Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lisa's Take - Territory (Emma Bull)

I'm really glad I didn't read the description of this book before I bought it. My thought process was something along the lines of "hmm, I've got extra money on this gift card, and I may as well just use it up-- oh, there we go, Emma Bull has a new release. She's written at least one book that I enjoyed *gank!*"

You perceive that my book buying process is always well-reasoned and carefully planned.

Anyway, if had read the description, I wouldn't have bought the book, and that would have been a damn shame. As it turns out, Territory is a western, with a touch of fantasy and magic. And I - well, I don't like westerns. Or at least some little corner of my brain is convinced that I don't; I'm really not sure where the perception came from. I know when I was little my mom did her best to feed them to me, and I loved Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid... years later I discovered and came to adore Firefly... over Christmas I read The Gunslinger (review forthcoming) and was at least not bored by it. And yet, if someone says "Western" to me, I cringe and make faces, without fail. It's entirely irrational.

Woo! Tangent! Where was I... Ah, yes: Territory. It's a western. With magic. And I'm really glad I bought it, because it was very, very tasty. The story takes place in a New Mexico Territory town called Tombstone and follows a number of colorful characters. There's Mildred Benjamin, a young widow with a venomous wit (get it? Widow? Venomous? Heh.) and dreams of becoming an writer (whether she realizes it or not). There's Jesse Fox, a mysterious drifter who tames horses and is fleeing to Mexico when he happens across Tombstone. Oh, and then there's Wyatt Earp, his brothers, Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, and a number of other well known cowboy figures. I didn't quite notice that the book was a western until I realized that the name Doc Holliday sounded familiar for a reason... shows how knowledgeable I am when it comes to that genre.

The premise of the story is that there has been a stage coach robbery and different groups of people are vying to have the participants covered up or brought to light. Mildred and Jesse get drawn into the conflict separately and unwittingly, and we go from there. The whole thing is very character driven and interesting, with a lot of emotional impact for such a short book. The element of magic is veeeeery subtle and develops to be a bigger and bigger part throughout the book. It's a really interesting approach overall, and I liked it a lot.

I had a couple of small gripes, as I am wont to do. The first is that it's short, and it feels short. I was left wanting more in (kind of) an unpleasant way, rather than a nice way. The second problem was that the end felt a little cobbled together... I don't know if it was rushed, or if the climax wasn't... explosive enough or what. It just seemed like the last 30-40 pages didn't quite work as well as the rest of the story. I'd be willing to attribute the latter to something stylistic with the western genre... but honestly both of these things are issues I had with War for the Oaks (Emma's other book) as well. Both of the books' endings just sort of clattered to a stop, a little bumpily. Hard to put my finger on a more precise description, as nebulous as that is.

Still, don't that that put you off. This was a great, fast, entertaining read, and I'd definitely recommend it. I hope Emma continues to put out more literature.

No comments: