Cover, 1st hardbound edition
|Cover artist||John Jude Palencar|
|Publisher||Tom Doherty Associates (Tor)|
|Media type||Print Hardbound & Paperback|
|Pages||318 pp (first edition, hardbound)|
(ISBN 978-0-7653-3019-2 pb)
Territory is a fantasy western or Weird West novel by Emma Bull, published in 2007. It placed 4th in the 2008 Locus Poll Award for Best Fantasy Novel. It was also nominated for a World Fantasy Award in the Best Novel category.
The territory of the title is the vicinity of Tombstone, AZ in the year 1881, but also refers to the magicians' power struggle that is the fantasy element in this novel. Most of the characters are named for historical individuals from the era and setting; the author's aim appears to be a tale that parallels recorded events, but places those in a context where magic is real. The structural parallel to Ms. Bull's first novel, War for the Oaks, is obvious. However, this novel takes that magic-in-a-familiar-setting approach in a quite distinct direction.
The principal male 'point-of-view' character, Jesse Fox, is a horse trainer in the manner of John Solomon Rarey (a real period character; regarding his methods the author includes a prefatory note to the effect: don't try this at home, kids). He has professional qualifications as well, but no stomach to pursue them: he is drifting, uprooted by unease over the uncanny abilities that have led to his sister's demotion to madwoman status and his own share of such abilities. The principal female POV character is Mrs. Mildred Benjamin, widow of David Benjamin, supporting herself as a typesetter for one of the Tombstone newspapers but moonlighting as the freelance author of Wild West stories for a ladies' periodical. She, too, has a slight supernatural talent of perception---albeit not enough to spook her so badly.
The plot has multiple black magicians as its villains, but avoids identifying just whose hat is blackest until the final showdown. A bungled stagecoach robbery that involved one of the four Earp brothers, Morgan, leads to much ado with mis-directed posses and the deaths, a few at a time, of all participants except for him. Along the way Jesse Fox's Chinese buddy Chow Lung, another magician but one who is comfortable in the use of his powers, is also killed. This adds a plot anchor to keep Jesse in Tombstone that is even more forceful than the attractions of Mrs. Benjamin. Jesse helps fight a major fire in downtown Tombstone and has his injuries nursed by Mildred; Mildred's house burns and Jesse helps her defend the lot, her last major marital asset, from the machinations of a mining outfit that lays spurious claim to the whole neighborhood. Jesse escorts Mildred to a ball, where the dances are described in detail that shows much attention to accuracy, and where the pair witness the magical dimensions of an altercation between Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. The latter, in this telling, has the role of unwilling and finally of willing magical aide to Wyatt Earp, who repays him by controlling his tuberculosis. By the closing pages Jesse has come to accept and is learning to manage his magical abilities, applying them to block Wyatt Earp's deadly excesses in his well-meant efforts to defend and enlarge the well-being of his clan. What becomes of the connection between Mildred and Jesse is left to the reader to imagine.