up some of the most famous men in Western history only add to what becomes an unforgettable tale of magic and men.
‘Wyatt Earp. Doc Holliday. Ike Clanton. You think you know the story. You don’t.’ Most people know about the shoot-out at the O.K. Corral, that part of the story doesn’t need to be explained. In a lot of ways the end doesn’t matter because the most fascinating part is how it started, where it all began and who was really involved.
Trouble breaks out for the Earp brothers when a stage coach is almost robbed and two men killed in the attempt. The youngest Earp, Morgan, was involved and even though Doc Holliday tries to keep it quiet, Wyatt finds out. Wyatt is the head of the clan, from his brothers to their wives and families; he is the man that they turn to. There is something special about Wyatt, almost a sixth sense; he is able to find the outlaws that no one else can, it seems as if he is able to read minds. To protect his little brother and his family from the scandal that the truth would cause Wyatt takes matters into his own hands.
Jesse Fox comes into town dusty and footsore, following his stolen horse, and with his arrival trouble follows. He first meets Doc Holliday, disrupting his game of poker, in a saloon. Jesse is just passing through; he never would have come to Tombstone if his horse hadn’t been stolen, and has plans to leave as soon as possible. But when he finds Lung, a friend of his from San Francisco living in Chinatown, he decides to stay on for awhile.
Mildred is a widow living and working in Tombstone. When her husband passed away a year ago she could have moved back east, but she stayed, proving to be made of sterner stuff than most. Working at one of the local papers by day as a typesetter, spending her nights penning serial stories for a sensational magazine, she is content. When Jesse walks into The Nugget to pick up a paper she is caught off guard, but then, so is he.
As the battle for Tombstone whirls around the residents, Jesse with his knack for finding trouble and Mildred with her newspaper eye get to know each other, discovering that there might be a reason they have been drawn together. Wyatt Earp, busy manipulating people, is sure that his way is best. Whatever the means might be they justify the end in his eyes; if he has to use his family and friends to make peace a permanent part of life in Tombstone he plans to do so.
From the main street of Tombstone to the exotic smells of Chinatown you are presented with clear cut images; a dark brush stroke figure against a light sky, a flooded river rolling boulders downstream, a fire licking and eating the buildings as it spreads through Tombstone. As each layer is peeled away, magic slowly blossoming around the characters, dark secrets and hidden truths are revealed. Emma Bull has woven a spell binding story.
Territory has also given us wonderful characters to love. Jesse Fox is brilliant. Mildred with her eccentricity and solid good manners all rolled into one is enchanting. Ms. Bull’s Doc Holliday is truly inspired. The Earp brothers and their wives are by turns human and something so much more. This is everything a good fantasy novel should be and I cannot recommend Territory highly enough.