I first discovered Emma Bull shortly after her fantasy novel, War for the Oaks, was released in the 1980s. In WftO, the protagonist was a rock-and-roll musician (not the then-common folk/earth mother) who is unwittingly brought into a war between opposing forces (both fairie). I've read that book so many times that I can recite whole passages from it.
Emma Bull's Territory is set in the months before the famous "shootout at OK Corral." In this novel, the two protagonists are unwittingly caught in the crossfire between two opposing forces -- the Earps and those who want to wrest away their control over the mining boomtown. As in WftO, the characters are people who don't quite accept the roles society expects for them: a young widow who's a typesetter at the newspaper and a horse tamer with an unacknowledged magical gift.
And it is absolutely marvelous.
Emma Bull is a brilliant storyteller who simply does everything right. She creates characters who, after only a few pages, you believe are real, and whose fate you care about desperately. The setting captures the climate, in both the weather and political senses; you're brought into a world of social proprieties, in which people are loathe to call friends by their first names, even during emergencies. The story... well, I'm rather blown away by Bull's ability to write around the "known facts" of the Tombstone era. Nor could I put the book down.
If you're a fantasy fan, you may fret a little bit about reading a "western." If you're a western or historical fan, you might be concerned about adding unrealistic-sounding fantasy to this story. Please don't worry: Bull's inclusion of fantasy and magic is simply one of the "issues" that her characters have to deal with, not Merlin charging in on a white steed, guns blazing, in an anachronistic manner. It works.
If you're looking for a novel into which you can fall head-first and escape your own mundane life for a few hours, please do pick up this book. Highly recommended.
Rebecca McFarland Kyle, May 2012