You'll never see old Westerns the same way after reading Territory, Emma Bull's re-imagining of the frontier West. In 1881, a rider arrives in Tombstone, Arizona, with a man he has shot. The injured party dies, but no one cares his death is merely the first piece of frontier justice in this gritty novel. The survivor, Jesse Fox, is a horse wrangler whose secrets are slowly revealed.
One of the first people Jesse meets is Mildred Benjamin, a widow enjoying her reputation as an eccentric while setting type and proofreading one of the two local newspapers. Mildred tries her hand at journalism following a land grab a plotline which peters out but perhaps will be continued in another novel. She also runs up against the real powerhouses in town, the Earp brothers. Doc Holliday and his charismatic wife, Kate, have followed the Earps from Dodge City for two reasons. First, they are convinced it will make their fortune, and second, Wyatt Earp has a strange grip and influence over Holliday. Earp's charisma is strong enough to hold almost anyone and Jesse suspects there's more to it than meets the eye. But when Fox tries to tell Mildred his suspicions about the Earp family and their use of blood magic to rule the town, she won't believe him until she sees proof.
Bull, author of several novels, including Finder (1994) and, with Steven Brust, Freedom and Necessity (1997), lives in Arizona, and her version of Wild West mythology seems to rise naturalistically from her knowledge of the land. Many of the characters are living on the edge of the law in a time when the laws were often not yet fully written. Who owns land that belonged to a people who were pushed off of it? The law is maligned, bent and challenged. But Mildred and Jesse provide a high moral center to Territory that pulls the reader into the novel and, despite occasional slow patches (usually where Doc Holliday is the point of view character), right through to the ending at the OK Corral, when the Earps and their rule is shaken in a way that somehow never came up when cowboy movies ruled our imaginations. Gavin J. Grant is co-editor of The Year's Best Fantasy &andamp; Horror 2007: 20th Annual Collection, to be published this summer by St. Martin's Press.