Alien Taste
Grade : A

I'm slowly getting addicted to SF/F. Whenever I need a change of pace from romance, I wander over to the SF shelves in my library and take a peek. I've found a number of excellent authors in the past couple of years including Sharon Shinn, Connie Willis, Charlaine Harris, and Kelley Armstrong. With her wonderful first book, Alien Taste, Wen Spencer is added to that list.

Ukiah Oregon is a twenty-one-year-old private investigator, or at least that's what he thinks. He's sure about the private investigator part and for over three years he's used his impressive skills as a tracker to find runaway children and other missing persons. What he's less sure of is his age. About eight years ago he was found naked, crouched in a wolf trap and assumed to be a feral child - a wolf boy. His adoptive mother took him home and taught him how to exist in society. Ukiah does pretty well now, although some of his clients are spooked by how well he tracks and by the things he knows. Things that human beings shouldn't be able to know....

Ukiah and his boss and mentor, Max are called in on a multiple homicide case. Three women are dead, and a fourth has left the scene with a male who's assumed to be the killer. The FBI needs Ukiah's help and needs it immediately before the other woman ends up dead. But the job takes an ugly turn, and Ukiah is hurt. While he is lying on the forest floor bleeding, he hears voices. A man and a woman are standing over him. "I think the boy might be one of us," the man says. Ukiah wakes up in the hospital, and his first thought is "One of whom?" He's never seen these people before, and even more strangely, they were not speaking English, yet he understood them. Who are they? And who is he?

Alien Taste is a riveting story, surprising and intriguing up until the very last page. Ukiah is more than what he first seems, and as the book progresses, there are more and more revelations about who and what he is. This is the kind of book that is impossible to read just once because events that happen in the beginning take on new meaning with every discovery Ukiah makes. And the rules and characteristics Spencer makes for her world and its inhabitants are simply fascinating.

Ukiah is a very appealing protagonist. He's an interesting combination of danger and innocence. He dresses in black, drives a motorcycle, and can track anything to earth, but he also plays with his five-year-old sister and doesn't like guns. In some ways he's reminiscent of Bink from Piers Anthony's A Spell for Chameleon. He's young, he's naïve, he's unaware of his own power, and he's hopelessly noble. Throw in the fact that he's gorgeous in a vaguely Indian way and has a photographic memory to boot. What female could resist him? He's both huggable and kissable.

There is a very small romantic sub-plot, and it's probably the least convincing aspect of the book. Ukiah ends up getting involved with Indigo Zheng, the FBI agent in charge of the case. There's nothing wrong with Indigo or his attraction to her, but their feelings for each other develop rather suddenly. Since this is a series, perhaps their relationship will be better developed in future books.

Far more affecting is Ukiah's relationship with his Big Brother/father figure, Max. Max is every bit as endearing as his protégé. Max has an interesting background as a soldier, a successful entrepreneur, and a grieving widower. He's gruff and tough, but not afraid to show how much he cares for Ukiah and how concerned he is for him. And since Ukiah's had far too strange an upbringing to be the typical rebellious youth, they can be comfortable in their father/son roles. It was a refreshing to see a male relationship based on nurturing and caring.

Spencer's first book is better than the efforts of many long-term writers. The universe she's created is fascinating, her characters are fully realized and sympathetic, and the mystery of Ukiah's origins is guaranteed to keep you turning the pages. I highly recommend Alien Taste. I think there's something here for most everyone, and I can't wait for Tainted Trail, the second book in the Ukiah Oregon series, to be released. It's going to be a long wait until June.

Reviewed by Rachel Potter
Grade : A

Sensuality: Subtle

Review Date : April 17, 2002

Publication Date: 2001

Review Tags: private investigator

Recent Comments …

  1. Same here. Excellent mystery, read in one go (as much as possible). The book was very much about relationships, not…

Rachel Potter

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