Zoe's Reviews > Territory

Territory by Emma Bull
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Nov 22, 2011

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bookshelves: speculative-fiction, historical-fiction
Read in November, 2011

I bought this book because Emma Bull wrote it, and I like her books rather a lot. Once I got it and actually read what it was about, I was nearly put off when I realised it was an alternate Wild West, an era and area that has been of not just little interest to me, but that I've actually disliked. However, it's Emma Bull.

In some ways I was probably a perfect reader. Because of my lack of interest in the wild west/western frontier stories, I actually didn't know the story of Wyatt Earp. Sure, the name was vaguely familiar, but the details of his specific legendary status were lost on me. But in some ways I was also the worst possible reader, because as she introduced different characters that would have been familiar to most people who did know the stories about Tombstone, AZ and the shoot-out at the OK Corral (I looked it up on Wikipedia), I felt nothing. There was no thrill of recognition, no interest to see a different take on a familiar person, nothing. Her version didn't have to fight my preconceptions, but it couldn't use them in its favour either.

So, that background aside, it was...well, kind of disappointing. There was an awful lot of the book that was setting stuff up, with little to no speculative elements. I believe I've mentioned not being a fan of the western genre, so my pleasure in her character development was partly overshadowed by the setting and wanting her to get on with the fantasy elements. The hints of there being more going on than met the eye - and with lead characters who were reluctant to admit that there was more going on than met the eye - was frustrating and, for me, went on too long. By the time Jesse & Mildred and, to a lesser extent, Doc Holliday all admitted that Wyatt Earp was up to a bit more than holding up a stagecoach, there wasn't much of the book left. That made for what I thought was a rushed resolution, and for me it was an unsatisfying one. I couldn't help contrasting it with Bone Dance, which also featured a main character who resisted their destiny/supernatural abilities for a lot of the book, but had a convincing and satisfying acceptance of them and then went on to have a satisfying confrontation with the "big bad".

So. Characters were great, especially Mildred and Chow Lung (the inclusion of Chinese characters was actually a big plus for me, as the contrast between the romanticised west and the historical west is one of the reasons I don't like the genre) and the bits on archaic horse-breaking techniques were surprisingly fascinating. The pacing for me was off. Oddly, I think I could have stood the non-fantastic parts of the book much better if the bits post-revelation-of-fantastical elements (well, to the characters, anyway) had been longer. It might have given the characters a bit more chance to accept what was really happening, and then the fantastical elements would have felt less tacked-on. And the end was distinctly underwhelming. Feels like there should be another book - and if there were, I would read it, so I guess it must have been a success. Just wish I'd liked it more.
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message 1: by Niall519 (new)

Niall519 Emma Bull does Western? Interesting idea, bit I'm not sure I'm actually brave enough to read it myself: I'm still scared by 'War for the Oaks' and the occasional online craziness. I enjoyed reading your take on it though. :)


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