Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Reading: Emma Bull's Territory

Just finished reading Territory by Emma Bull. And: Wow. Must. Read. Everything. Bull. Has. Written.

 Territory, anyway, is a western story, set in Tombstone, AZ, in 1881, a few months before the famous shootout at the OK Corral - with one huge difference: in Bull's Old West, there are supernatural forces at work. It's a wonderful alternate history leading up to the events of the famous aforementioned gun fight. But if you're expecting the stereotypical western story (read: big shootouts, mysterious strangers, marauding Apaches), you will be disappointed or, in my case, pleasantly surprised (some of these things are there, but in very unexpected ways). While reading the book I was reminded of the awesome short-lived and much-loved HBO series Deadwood with its mixture of real people and fictional characters, although no one in Territory said "fuck" as much (heh). Bull's absolutely intoxicating prose made the world and the characters come to life - every sense was satisfied. Supremely Recommended.

Here is a short excerpt from Territory, during which one of the characters, Jesse, is taming Virgil Earp's horse:

Spark came down again, and to his knees; reared again, staggered back on his hind legs. Jesse stayed with him. Sweat blackened the hair on the colt's neck and flanks and legs. Jesse talked to him, his voice gentle, while he kept the strap tight in his right hand.

He hated this part. He hated the fear the horse felt, the way that fear grew as the animal learned that nothing it did could win this fight. If he'd handraised Spark as he had Sam, this wouldn't be necessary. But Sam had been made to believe since before he'd first stood up that Jesse was stronger than he was. Spark still had to be convinced. The more of his strength he used, the more of it there was for Jesse to turn against him.

Humans expected horses to think like humans. Jesse knew better - but it troubled him that, in a horse, wisdom could grow out of fear.


  1. My only complaint is that I wish Emma Bull was a bit more prolific: I've really enjoyed everything she's done, since her genre-shaking "War for the Oaks" back in '87.

    I thought that the end of Territory felt like it could easily have a followup, which would not be a bad thing at all...!

  2. Me too! On both the prolific and sequel fronts. At any rate, I will most like pick up Bone Dance from the liquidating Borders down the way...in my ongoing campaign to own more books than you...ahem...