Alien Taste, by Wen Spencer

>> Monday, January 24, 2005

I was starting to read Tainted Trail, the second in Wen Spencer's Ukiah Oregon series when I realized that I really remembered very, very little about the first one, Alien Taste. I'd read it a couple of years before, and though I remembered the basics and liking it very much, I didn't recall many details. So, of course, I reread it.

Living with wolves as a child gave tracker Ukiah Oregon a heightened sense of smell and taste. Or so he thought-until he crossed paths with a criminal gang known as the Pack. Now, Ukiah is about to discover just how much he has in common with the Pack: a bond of blood, brotherhood...and destiny.
I loved this book. I loved it as much as I did the first time I read it. My grade for it would be an A-.

I especially liked the hero, Ukiah. He's a truly kind person, with an innocent streak that doesn't make him naive, the best of both worlds. At one point, one of the characters says that it shows that he was raised by two women, and I think that hits the nail right on the head. He's just so completely free of macho posturing and that kind of bullshit. I guess the best word to describe him is "good", and Spencer did an excellent job in creating a person who is good and kind to everyone and yet doesn't come across as irritatingly perfect, holier-than-thou or uninteresting.

Accompanying Ukiah is a cast of characters which was excellently drawn, too. Actually, the reason the book works is because of the way the characters react to what's going on, which is something very, very fantastic.

In a way, something about the way the plot evolves reminded me a bit of that movie, The Forgotten, how it all starts out relatively normal (though here we see from the start that Ukiah is very different from the usual, definitely not a regular guy), and then becomes more and more fantastic. The difference is that in Alien Taste, it works, whereas the movie I thought was just weird. What Ukiah really is and what is going on is amazingly imaginative and truly fascinating, and the whole backstory is intrincately yet clearly plotted. There are no holes here, as there were in the movie.

Things kept moving in directions I wasn't expecting, even in this reread. Even the way the characters acted faced with the different twists, felt fresh and not at all obvious. Faced with their reality becoming more and more weird, I expected Ukiah and Max to become secretive and paranoid, to distrust the police and everyone, really, but in this world, people are good, which was refreshing. Ukiah tells people about what's going on, as much as he thinks they can handle, and people do their best to help him.

There is a serious amount of violence here, but though it isn't sanitized, it was also, for some reason, less bothersome to me than a similar level was in other books, like Bitten, for instance.

In addition to likeable, well-written characters and a fascinating plot, the book also contains a sweet romance, definitely not the focus of the book, but really, really nice. How could I not love Alien Taste? ;-)

PS - Spencer has some interesting notes in her website about the origin of the series


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