I was so impressed and intrigued by Wen Spencer’s debut book, Alien Taste, that I couldn’t wait to read the next book in the series, Tainted Trail. So when it came in the mail, I dropped everything else I was reading and gobbled it up in one sitting. I was happy to spend some more time with Ukiah and Max, and while this book was not a DIK read for me, it was interesting, intriguing, and darned good storytelling.
Ukiah Oregon has had a little time to adjust to some of the startling revelations he received in Alien Taste. He has also settled into the routine of being a father to his young son, Kittanning, and an almost fiancé to FBI agent Indigo Zheng. Life is rolling along fairly smoothly until he gets the news that his friend Alicia has gone missing. She was last seen doing geological work in Umatilla National Park, the place where Ukiah himself was captured as a wolf boy eight years ago.
In searching for her, Ukiah uncovers information about another wolf boy who went missing from Pendleton, Oregon in 1933. The Cayuse-tribe Kicking Deer family has some doubts as to whether that boy could still be alive, and Ukiah begins to wonder if the Kicking Deers are a remnant of his original family. But almost before he can begin asking questions, other, more menacing goings-on that have been happening in the area come to his attention, and the sinister violence sweeps Ukiah up in its path. Suddenly this investigation is not just about Alicia, or even Ukiah, anymore.
Ukiah is, of course, the pivotal character in this series, and he is the reason it is as enjoyable as it is. He is such an intriguing blend of innocence and knowledge, grace and ingenuousness. His natural abilities allow him to do almost anything. He is supremely gifted and almost indestructible, but he also has vulnerabilities that regular people do not. This is where Max, his mentor, gets involved. The two of them have both an affection for and understanding of the other person’s weaknesses, and they complement each other very well. Max is so patient with Ukiah and so protective of him, their relationship is a joy to read about. It’s actually better developed and more involved than the love relationships that crop up, both for Max and for Ukiah.
Ukiah’s research into his own background yields a fascinating history, both natural and supernatural. The Kicking Deers’ family story is filled with the tragic and the triumphant, and it is rich and well told. Spencer allows Ukiah’s story to be explored in different voices, as Ukiah and as the wolf boy, and the subtle differences in their perceptions of the world are very interesting. Other, lesser characters, including Alicia, Ukiah’s “father,” Rennie Shaw, and Max’s new love interest, Sam Killington, are less explored, but still fully fleshed.
The story itself is frantically paced as Ukiah struggles to find Alicia, all the while growing more and more certain that her fate is already sealed. Spencer cranks up the violence level a little in this book. Alien Taste had a fair amount of bloodshed, but it wasn’t quite as noticeable because the mystery surrounding Ukiah’s origin was so involving. The second half of Tainted Trail is littered with body parts, and that got to be a little too much for me. The last half also contains a fair bit of confusing information about alien logistics – what can and can’t be done to humans through alien technology. At times it was difficult to follow.
It is for that reason that I would recommend reading this series in order. Spencer includes enough information on the first book to follow the story in this one, but it’s presented in large chunks, and even having read Alien Taste recently, I had to read all of this quite carefully. This is because the first book contained such a vast amount of complicated backstory. Also, reading Tainted Trail first effectively spoils book one since that story revolves around the discovery of who/what Ukiah is, and this information is summed up in the first chapter of book two.
Tainted Trail is not a romance, and isn’t supposed to be. It’s a fantastical mystery/adventure, and, as such, it’s interesting and compelling right until the last page. It wasn’t quite as startlingly fresh as Alien Taste, but Ukiah Oregon is a completely unique character, and, at this point, I’m willing to follow along wherever Spencer decides to take him.