Here's the first of my three reviews from the Historical Novels Review February 2008 issue.
The goal of HNR reviews: Reviews are geared toward our fellow readers. In 150-300 words, our incisive, insightful reviews provide an overview of the book’s plot and setting as well as critical commentary.
Emma Bull, Tor, 2007, $24.95/C$31.00, hb, 336pp, 0312857357
Territory is a western murder mystery with magic at its core. Jesse Fox left his Eastern college to travel West, where he meets the physician Chow Lung, who insists that Jesse has a talent for magic. In Tombstone, Jesse meets and falls for Mildred Benjamin, a young widow and newspaper reporter – and also meets Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp, whose talents and power seem to be an echo of his own. When a failed stagecoach holdup results in two dead, Tombstone explodes with speculation about the attempted robbery: the truth could destroy Earp's plans for wealth and glory. The sources of power in the Territory court Jesse as an ally as they struggle for control – by the barrel of a gun, and by means more supernatural.
The real strengths of this book are the strong, direct style and the little historical details that make you feel as though you're walking the busy streets of Tombstone. Both Jesse and Mildred are engaging, likable protagonists and the fantasy and magical elements are appealing, if at some points maddeningly vague.
However, the story feels somewhat disjointed, and the convoluted plot and full cast of characters served to keep me from following the story closely. This can make for either an exhilarating gallop or a frustrating meander. Though the ending was disappointingly abrupt, especially given the many well-drawn characters, it does leave the door open for a sequel. Overall, the story is unique and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys an unusual take on historical events.