Book Review: Territory

by Emma Bull.

Here are the reasons I can't be objective about this book:

1. Freedom and Necessity (co-written by Stephen Brust) is one of my favorite books ever; the two writers are irrevocably tied in my brain now, so everything Emma Bull writes gets subconsciously compared to Stephen Brust. And I really like Stephen Brust, but he's written, oh, twenty books or so, and Emma Bull has written maybe four.

2. The issues Ms. Bull seems to be dealing with in her writing (as a writer, not themes, I mean) are the ones I've been dealing with lately. (I'm not even going to try to figure out whether that's coincidence or transference.) So while I pick her stuff apart, I'm really trying to figure out how to make it work in my writing.

That being said, somebody should make sure she keeps writing and publishing. With more experience and confidence, she could do some brilliant, fun stuff.

Territory is the story of Tombstone, with magic. -- It isn't just the story of Tombstone; it's the story of Wyatt Earp and co. under the influence of the movie Tombstone (1993), with magic. And if you didn't like that movie, what is wrong with you?

The additional characters are handled believably and seamlessly. The magic is balanced well -- it doesn't throw the story off, but adds a new perspective. The writing is clear and vivid.


Why are the main characters even involved in the story? They "get swept up" into the story using writerly tricks and further pulled in just because. They don't have any real stakes (not until later, anyway). Why (I'm not giving anything away here, trust me) do they fall in love? Because of chemistry? Why is their story so important? Why is it included at all? What's at stake, in the end? What's important? What does it all meeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaan?

It's almost as if the author came up with this brilliant pitch, and then panicked in trying to come up with a way to pull it off. And nobody told her to cut closer to the bone, to find out what would make the characters weep and bleed. For example: the main character is pulled into the story when an old friend of his casts a spell to draw him into town. Why is the old friend there? He just happens to be there, having been kicked out of San Francisco. The main character is pulled into town when someone tries to steal his horse, and he shoots him -- but nothing really bad happens to the main character because of it, he never has to pay for it, even emotionally, really, even though he says he feels bad. These things, they happen because the author needs them to happen, because otherwise, there wouldn't have been a story. Maybe it's just a way of saying that everything in Tombstone happened because chance made it happen, but that's a boring moral to put on such an interesting idea. You see?

It's a good story...but it could have been a masterpiece had the author dug a little deeper, made the characters go through their darkest moments, make their most painful choices, and pay the costs -- sometimes all out of proportion.

And then, the ending cuts off early. Too early; everything she's been leading you to believe you will be able to see carried out -- pfft. Some writers can carry this off. I try to do this on occaision. But it doesn't work without some very complex setting up of a second plot within the supposedly-main plot, with the second plot being the real plot, so it doesn't matter if the first plot ends or not. But because the known characters -- the Earps and Doc Holliday -- have so much more at stake than the main characters, I felt cheated. The main characters' storyline doesn't even pay off! Auuuugggghhhh!

But like I said, here's me, not being objective. The book was well worth reading, and it's not the author's fault I can't see it more clearly :)