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WesternSFA
Territory
by Emma Bull
$14.99, Tor, 318pp
Release Date: December 6, 2011

This story was originally published in 2007 and I am happy it was recently reprinted giving me the chance to know it.  Ms Bull lived very near Tombstone , Arizona for many years and obviously developed a love for its history.  But this Tombstone story is not a historical drama or romance.  This Tombstone is magical, dark and intensely populated with strange characters.

Jesse Fox was only passing through when circumstances caused him to stay a while in Tombstone .  He’d been summoned by an old friend and magician, Chow Lung.  Lung had been trying for years, only somewhat successfully, to train Jesse to accept and use his own magical talents.  And it was only when confronted with a plethora of other magicians, some experienced, some not so much, that Jesse was forced to look harder within himself to use his own magic to survive.

The main characters are Jesse and Mildred Benjamin, a widow who works at the Nugget newspaper – initially as a typesetter and later as a reporter.  I was deceived into thinking at the beginning of the book that Doc Holliday was a main character.  And while he did have quite a few pages, he wasn’t really.  He was really just a plot device to explain another aspect of the magic; which was a trifle disappointing as I always saw the character of Doc Holliday as particularly interesting.

The plot revolves around the historical event of a stagecoach robbery gone awry.  The question of who did it is key; as many believed the Earps or Holliday were involved.  The Earps are quite powerful; Wyatt, in particular, as he is obviously a magician. Jesse discovers that a magician has laid claim to Tombstone and put some sort of magical boundary around or through the town.  Disabling the magical geas draws unwelcome attention to himself but does open his eyes to what he’s capable of.  There is some effort to discern who the nasty magician is but the author didn’t really explore it much; preferring instead to introduce other dramatic events.  Jesse’s mentor is killed by a magician, whether it’s the same one or not is never clear to me.  And then the town suffers from a devastating fire, an historical event, that didn’t seem to contribute anything to the story.

One of the characterizations I was really happy with was Mildred as a woman of her time.  There were no hints of anachronistic behavior.  Jesse was substantially interesting and Doc Holliday was well-realized although his character didn’t really contribute anything to a resolution. The McLaurys and Clantons played bit parts and I’m sure anyone who picks up this book will fully expect the final climax to end up at the OK Corral. As with everything else about this Tombstone , the climax is nothing you might expect. This was an enjoyable read if you enjoy the Old West. ~~ Catherine Book

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